With the Disney Channel movie Descendants coming out, we thought it was about time to review The Isle of the Lost: A Descendants Novel by Melissa de la Cruz, the prequel novel meant to introduce readers to the children of four Disney villains as well as the mysterious island where they were all banished.
The Isle of the Lost Synopsis
Twenty years ago, all the evil villains were banished from the kingdom of Auradon and made to live in virtual imprisonment on the Isle of the Lost. The island is surrounded by a magical force field that keeps the villains and their descendants safely locked up and away from the mainland. Life on the island is dark and dreary. It is a dirty, decrepit place that’s been left to rot and forgotten by the world.
But hidden in the mysterious Forbidden Fortress is a dragon’s eye: the key to true darkness and the villains’ only hope of escape. Only the cleverest, evilest, nastiest little villain can find it…who will it be?
Maleficent, Mistress of the Dark: As the self-proclaimed ruler of the isle, Maleficent has no tolerance for anything less than pure evil. She has little time for her subjects, who have still not mastered life without magic. Her only concern is getting off the Isle of the Lost.
Mal: At sixteen, Maleficent’s daughter is the most talented student at Dragon Hall, best known for her evil schemes. And when she hears about the dragon’s eye, Mal thinks this could be her chance to prove herself as the cruelest of them all.
Evie: Having been castle-schooled for years, Evil Queen’s daughter, Evie, doesn’t know the ins and outs of Dragon Hall. But she’s a quick study, especially after she falls for one too many of Mal’s little tricks.
Jay: As the son of Jafar, Jay is a boy of many talents: stealing and lying to name a few. Jay and Mal have been frenemies forever and he’s not about to miss out on the hunt for the dragon’s eye.
Carlos: Cruella de Vil’s son may not be bravest, but he’s certainly clever. Carlos’s inventions may be the missing piece in locating the dragon’s eye and ending the banishment for good.
Mal soon learns from her mother that the dragon’s eye is cursed and whoever retrieves it will be knocked into a deep sleep for a thousand years. But Mal has a plan to capture it. She’ll just need a little help from her “friends.” In their quest for the dragon’s eye, these kids begin to realize that just because you come from an evil family tree, being good ain’t so bad.
The blurb also leaves out the other plot line, which involves the son of King Beast and Queen Belle named Ben. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, he prepares to take the thrown and become king. But the transition will not be easy, as he inherits his father’s troubles with the Disney sidekicks who feel they are treated unfairly. It also doesn’t help that he meets a certain green-eyed girl in a dream who shakes the way he has seen the world all his life.
To kick off the review, we’ll start off with the writing. When I picked up the book, I will admit that I had low expectations. I was worried it would be like those paperback novelizations of books that often have a very to-the-point writing style. This, thankfully, is not like that at all. Marissa de la Cruz’s writing is very descriptive. Readers really get to know the island on which the characters all live. Since the book is written in a third-person point of view, not only does the author talk about what the main characters do, but she also mentions some small details about the world around them. Because of this we get some fun looks at what became of the Disney villains we love and know who may not have starring roles. For example, Ursula owns a Fish ‘N Chips shop, Lucifer becomes the school mascot, and Rattigan’s gang pulls rickshaws around town.
At times the book also had a very fairytale-esque way of telling the story, especially when setting the scene or going back in flashbacks. When these happen, the narrative often adopts an informal way of speaking similar to as if Cruz was telling the story orally. I was particularly fond of this, because it is reminiscent of classic stories, such as C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, something I have not seen in a Young Adult Novel. But, for those who are not fond of this style of storytelling, do not worry. It only happens at certain points in the novel and, for the most part, during the beginning.
My only problem was that my copy of the book had quite a few typos scattered here and there. Normally I would not bother to mention this, but I had the exact same problem with another book from the same publisher: Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly. I am not sure whether all the books from this publisher are like this or if maybe Disney Hyperion sent some early copies of both books to my local bookstore or what. But, in case it is a problem with their books in general, be prepared. Typos aside, the writing overall is great.
Story and Characters
The story overall is very interesting. It feels like it will be a typical high school rivalry story, but it is not. So no Disney Channel clichés, for anyone worried about that. Speaking of Disney Channel, there was a small reference to a couple of its recent shows, so be on the look out for that! Back to the main story, once the journey for the Dragon’s Eye starts, it turns into a gripping adventure story with a lot of suspense and action. Cruz also did her research! Well, mostly. The spell the Evil Queen uses to transform into an ugly hag and Maleficent’s monologue upon first appearing are quoted perfectly, to name a few well-researched details.
However, there were times when things were a bit off. The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, for example. It is mentioned time and time again that Pongo and Perdita have one hundred and one puppies, but in the original movie they actually had ninety-nine puppies. This, plus the two of them, makes a hundred and one. Small things, sure, but Disney purists may find that these very few inaccuracies take them out of the novel every once in awhile. Still, what is right heavily outweighs the wrongs and the way the author weaves elements from Disney’s animated movies into her own original plot is impressive.
I am also pleased to report that Cruz did the Disney Villains justice. Maleficent may have turned petite and the others may have gained some weight, but they are still believable as their wicked selves. If a villain was given a layer of depth, it was not at the sacrifice of what makes him or her great (like what many complain the live-action Disney movies do). The same applies to the good guys, such as Belle and the Beast. It was also great to see the development of our four young main characters. As they work together to find the Dragon’s Eye, each must face their greatest flaws and fears and, often, they need the help of the others to conquer these fears.
It was also interesting to compare and contrast the way the villains think compared to the way the heroes think. The villains basically think that fair is foul and foul is fair, so reading the way they think was like watching the Adams Family. The heroes, on the other hand, are very dream-like and try their best to be good and hard-working. They completely believe that the villains are evil and far from redemption. The children of both sides question this and try to suppress it, but they secretly question their way of life. This dynamic was interesting to read about and it will as be interesting to watch how it will play into the movie.
Messages and Morals
One of the most reoccurring themes in the novel is living up to your parent’s expectations vs. being yourself. Mal wishes to prove to her mother that she is just as wicked as Maleficent is; Evie struggles to be the fairest in the land like her mother; Carlos wishes to prove himself more useful to Cruella, rather than practically being a servant to her; Jay wishes to make his father proud, by stealing the one item big enough that they will never have to work another day in their lives; and even Prince Ben struggles to try and make his father proud of him as the future king. In the end, one way or another, each one learns that their life is theirs and not their parents’. They learn that they should do what they feel is right and not what they are told is right, something we all should do.
Is it Worth Reading?
If you planned to watch Disney’s Descendants in the first place and have not read the book already, what are you waiting for?! The book helps expand the world and introduces the characters in a way that we may not see in the movie, and the ending will leave you pumped for the film and the future books that are planned.
For those of you who, like myself, are still weary about watching Disney’s Descendants, I ask this question: Do you love Disney and – especially – Disney Villains? Read this book. Are you perhaps a book lover who is a fan of Melissa de la Cruz’s work? Read this book. Do you know a fan of (or are you a fan of) middle-grade books? Get this book for them (or yourself). Do you want a work of love by a Disney Fan for Disney Fans? Then pick up this book, because that is what it is. As surprising as it may sound, this book is actually good. It has some problems, but what book does not? If you have not read this book, but want to finish it in time for the movie, you have about month to read it. Disney’s Descendants is set to premiere July 31, 2015.
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes