Journey Across the Hidden Islands Hardcover – April 4, 2017 by Sarah Beth DurstJourney Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst Children fantasy book reviewsJourney Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst

Seika and Ji-Lin are the twelve year old princesses of the Hidden Islands, a group of a hundred islands cut off from the rest of the world by a magical barrier created by an ancient volcano dragon. Seika is the heir to the throne, while Ji-Lin is being trained as an imperial guard, dedicated to protecting her sister from any danger. For the past year they’ve been separated while Ji-Lin is in training at a mountain temple, with the winged, talking lion Alejan as her partner and closest friend.

Ji-Lin’s training is unexpectedly cut short when she is called to return to the imperial city. The emperor, their father, tells Seika and Ji-Lin that the next day they will begin the ritual five-day-long Emperor’s Journey to visit the Dragon’s Shrine. There they will renew the traditional bargain with the volcano dragon to keep the barrier around the islands, which protects their land against invaders and koji, vicious magical monsters feared by the people. Seika and Ji-Lin are mystified ― they didn’t expect to take the Emperor’s Journey until they were much older ― but obedient. Besides, they’re thrilled to be able to spend time together again after a year apart, and they’ll be flying through the air on the back of Alejan as they journey.

But their epic journey turns unexpectedly dangerous: the islands are being shaken by earthquakes, and their magical barrier is beginning to break down. As Ji-Lin, Seika, and Alejan travel from island to island, they tangle not only with flying koji monsters and some semi-piratical explorers who’ve slipped through the failing barrier, but also with the expectations of their strict royal father and the breaking of traditions and expectations.

Journey Across the Hidden Islands (2017), by Sarah Beth Durst, is an enchanting middle grade fantasy, a journey adventure that celebrates the bond of sisterhood and the need to take chances in life. The setting is inspired by feudal Japan, but elements of Venice, Italy, and Polynesian island culture have found their way into the mix of creating this unique fantasy world.

The two young sisters are a contrast in their characters: Seika is softer and more deliberate, careful and concerned about the people of the kingdom; Ji-Lin is more fierce, physical and adventurous. But both show great courage in their different ways, and both gain in wisdom and maturity as they deal with the trials of their journey. The girls are joined by Kirro, a ship captain’s son, for most of their journey, which is initially a trial for all three of them, with Kirro’s different background and occasionally abrasive personality. Ji-Lin’s flying lion Alejan will charm readers with his delightful sense of humor and love of flying and adventure. Although he has a more youthful personality, he reminded me of my beloved Monster in Durst’s book The Girl Who Could Not Dream: slyly humorous, always loyal, and wise.

Journey Across the Hidden Islands blends in some insights and life lessons with the adventures. A waterhorse (not a hippopotamus-type of animal like I first envisioned, but a magical horse literally made out of water, with whirlpool eyes and sprays of foam for his mane and tail) informs the young travelers:

Stories are how we understand who we are and who we wish to be. Heroes. Traitors. Both at once. We define ourselves by the stories we tell. We shape ourselves by the stories we hear.

The children come to realize that life can be complicated, and that others’ motives and even personalities may not be as easily categorized ― good or bad, traitorous or heroic ― as they initially thought.

I recommend Journey Across the Hidden Islands for young readers in the 10-14 age range, as well as older readers who enjoy middle grade fantasy adventures with a coming-of-age element. It’s a delightful and enchanting journey.

Published April 4, 2017. The traditional Emperor’s Journey is meant to be uneventful. But as the princesses Seika and Ji-Lin—twin sisters—travel to pay respects to their kingdom’s dragon guardian, unexpected monsters appear and tremors shake the earth. The Hidden Islands face unprecedented threats, and the old rituals are failing. With only their strength, ingenuity, and flying lion to rely on, can the sisters find a new way to keep their people safe?


  • Tadiana Jones

    TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.