Tanith Lee,
Islands in the Sky
(Voyage of the Basset #1)

(Random House, 1999)

In 1996, James Christensen published Voyage of the Basset, the tale of a recently widowed Victorian era professor who, with his daughters Miranda and Cassandra, sets sail through the Lands of Legend on the magical ship the Basset. The text was written by Alan Dean Foster and Renwick St. James, and the book featured Christensen's lavish, lovely artwork. At the end of the story, Miranda, Cassandra, and their father, Professor Aisling, return home, their adventure concluded. Now the adventure returns as several well-known and well-loved fantasy authors contribute to a new series of adventures based on Christensen's book.

Tanith Lee offers the first entry in the series, Islands in the Sky. Hope Glover, orphaned as a little girl, is a maid in the home of the elegant and insufferable Mr. and Mrs. Rivers. Lonely, friendless and a target for abuse from just about everyone around her, Hope doesn't let endless hard work get in the way of her dream to become an actress. Fortified by the stories she remembers her mother telling her when she was little, Hope takes every opportunity she can to act out the stories for herself.

On the day Hope turns 11, a young woman and her husband come to call on Mr. and Mrs. Rivers. While the husband acts as a decoy to lure the Riverses away, the young woman, whose name is Cassandra, steals an opportunity to talk to Hope. She tells Hope to believe in her dreams and to believe in herself before she and her husband are asked to leave. The next day brings Cassandra's sister, Miranda, who has a gift for the Rivers' son, Apollo, a kite, and a letter for Hope.

The kite gets stuck in a tree, and despite her dislike of Apollo, Hope climbs up to fetch it. Naturally, this is no ordinary kite, and before she knows it, she -- and the hapless Apollo -- are borne aloft into the Lands of Legend. She lands on the Basset, meeting Captain Malachi, Sebastian and the rest of the dwarves -- and, of course, the gremlins, and the ship sails into the clouds, where Hope meets with the winged horses and their king, Pegasus. She learns that a band of centaurs are plotting to invade the islands in the sky and enslave the flying horses and that they are hoping that she can help them. Meanwhile, Apollo has fallen in with the scruffy group of centaurs, but he is determined to foil their plans. The two young people have to learn to work together to successfully save the winged horses.

Lee does a more than admirable job in spinning a story off the original. The characters ring true, particularly Apollo who, while outwardly a bully, is a fairly complex character, and his transformation during his stay in the Lands of Legend is convincing. Furthermore, she does not settle for the pat happy ending -- the ending is happy enough, but it is clear that both Hope and Apollo must work for their happiness. The story is charming and engrossing, with humor laced deftly through it, and overall, Lee remains true to Christensen's work.

This is a promising start to a fine series for upper middle grade readers.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Buy Islands in the Sky from Amazon.com.