The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier Two cousins meeting each other for the first time prove more important to each other and to the future of their kingdom than either of them could realize in this classical-feeling fantasy. Trei has come to the Floating Islands following the death of his family in a volcano explosion that buried his entire city. The uncle with whom he was staying refuses to take him in, because of the cost of paying to register him as a full citizen of the Empire. Instead, he sends Trei to his maternal uncle in the Floating Islands. The Islands truly float in midair, held aloft by the magic of air dragons invisible to most. On his journey there, he first sees the kajuraihi, the winged men who historically defended the Floating Islands (reassuringly using ordinary magic to make their wings work). Trei is instantly sky-mad, wanting more than anything to become kajurai himself, and his kindly uncle makes it possible for him to attend the next audition. His cousin, Araene, chafes at the restrictions placed on upper class Island girls, who are not supposed to leave their houses without escort nor aspire to anything but marriage. Though Trei quickly senses her frustration and is deeply sympathetic, he doesn’t guess that she disguises herself as a boy to attend lectures on the culinary arts at the University. Even more than skill at cooking, Araene is found by the Hidden School of mages, where a mage tells her that she has magecraft rising in her and should join the school. But of course, he doesn’t know that Araene is a girl. The magic is one of the coolest aspects of the book. Araene tastes her magic – coriander, ginger, cumin, pushing and pulling the flavors around to create the flavor profile that feels right. Trei’s kajurai magic allows him to see the translucent dragons in the sky, as well as air currents, wind, and the temperature of the air. Trei and Araene both find their abilities tested, and Trei his identity, as the islands come under attack from the Empire in which Trei was born. This was a book that I read as quickly as I could and then felt the pain when it ended.
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