Today I am delighted to be reviewing The Isle of a Thousand Worlds by Dan Fitzgerald, the second book in the Weirdwater Confluence Duology which is out from Shadow Spark Publishing on the 15th January 2022. I absolutely adored the first book in this pair, The Living Waters when I read it earlier this year, which was a remarkably meditative book that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about, and I have been counting down the days until I could get my hands on book two and thank you so much to Dan Fitzgerald for the opportunity to read it early – and for such a wonderful second book!
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
An aging alchemist seeks the key to the Universal Tincture said to unlock the Thousand Worlds of the mind, but she never expected to solve the riddle of her hermetic heart.
A meditation acolyte travels the mystical social media known as the Caravan and finds that the Thousand Worlds lie just below the surface, if she can only learn to see the space between the stars.
This steamy romantic fantasy explores the confluence of the physical and the metaphysical through the commingling of bodies and minds.
THIS. BOOK. WAS. AMAZING.
Was? Is? I’m not sure at this point, although I am fairly sure that ‘amazing’ is not a strong enough word for The Isle of a Thousand Worlds, because it was one of those books where when I reached the end I just had to sit there and try and absorb it.
I was still trying to absorb it this morning.
I’m still trying to absorb it now, and honestly, I am not sure I am ready to do this book justice – but I have to try because I want more people to pick this one up.
Okay, let’s start at the top, and I have to admit that as excited as I was about The Isle of a Thousand Worlds – to the point where it is one of my most anticipated releases for 2022, there was also a little trepidation as I went into it, just simply because I adored The Living Waters so much that I was worried about the level of expectations I was putting on this sequel.
I needn’t have worried, because Fitzgerald has knocked it out of the park with this one.
As with the first book, I couldn’t put this one down – or if I did, it was constantly there on the edge of my thoughts and it has never been so hard to focus on adulting as it was yesterday, and the second I was done with stuff I had to do I was back with The Isle of a Thousand Words and didn’t put it down until I finished… and even now I can’t stop thinking about it, teasing at the threads of it and I think I will be for a while, either that or I’ll end up picking it up again and rereading it almost immediately to chase down more of the delicious little details that are all throughout this book.
I am going to start with the characters, because as well as genre-breaking books, I definitely associate Fitzgerald’s books with absolutely fantastic characters, and in the Isle of a Thousand Isles we see the return of some wonderfully familiar faces, some that we only glimpsed in the previous books and some wonderful new characters. He continues to go from strength to strength with his characters, and what I love is that no matter how different they may be, culturally, personally, they are also wonderfully human and believable – and how that plays into the rest of the world. The connections between characters, whether fleeting or lingering, or whether mental or physical are all the more real and grounded because of that wonderful characterisation that made it feel like regardless of what was happening on the page, we were right there and experiencing the moment with the characters.
It was a joy to see some very familiar faces in Temi, Gilea and Leo. With Gilea very much stepping into the limelight here, and it felt very much as though she was coming into her own, and again there was that feeling that her journey was very much about the internal becoming external. Learning to embrace everything she was and had, to shape her fear and choices into action, and in many ways, it felt as though she grew the most. I would have loved to have seen a little more of Temi, and yet the way Fitzgerald handles her and the distance between them was beautiful, and I loved that the growth of the connection between them felt so natural (and so much of what Temi said resonated deeply).
I said that my only complaint about The Living Waters was that I wanted more of Temi and Gilea – and to be honest, I still feel that way just because I love the relationship between the two of them so much. However, Fitzgerald more than delivered, and I loved that he maintained that feeling of that last, reluctant bud flowering in spring to start with, before watering it and allowing it to bloom. The connection was still there, and I maintain that some of the most beautiful moments are about these two – whether together in person or across great distances, or just reliving those moments of connection, and seeing them come together again had the biggest smile on my face.
“I’ve pictured it so many times, but I never believed I would actually make it, that you would be here waiting for me. It feels like a dream.”
Leo was still a joy to read about, and I will admit there was relief when we returned to him – as I finished the first book really wanting to give him a hug, and there was something comforting about seeing him in his natural element, being himself. In many ways, he feels like the connective tissue in this series, linking the different groups in his own way.
I always thought it would be hard for Temi to be replaced as my favourite, but Fitzgerald has really challenged that belief with Patia. We had met her briefly in The Living Waters, but now we really get to know her and she is a marvellous and utterly real character, with rough edges and flaws, and a stubborn streak a mile wide. There’s always something wonderfully enriching about a character with life experience, and Patia has that – and I loved that we got to see elements of what had shaped her with memories of her life in Rontaia and her interactions in Guluch towards the start of the book, as well as seeing her being unabashedly herself. She really did steal the show for me in this book, and right from the beginning I was invested in her story, and what I loved the most was that her growth was incredibly personal – and it was interesting in this world of characters finding themselves in multiple ways (across both books), to see someone who was firm and established in who they were find new aspects of themselves. I knew that she was my favourite when there was a moment towards the end of the book that had my heart in my mouth.
‘She eyed the chickens in their wicker cages at several stalls, pretending not to hear the prices called out by the barkers until she heard the lowest number. She haggled for the customary five minutes before leaving with a trussed and squawking chicken…’
Patia is paralleled in some ways and wonderfully matched by Gero. They both have that life experience, that certainty of who they are, but in some ways it felt like she was the Earth and he was the Moon, anchoring her into his orbit. I remember I was a tiny bit dubious about him at the beginning, and yet within such a short space of time, Fitzgerald had me invested in this wonderful man, who also grew throughout this book even though he was more established in some ways than Patia was.
(Also I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the best girl in the whole book – Vera. )
However, what really made Patia and Gero – who were both such wonderful individuals was the relationship that developed between them. I will say straight up that I often find steamy romance something that is very much hit or miss, and more often the latter, but I was so supremely confident in Fitzgerald’s writing and characterisation that I had zero hesitation in picking this one up – and I am glad I did. He’d already more than proved what he could do with connections and relationships, but it reaches a new level here and I think the reason why this one worked so well for me is that both characters are far more than the relationship. They are such strong individuals, with lives of their own that are brought together, and the connection that develops takes the time it needs and folds in so many elements – from working together to the simple trust and freedom to allow the other to be who they need to be, to the homely moments of chores and eating together and quiet touches. It’s such a rich relationship before you take in the physical aspects and I loved that you can see that connection flow into the steamier aspects, and there was such a wonderful sense of balance and respect and again that human, natural feel that Fitzgerald can bring to his characters that it felt very much like ‘yes, of course, this is happening’ as natural as breathing. Those scenes are beautifully written, with emotion woven throughout and I just loved every moment the two of them spent together, and just the sheer care and devotion in those moments were something to behold as was the spice :D.
This was another book of contrasts. In some ways, this book felt more intimate and personal, from the relationships between Temi and Gilea, and Patia and Gero, to the repeated motif of ‘within and without’ and the connections inside and out, and there was a lot of focus on those internal journeys and realisations. (And actually, another relationship that I really have to mention was Gilea and Amini – it was just such a warm relationship, and even with the stakes involved, the trust and support were lovely to behold.) However, even as this book embraced that feeling of intimacy, the world itself was expanding – from all the little details from the differences in practices between the various crossroads and cities, the world(s) that opened up with the Caravan (and some of my favourite imagery was in the scenes in the caravan), and even geographically with the Isles and the sea caves – and I loved that The Isle of a Thousand Worlds maintained that joyous respect and observance of nature and it’s bounty.
I also have to say that I spent a large chunk of this book with my mouth-watering. The descriptions of the food in this book were divine, and I would happily sample any of the food mentioned in this book.
Another contrast was that this was an intensely character-driven story, incredibly personal in its exploration and development of the relationships. And yet, at the same time, it was dealing with issues and possibilities that could affect the world as a whole – from the economy being maintained and bartered over in The Caravan, to the search for the Universal Tincture and what that could mean for the world. Yet, Fitzgerald balances those contrasts wonderfully, and it leads to such a complete experience that you can just lose yourself in the fabric of the world and the story he has woven here.
The Isle of a Thousand Worlds is another example of sword free fantasy (although there is a sharp knife involved, and I will give you three guesses who carries it), and I just think that Fitzgerald has found and crafted such a gem with this subgenre. Again, this is not a book that lacks in tension or stakes or risk, and while the action was different in this one, it was no less gripping or powerful. There are many forms of conflict, and connection, and stakes and this series shows just what can be done when you lay aside the swords.
“My mind and heart are open to you.”
The Isle of a Thousand Worlds was an absolute delight to read, and Fitzgerald is a must-read for me and I am already ridiculously excited for his next project The Delve. An absolutely perfect follow up to The Living Waters, and yet a wonderfully creative and open individual work that shines in its own way, it was fantastic to return to this world, to find more little connections between all his works. The Weirdwater Confluence is something different, and something much needed in this chaotic world of ours, and I honestly cannot put into words just how much I have enjoyed this series, and all I can say is open your mind and give yourself the pleasure of losing yourself in this story.
“Here’s to the salt air, to friends old and new, to travels past and journeys to come.”
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.