Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Review: Whispers from the Poisoned Isle (Jekua #4) by Travis M. Riddle


Whispers from the Poisoned Isle (Jekua #4) by Travis M. Riddle
Independently Published
Publication Date: September 19th, 2023
Ebook. 584 pages.

About Whispers from the Poisoned Isle:

"Yuluhu Island was once a thriving ecosystem, but now it's a toxic wasteland.

After barely surviving the attack on the Makanuele Rumble, Balt and Alani set out with their friends on a dangerous journey across the island to find a laboratory that might hold the key to learning what truly happened to Balt's grandparents eight years ago.

The Summoners will have to battle mutant Jekuas warped and strengthened by their toxic environment, search for a way to repair the mana leak that threatens to plunge Alani into perpetual soulsickness, and avoid the attention of their enemies.

But surviving the island won't be enough, because the supposedly abandoned lab is still in use – and a threat deadlier than any they've faced before is waiting."

Where do I begin this review? The fourth book of Travis M. Riddle's Jekua series, Whispers from the Poisoned Isle, is finally here and I couldn't have been more excited to read it and share my thoughts now! Just a quick head's up before getting into this review: this review will likely have inadvertent spoilers for books #1-3, so if you haven't read any of those books you might want to skip this review and check out my reviews for one of those books (which can all be found here). 

First, before I jump into the review itself, can we take a moment to appreciate the cover art for Whispers from the Poisoned Isle? This entire series has had some consistently outstanding artwork for each book and I think the illustrations and colors bring the world to life with such vibrancy. 

With that out of the way, let's dive into Whispers from the Poisoned Isle!

As with previous books in the series, we pick up pretty soon after the events of Makanuele Rumble following Balt, Alani, Niona, Aeiko, and Brine as they begin their journey to the plague-ridden island of Yuluhu. Yuluhu is not a typical vacation destination because of the aforementioned disease known as strihova that is prevalent on the island. Any and all visitors must quarantine for a week before leaving the island and are required to wear permanent masks while on the island. This permanent mask situation also leads to some... interesting eating arrangements where visitors have to adopt a liquid-only diet (with drinks ranging from the fruity to the savory...) through their mask, and I have to say all this plus the risk of getting infected would probably prevent me from visiting, but I know our crew have important things to take care of. 

The group has arrived on Yuluhu in order to continue Alani's pilgrimage to all the church's Veptilos, but they have a secondary goal as well: to find out if the Facet is indeed working out of an abandoned Lakhalo lab on the island, and to see if they can figure out why they are stealing Veptilos. On Yuluhu, they discover that the relatively mysterious disease known as strihova has affected not only its human inhabitants on Yuluhu, but also turned many of the Jekuas into rabid mutant Jekuas that wreak a vast amount of havoc on the island and its residents. 

I always love hanging out with this group of characters. Balt and Alani are the OGs and continue to embody strong personalities that are consistent in many ways, yet also ever-evolving and dynamic. Each book seems to showcase some sort of arc for each character and pushes forward their development in a consistent, evenly paced manner. In the previous book, we started to see Alani really begin to question her passion for the church and whether it's really the future she wants, and this book continues to explore that thread with Alani really diving deep into what drives her and what she sees wanting to do in her future. I've really enjoyed this deeper exploration with Alani's character, and I have to say it's not one I initially would've expected from the beginning of the story, and I'm really enjoyed where it's going. 

Balt has also experienced some drastic worldview shifts as he experiences more and more while accompanying Alani on her pilgrimage. Stepping back to look at how far Balt has come from the very first book before he'd imprinted even one Jekua to now when he's been creating hybrids and participating in some pretty intense Jekua battles (including his stint int he Makanuele Rumble!) has shown his growth not only in hard skills at using Jekuas and increasing his mana reserves, but also in his own maturity in knowing more about his own limits. 

Niona once again joins us on the journey for this book, and we also get Aeiko and Brine our favorite coral golem joining us on this leg as well. I love the growing cast and enjoying getting to dig in a little into Niona's struggles as well as she tries to come to terms with the fact that she might never see her first and favorite imprinted Jekua after her kayet was badly damaged in the Facet battle in the last book. Niona remains extremely outspoken and not one to shy away from saying exactly what's on her mind, and it brought a new dimension to her character to see her go through some new struggles. Aeiko is a pretty steady character in this book, though I feel like Brine has been slowly changing ever so slightly since we first met him in the first book. 

Sadly, due to the eating situation of this book, we did not get nearly as many delectable food descriptions in this book (though we did still get one or two), and instead were treated to some pretty gnarly sounding drinks–liquified versions of meat and potatoes, anybody?–but fortunately there was enough else going on with the plot that I didn't have to feel too sad about this. 

There are plenty of Jekua battles littered throughout Whispers from the Poisoned Isle, ranging from relatively friendly practice games to some of the more intense ones we've seen with much higher stakes than we've seen previously (barring a few times). For me, there was also the added stress of worrying about one of our characters' masks getting dislodged at any point in these battles, so that kept me even more on the edge of my seat than I already was. Some of these Jekua battles felt much different from those we saw in Makanuele Rumble, given that the previous ones were largely setup during a tournament with rules and parameters, and a good deal of these were about needing to win or achieve some level of safety. 

All the subtle foreshadowing and little hints at things being not quite they seemed that I mentioned in previous novels has really begun to fruition with some pretty massive discoveries uncovered in this book, and I think this book really serves as a climactic moment in what I assume is the overarching arc fo the series. I really can't seem to get enough of this world and learning all about the new islands and Jekuas that pop up as the story progresses. In fact, the entire progression of this series has felt so methodically laid out that I've been consistently impressed with how well we, as readers, are given something new to explore in the world with each book, while also leaving plenty of hints and ideas of new things and adventure to come. I've been particularly excited to explore each new island that we visit

Something about this series has just been so effortlessly engaging for me that it's hard to compare my reading experience to anything else. I feel like there are books you love that require some level of effort to sit down and read, and then there are books you love that you just sit down and with only one or two sentences you're fully immersed in the world and reading along with relative ease, and this series has easily been the latter. That's not to imply it's low bar or anything–far from it, in fact–but seems to reflect more on the author's ability to tell a story with a tone that feels both natural and doesn't rely too much on tricks and cheap devices to keep you hooked. There's a strong sense of realism with how the characters interact and dialogue with one another, as well as how the world has been constructed and we've slowly learned more and more about it along with our characters.

Overall, I've given Whispers from the Poisoned Isle five stars! There's a part of me that keeps wondering when I'll have to stop doling out the five stars for this series, but I've yet to see that happen and I'm happy a truly fantastic time with this series. I cannot wait for the next book! If you've not yet started this series (which, if you haven't and you've read this entire review then you didn't heed my previous advice, clearly), do yourselves a favor and go check out On Lavender Tides, I promise you won't be disappointed. If you have been reading this series, then you're in for a treat because this series only seems to be getting stronger with each book. 

*I received a copy of Whispers from the Poisoned Isle courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon 

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