Review: The Island of Excess Love by Francesca Lia Block

The Island of Excess Love
Francesca Lia Block

Henry Holt & Co.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.
Released August 26, 2014
224 pages
YA / Fantasy / Post-Apocalyptic

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Pen has lost her parents. She’s lost her eye. But she has fought Kronen; she has won back her fragile friends and her beloved brother. Now Pen, Hex, Ash, Ez, and Venice are living in the pink house by the sea, getting by on hard work, companionship, and dreams. Until the day a foreboding ship appears in the harbor across from their home. As soon as the ship arrives, they all start having strange visions of destruction and violence. Trance-like, they head for the ship and their new battles begin.

This companion to Love in the Time of Global Warming follows Pen as she searches for love among the ruins, this time using Virgil’s epic Aeneid as her guide. A powerful and stunning book filled with Francesca Lia Block’s beautiful language and inspiring characters.

A few weeks ago I gushed about Love in the Time of Global Warming, the first book in this classic-inspired series of post-apocalyptic romance novels. It was a bit of a home coming of sorts a decade after Francesca Lia Block’s fiction had acted as a life preserver in my teenage years. I was eager to get to the second volume of the series, but I also didn’t want the experience of Block’s magical realism-filled poetic prose to be finished for the foreseeable future. So I read some other books in between, but none of them left the same dazed feeling of being truly transplanted completely to another place as Love in the Time of Global Warming did.

So when I finally picked up the sequel last week, I may have had my expectations set a little higher than I had when I read the first in the series a few weeks ago. While I wasn’t as captivated by The Island of Excess Love, I still had a difficult time pulling myself out of Block’s post-apocalyptic world of giants and illusion. This volume is based very loosely on The Aeneid and Pen as the narrator points out that, while Time of Global Warming paralleled The Odyssey near perfectly, this part of the story can at most be said to be “inspired” by the events of Aeneas and his followers.

---Slight spoilers for Love in the Time of Global Warming ahead---

I think trying to tie the two stories together might have caused Block to stretch a little more and made parts of the story feel a little more forced. Global Warming also ended with all the relationships happy and the whole band together again. This, of course, had to be destroyed early on because survival in the middle of the weirdest apocalypse ever isn’t enough of a catalyst for conflict. Instead Pen and her boyfriend Hex have to be wedged apart, which added an extra level of teenage drama and soap opera to the story that distracted a little from all the magic and fantasy elements.

Despite that, I did still enjoy reading The Island of Excess Love and the book is still filled with that cool rock star level of musical prose. Block is an artist with words and a magician with atmosphere. I don’t think there is much that would ever change that. The teenage drama fits well within the limits of YA and probably would have been perfect were I still a moody 15-year-old, so I can’t penalize her for making her teenaged characters teenagers where they acted more like adults in the previous book.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that the new characters introduced in this volume are beyond fascinating and provided quite a bit of extra spark. While some of the plot elements tying things together may have felt a little clunky, the big set pieces, including a particularly long chapter set on the island of the title, felt beautiful realized and complex. Meanwhile the ending made the entire book feel more like a bridge between two other more complete stories.

While Love in the Time of Global Warming could easily act as a standalone, The Island of Excess Love cannot. Its ending is ephemeral at best with epic foreshadowing of events in the next book. These foreshadowed events sound awesome and I look forward to seeing how they fit within the context of the larger series, but it did leave me feeling a little unsatisfied once I finally closed the covers.

This series is a mashup of old and new that has a weird sense of timelessness to it. I eagerly anticipate the next volume and I’m very curious to see what classic piece of literature Block ties into it.

 

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.