I debated whether or not I would read The Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz. Once I did, I loved it and the movie so much that I knew I had to have Return to the Isle of the Lost as soon as it was released. I found it at an independent bookstore on Wednesday and had finished it by Friday.
It starts by showing how our precious Villain Kids are doing at Auradon Prep. This was my favorite part. The best thing about sequels is seeing how the characters have grown while still remaining true to themselves. It also continues the theme that shows the difference between the good guys and the bad guys isn’t all black and white.
The relationships have also developed. It’s not that she did this incorrectly, but I liked some of it more than the rest. The quartet’s friendship (and their friendships with Auradon kids) keeps getting stronger. In the last book, this friendship was just developing. In this one, it is a solid frame for the rest of the story.
The only romance that is significant to the plot is Ben and Mal’s. Even when separated it’s obvious how much they care for and respect each other. When Mal reminds Yen-sid that Ben is king now, its fierceness comes from her faith in him. And when Ben sees Mal is heading into danger again, he shows his concern but never thinks to stop her, knowing how capable she is.
The other romantic relationships are barely mentioned, but I would have preferred they be left out completely. While Doug and Evie can be cute, I felt her being single goes more with her character development in the movie. The sudden implications of Jay and Carlos crushing on Jordan and Jane respectively felt like a Disney response to the Internet wanting the boys with each other instead. Honestly, Carlos seems too young for any romance just yet.
The plot was intriguing and original until about chapter 35, and Melissa de la Cruz knew it because she prefaced it with the quote from Peter Pan saying, “All this has happened before.” The sequence that follows echoes the one in the last book where each of the four must face their personal demons. The twist is that their demons are meant to come from the darkness in each of them instead of their parents this time.
The problem is that Cruz focused more on how they are like their parents instead of their own inner struggles. The emotions just aren’t vibrant or authentic, which is why it feels like an echo instead of a peek into the characters’ hearts and minds. It’s disappointing because, both before and after this sequence, Cruz demonstrated her understanding of these characters and their growth. These scenes, which focus on the individuals in a way the movies can’t, were an opportunity to explore who they were beneath the glamor. Evie could have truly acknowledged the witch in her while Mal embraced her dragon blood. I hope this is a storyline that the movie picks up because their backgrounds deserve more. In the same way, the audience should see Carlos struggling with the scars his mother left him. Instead of showing us how Jay rejects his father’s dream, she could have shown his true heart’s desire.
The parts of the book set in Auradon are fun and interesting, but the section wherein we actually Return to the Isle of the Lost suffers from a lack of the darkness omnipresent in the last book. We can blame it on the difficulty of marrying a “happily ever after” with these characters’ dark backgrounds or on the pressure to conform to a Disneyfied world view, but one thing is certain: this fear of the darkness makes what could be a bold, compelling story fall flat.