X-Isle is one of those books that I liked much more in principle than the actual story itself. It's right up my alley -- in Steve Augarde's drowned dystopian future, London and much of the rest of the world is underwater. The disaster that sparked the great flood is never fully described - through the eyes of our narrator, 14-year-old Baz, the event is now insignificant. The desperate reality of day-to-day survival is what's important.
Starvation is a real threat. With so much of the world submerged beneath murky depths, preserved food from before the floods is scavenged and traded like currency. One of the best ways for a young man to ensure survival is to try to secure work on X-Isle, an island-based recovery and distribution operation run by religious zealot Reverend John Ecks and his savage pirate sons. Baz expects hard labor but knows that the exchange -- three hot, nutritious meals a day and escape from the brutalities of life on the mainland -- will be worth it.
Unfortunately, he finds the reality of X-Isle very different from its promised comfort. Along with fast friend and fellow new recruit Ray, he struggles to avoid the wrath of the cappos, to fight his fellow workmates for paltry scraps of food once a day and to survive the brutal physical work he's forced to do for hours without rest. But even with the best of survival skills, the spiraling psychotic decline of his captor and the constant power struggle of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world is a combination that Baz may not be equipped to survive.
There are things I enjoyed about X-Isle -- the general premise, the gloomy atmosphere and the subtle way the Big Twist plays out in the story, for example. There were also some things that really annoyed me about X-Isle, such as the vernacular used by the author and the homogeny of many of the boys on the island. But my main problem was, I couldn't help but feel I wasn't really the book's intended audience. This suspicion was hammered home around page 250, when the characters set out to build a fart factory to create a bomb in hope of escaping their slavemasters. Yes, you read that right. A fart factory. Points for originility, but gross.
X-Isle was overall a highly original story that seems poised for a sequel, and I might be tempted to read it because of the big twist at the end and my curiosity about how that might play out in the future. If you're looking for an uplifting or happy read, you may want to pass this by -- although X-Isle ends with a ray of hope after lots of pages of suffering and sadness, so I guess that's the payoff.