Book Review: On the Isle of Sound and Wonder by Alyson Grauer

Book:  On the Isle of Sound and Wonder
Author:  Alyson Grauer
Pages:   309
Format:  Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Kindle Unlimited
Publisher:  Xchyler Publishing
Book Source:  company project
Category:  Steampunk
Style:  Literary prose with complex characters, strong plot, and vivid world-building


All but alone, wild but resourceful Mira dreams of life beyond the shores of her mystical island. Isolated by her father, a dark sorcerer bent on vengeance, she has only his servants, an air spirit and a misshapen cast-off, to share her company. When Dante conjures a terrible storm to wash ashore his mortal enemies, Mira must chose between her loyalties to her father and what she knows is right.

Sail the skies and soar the seas surrounding this Isle of Sound and Wonder as Alyson Grauer masterfully retells William Shakespeare’s classic, The Tempest, bedecked in the trappings of Steampunk.

About the Author:  

Alyson Grauer is a storyteller in multiple mediums, her two primary canvases being the stage and the page. On stage she is often seen in the Chicago area, primarily at Piccolo Theatre, Plan 9 Burlesque, and the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Her nonfiction work has been published in the Journal for Perinatal Education for Lamaze International. Her short fiction can be found in Tales from the Archives (Volume 2) for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences and in two anthologies from Xchyler Publishing, "Lavenza, or The Modern Galatea" in Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology (MMSA) and "The Brother-Sister Fable" in Legends and Lore: an Anthology of Mythic Proportions. Alyson is a proud graduate of Loyola University of Chicago and hails originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This is her first novel.

Author and Thespian Alyson Grauer

The Process:

I first "met" Alyson (by the interweb definition) when she won one of Xchyler Publishing's first short story competitions. Her "Lavenza, or The Modern Galatea" anchored MMSA. Besides being a brilliant writer, I found her witty, intelligent, and a delight to work with. I wanted to see more of her work.

When I asked her to send me her current work in progress, she hemmed and hawed. I found it impossible to believe that such a great writer had nothing to show me. (That was then. Now, I marvel that she actually found the time to enter the competition. It must have been a slow week.)

As it happens, the previous November, Alyson had participated in National November Writer's Month (NaNoWriMo), an Internet site for writers, half social media, half support group, that challenges them to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. She had something gosh-awful that she had whipped up, but it really wasn't share-worthy. I told her to show me anyway. She sent me her initial take on a Steampunk rendition of William Shakespeare's The Tempest

I don't recall it being as terrible as she professes it was, but that was . . . wow! . . . close to two years now. In any case, it was good enough (or I had faith enough in Alyson) for me to pass it on to one of our senior editors, Jessica Shen, asking if she wanted the project. Jess said 'gimme', and the rest is history. A long, tumultuous history, but history none the less. They got 'er done.

Alyson and Jess have spent the past eighteen months hammering away at this project, starting from the ground up and rewriting the entire thing. Alyson has done a magnificent job, and Jessica has been with her every step of the way. They make a fantastic team, and are what I encourage all my authors and their editors to be: great friends. Their end result: a much lauded book that Xchyler is proud to have in our catalog.

Cover Artist Egle Zioma
Of note, when Artist Egle Zioma agreed to work with The X, (after jumping for joy) I knew exactly which project I wanted her to start with. Like Jessica, she was the perfect fit for Alyson and her vision. The three of them worked together developing this marvelous cover, and we couldn't be more pleased with the end result.

I first met met Alyson last August at Salt City Steamfest. You can read about that event here. She's just as fun, energetic, and genuine in person as she is online. Then, just two weeks ago, I finally got to meet Jessica (equally charming) when we all converged on Madison, WI, for Teslacon 5 (a premier Steampunk event I highly recommend). You can read about that event here. Seeing them together, it's easy to see how this work came about, a result of their amazing synergy.

My Take:

I don't post reviews of Xchyler books on Goodreads or Amazon because I don't want my bias to influence the ratings. I think it best for readers if they can trust the reviewer not to have a vested interest in the success of the project; that they will get an honest review.
Alyson and Jessica at Teslacon

But, this is my blog so I get to say what I want. And, while I do have a bias toward these fun and fabulous women, I hope I'm capable of being honest in my review. I won't let anything I'm not proud of wear the Xchyler logo on its spine, and in the case of OISW, I like to shout it to the world. WE PUBLISHED THIS BOOK!

Alyson's masterful world-building engrosses the reader from the start. Her approach to Steampunk is light and refreshing, without the mechanics of it all being the sole point of the story. Rather, her richly drawn characters and dynamic, complex plot claim all the reader's attention and refuse to release them even after the last page has been turned.

Of course, the skeleton of the plot isn't hers. It's Shakespeare, plain and simple. Anyone familiar with The Tempest will identify it more sooner than later. However, Alyson calls this a "re-imagining," and indeed it is, for she takes the plots and the characters places Shakespeare only hinted at. The reader need not be familiar with the original text to become engrossed in this book. 

Alyson also claims the names of people and places as her own, and it's fun to mark how she has changed them to suit her own sensibilities. As much as the soul belongs to The Bard, the heart belongs to Alyson.

At Teslacon, we loved to tell parents of teens and tweens that we only published books they'd be happy to have their children read. Thus it is with OISW, but I would caution that Alyson does carry through the themes that Shakespeare mentions in The Tempest

There is a deftly handled attempted rape, and a same-sex relationship between two of the minor characters. While not physical, it is there, the dynamics of the relationship explored. Likewise, the attempted rape is more discussed than anything, and the actual action experienced through a sort of dream sequence, something the mentally challenged Karaburan doesn't even understand he's doing. It's very well managed.

Actually, as enjoyable as Heroine Mira is, my favorite character is Karaburan, or Kabu, as Mira calls him, not for any great or noble acts, but because Alyson does such an amazing job portraying him. While he is simple, he is not evil. Although an orphan and outcast, he is loyal and true. With the looks of a monster, he would never knowingly harm Mira or anyone, the aforementioned assault the product of the air spirit, Aurael's bad intentions. In discussions, Alyson called Kabu 'the fish monster,' but in her prose, he steps off the page as her very best human.

His mother, Corvina, is also a favorite, as you can probably surmise from my blog post here.

Bottom Line:

I strongly recommend this book to lovers of Steampunk or Shakespeare, or Shakespearean Steampunk, or those looking for a fantasy with heart. While there are some elements that require caution to parents of readers aged 10-18, they also provide an excellent opportunity for discussion of the issues at hand, which I would strongly encourage.

Alyson is a fine author. There are one or two things I may have changed (usually along the lines of more more more!), but this first full novel promises truly great things from her in the future . . . if she can step off the stage long enough to do them.

Find Grauer on the web:

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