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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg

A portrait of a marriage, a meditation on faith, and a journey of conquest and self-discovery, Island of Wings is a passionate and atmospheric novel reminiscent of Wuthering Heights.

July, 1830. On the ten-hour sail west from the Hebrides to the islands of St. Kilda, everything lies ahead for Lizzie and Neil McKenzie. Neil is to become the minister to the small community of islanders, and Lizzie, his new wife, is pregnant with their first child. Neil's journey is evangelical: a testing and strengthening of his own faith against the old pagan ways of the St. Kildans, but it is also a passage to atonement. For Lizzie -- bright, beautiful, and devoted -- this is an adventure, a voyage into the unknown. She is sure only of her loyalty and love for her husband, but everything that happens from now on will challenge all her certainties.

As the two adjust to life on an exposed archipelago on the edge of civilization, where the natives live in squalor and subsist on a diet of seabirds, and babies perish mysteriously in their first week, their marriage -- and their sanity -- is threatened. Is Lizzie a willful temptress drawing him away from his faith? Is Neil's zealous Christianity unhinging into madness? And who, or what, is haunting the moors and cliff-tops?

Exquisitely written and profoundly moving, Island of Wings is more than just an account of a marriage in peril -- it is also a richly imagined novel about two people struggling to keep their love, and their family, alive in a place of terrible hardship and tumultuous beauty.
Summary taken from
Length: 311 pages (e-copy)
Source: NetGalley ARC
Publication Date: March 28th 2011

I read this book for three challenges. My Around the World challenge which I can knock Scotland off my list because this book takes place on the the island of St. Kilda which is off the coast of Scotland. I also read this for my RCC Challenge, and the NetGalley 2012 Reading Challenge.

My first love is history, I had to sit through hours and hours of The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel etc. as a kid thanks to my dad so unlike a lot of other kids, I actually love history. This has translated into a great love for historical fiction and while you haven't seen me review a lot of these titles don't worry :) The reviews are coming I'm just trying to branch out an explore other genres.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. I was kind of hesitant to read it because I learned that the book wasn't originally published in English and sometimes when a novel gets translated things get translation. Sorry, I had to say it. Anyways, I was a little concerned but I quickly realized my fears were misplaced.

Karin Altenberg has written a beautiful novel that is based on a real man Neil McKenzie who really was a reverend on the Island of St. Kilda. I thought that Karin did a fantastic job for getting the tone of her novel perfect. In my opinion she did an excellent job of recreating life during that time. Most of all I love how you could sense that she wrote every word with conviction.

The author also has a gift at creating characters that actually evoke emotions. Lizzie, Neil's young wife was my favourite character. I hated how Neil treated her and made her feel weak and stupid. However I'm glad to see that she grew as a character throughout the whole novel. I felt so bad for her. She's thrust into a new life, on an isolate island where her husband is the only one that can speak English with her, she's also coming to terms with her impending motherhood and struggling to find the real Lizzie.

I personally HATED Neil. The way he treated Lizzie was abhorrent to me and the fact that he treated her so poorly to make up for his own mistakes sickened me. However, just because I hate Neil and wanted to strangle him at several points in the book I feel that Karin wrote him very realistically.  I did not agree with Neil much throughout the book if ever. I know that he went to St. Kilda with good intentions but I think he failed the islanders in a lot of ways. Most of all I hated how he looked down on them from his holier than thou pedestal that he placed himself on. It really irritated me but it worked for the novel as a whole.

I also enjoyed the setting. I felt as if I were actually in the places where scenes in the book took place. She was descriptive without overdoing it and that enabled her to write the scenes beautifully. It's wonderful to find an author who is skilled at making the reader feel as if they are present in the novel.

I think that this book was rich in history and though I didn't always see eye to eye with Neil I think that Karin Altenberg is extremely adept at creating characters, she makes them so realistic you can't help but admire her skill in writing. The novel as a whole is a great example of a debut author writing a fantastic piece of historical fiction.

I would have absolutely no problem recommending this book to anyone. I especially recommend it to lovers of historical fiction and those who may be new to the genre. It's great book and is now one of my new favourites. I can see myself reading this one again and again. I can't wait to read more by this new, talented author!

To purchase the book via Amazon CLICK HERE
To purchase the book via BookDepository CLICK HERE

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my free and honest review.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★


  1. I love it when books you don't know what to expect of, end up surprising you. And I love the title of this one.

    1. I love the title too, it suits the book. St. Kilda was/is home to thousands of birds.

  2. great review baby. You keep getting better all the time. I remember when you read me the description of this book. Im glad you enjoyed it so much. Cant wait to read more of your posts. xo

  3. I have never heard of the island, have always hated history as I could never get my facts right but surprisingly I love historical fiction and this book sounds great and considering the fact that you loved it and it's not lost in translation, I will have to read it.

    Great review. :)

    1. Aww thanks! I hope you like it, I'll feel horrible if I recommended a book to you that you might hate lol.


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