Book review: The Kingdom of the Lost series by Isobelle Carmody

Do yourself a favour: stop what you’re doing and get your hands on a copy of The Red Wind by Australian author Isobelle Carmody. Hold on a minute, you say, isn’t that a children’s book?

You’re not wrong. But you’re also not right either. You’ll find The Kingdom of the Lost series nestled under the ‘children’s’ section in bookstores but, trust me, there’s something for us adults too.

Isobelle Carmody herself told me that she never thinks about the readers when she writes. “I don’t think about the age of them,” Isobelle said. “The characters themselves are the thing that shape the age of the readership.”

There are three books so far in this series: The Red Wind, The Cloud Road and The Ice Maze.

Image credit: Bronwyn Eley

This magical series sometimes reminded of Once Upon a Forest, that endearing yet disturbing children’s movie that you might have seen growing up. When starting The Red Maze, I was never quite sure what world I was in. Brothers Zluty and Bily happily live in the desert – foraging, building, existing. But as what? The incredible illustrations (done by author Isobelle Carmody herself) show us two little creatures with fur, tails, pointy ears and… human faces, hands and feet. They almost look like two little boys playing dress up.

The world is also a bit of a mystery. When a devastating red wind sweeps the land, upending both Zluty’s adventures and Bily’s comfortable home life, you begin to realise that this world is an odd mix of familiar and unknown.

Isobelle very cleverly allows the reader to take in her descriptions and form their own image of the world before you turn the page and see what it is she imagines herself. So many times I would stop and study the illustrations and I would often see a technological wasteland. In this way it reminded me of The Shannara Trilogy. Remnants of our society now displaying our failure, our inevitable end.

But I wasn’t sure what these discarded technologies actually signified. Is this a world in which humans are now gone and Zluty and Bily and all the fascinating creatures they meet along the way are what is left? Or is this a world more like Once Upon a Forest, where these small creatures live alongside our human world and suffer the consequences of human actions?

Image credit: Sarah McDuling

To this day, even after speaking with Isobelle Carmody about it, I’m not quite sure. That is what I love about this series. You don’t have all the answers. Yet. It’s a fun adventure, a beautiful book and an incredible story for your children but at the same time, it gives adults something deeper to think about. Not just about the world but about what happens to Zluty and Bily. It knocks on our doors and asks us to think about how we treat animals, how we treat the world and what real bravery looks like.

I love Zluty and Bily because they are so different and they are different kinds of brave. I think it’s so important to show children (and adults!) that you don’t have to venture out into the unknown wilderness alone to be called ‘brave’. Instead it could be accepting that what looks like a monster might actually be good. It could be putting your life at risk to help those in need. It could be stepping outside your comfort zone.

GAH! What a great story. I can’t even articulate myself properly. I feel like I’ve just been rambling.

I was lucky enough to meet Isobelle last year when she came into Booktopia. My friend/colleague Sarah McDuling and I interviewed her for The Booktopia Podcast. Have a listen to the interview because I think it will better articulate how much you will get from reading this series:

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