On the very surface, Somber Island by T. Lynne Tolles is about a simple girl who is happy with the very little she is given. As soon as you dig a bit deeper though, it’s easy to see that it is about pushing through difficult circumstances to build a loving relationship.
Phoebe MacIntire is a young girl in the mid-1800s. She is practically a live-in servant to her father and two older sisters. She’s always been the weak link in her family and her father believes she is destined to be a nobody all her life. This is why when her father gets the chance to ship her off to the new world to be servant to someone else whilst keeping all her pay, he jumps at the grand opportunity. But what will happen to poor Phoebe when she becomes the servant to a strange man living on a deserted island all alone? And what happens when she is plagued by a physically violent woman in her dreams demanding she leave the manor?
The plot development of this book is a bit confusing to say the least about it. When I first began reading it, I almost felt as if I were reading a “Cinderella” story. Phoebe was clearly a servant to her father and sisters. However, after Phoebe’s father shipped her off to Newfoundland the story took a completely different turn. From there on out, the storyline seemed like a mix between The Phantom of the Opera and Twilight. So, I suppose if you liked all of those stories, you may very well like this, but the mix of them all seemed very confusing to me. At least it wasn’t predictable though! Along with the strange plot mixing, Tolles was often very confusing in her wording at points. For instance, early on in the story, she describes seeing a woman with green eyes in her dreams. However, later on, Phoebe recalls seeing a pair of blue eyes. The way she worded it makes it seem like the eyes are changing colours or the author just wasn’t paying attention to what colour eyes she had used in the first place. However, it turns out that there were actually two sets of eyes to be seen – one green pair and one blue pair. This does not become clear until later on though, which makes a chapter or two of the book seem incredibly confusing.
Overall, I liked this book. After I got through the incredibly confusing bits, it became a very sweet story. Even with the underdeveloped plot, the characters of Somber Island appeared to be incredibly developed. Phoebe and her master Lord Jacobs were the perfect match to help each other with the problems they had had all their lives. Neither was perfect which is what made them such great characters. Their flaws were very visible and I liked that they never hid them from each other or the audience.
As for recommendations, I would say that nobody under the age of 14 should read this book. The content of it is not really appropriate for children. It contains some pretty explicit bits in it. Also, as I said earlier, if you like Cinderella, The Phantom of the Opera, and Twilight, you will probably enjoy this book. Finally, I give Somber Island 3 out of 5 stars. It was not the best with the clearly undeveloped plot, but the characters made up for the bad plot to some extent.