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Review: Minecraft: The Island

I am a gamer. I love diving into a video game world and following the adventure of a hero to save the princess, the world, the universe, or whatever. Sometimes it’s nice to just jump in and shoot some zombies in their horribly disfigured faces. Other times it’s fun to jump into a blocky sandbox and build whatever the heck I want to.

This blocky sandbox, more commonly known as Minecraft, is easily my favorite game of all time. I first saw it in passing in high school and thought it looked dumb. A short time later, I watched five idiots on YouTube play it together and I just about died laughing from the hilarity of them trying to build a house and it ends up covered in lava with them trapped inside. Seeing this video, and the ones that followed convinced me to buy the game.

That first video came out eight years ago, and I’ve been playing the game steadily ever since. So thanks for the addiction Achievement Hunter.

There isn’t much to the game, you play a person in a blocky, pixelated open world where you can break and place blocks. It is literally a virtual sandbox with goals you don’t have to achieve if you don’t want to and no real story whatsoever. The openness and limitless potential of the game has captivated millions of people and made it the bestselling game of all time.

It has sold over 200,000,000 copies!

This long-winded introduction leads to an inevitable conclusion. With all of this popularity, there is a lot of game merchandise. Recently, Mojang, the company that created Minecraft, began producing official novels for the game. As I mentioned, the game doesn’t have any real story, so I was intrigued by the idea of a book within this universe I love.

That’s why I picked up and read The Island.

A Quick (Spoiler-Free) Summary

The Island was written by Max Brooks, the guy who wrote World War Z. It is a young adult book published in 2017. It is a survival story where a person is lost at sea and washes up on an island.

Thus, the name of the book.

However, there is a catch. Everything is square and blocky.

At first, the narrator thinks the square sun in the sky is just a side effect of almost drowning. When you’re adrift at sea, you’re bound to see things, right? Then he manages to swim to an island, and he realizes everything is blocky. Even his arms are blocky!

“The island was square. Or, rather, it was made of squares. Everything: sand, dirt, rocks, even those things I first thought were trees. Everything was a combination of cubes.”

“There was fleshy cube at the end of my rectangular arm, a cube that wouldn’t open no matter how hard I tried.”

“Brick-shaped feet, rectangular legs, a shoebox shaped torso, all covered in painted-on clothes.”

On top of all of the strangeness of the world around him, the narrator can’t even remember how he got into the ocean in the first place. Was he out fishing, on a cruise? He has no memory and is forced to try and figure out this new world he is in and hope rescue comes.

Surviving on an island is challenging enough on its own, then night falls and the monsters come out. Zombies, skeletons, giant spiders, and the dreaded creeper all come out to play. The narrator soon realizes he has his work cut out for him if he’s going to survive. These monsters are no joke. The zombies have claws and hit hard. The skeletons use bows and arrows and are deadly accurate. The spiders can climb walls and have ferocious bites. The creepers are deadly silent until they sneak up behind you and explode in a massive blast.

All of this proves to be difficult as the narrator learns to handle this new blocky world, its cube-ish inhabitants, and its many bizarre rules.

What I liked

For starters, you don’t have to be a fan of the game or know how to play it in order to enjoy the story. The narrator has no idea what is going on and you can learn with him.

The story captures a lot of the feelings of playing the game. For instance, sometimes you come up with crazy and weird ideas and you think: “Wow, this will be awesome and can’t possibly go wrong in any sort of catastrophic way!” Okay, so admittedly, you never think that last bit at first, but it does come up in hindsight for some ideas where you really should have seen the result coming.

As a survival story, it also does a great job of capturing the fear. For me, caving, the act of exploring dark caves to find resources is one of the scariest tasks in-game. You have no idea what is lurking in the dark or around a corner. At any moment, an arrow can fly out of nowhere and hit you, or suddenly a creeper is hissing behind you. No matter what, it can be terrifying when you are on your own. The dark is scary. In Minecraft, darkness is where monsters lurk and Brooks does an amazing job of capturing this feeling of fear.

The adventure of learning the game of Minecraft is fun and the narrator is relatable. It is easy to understand why he thinks the way he does. It’s easy to understand his confusion at the square-ness of the world and his fear at seeing his body that is but isn’t, his. The narrator is relatable.

As I write this out, I begin to question if the narrator’s gender is ever actually revealed. I don’t think it is. Since the whole story is told in first person, I don’t think the narrator ever uses gender-specific pronouns. I just assumed a male character because of the author and myself.

What I Didn’t Like

I’m hard-pressed to find something I didn’t like in this book. It grabbed hold of my attention and refused to let go until I had finished reading.

Some parts were a bit predictable, especially having played the game so much, it was easy to see where problems would arise. But, this is also a middle-grade to young adult book. It isn’t meant to be super difficult to read. And as the narrator learns from his mistakes, he learns important lessons that can easily be applied to life too, so it’s not all bad.

Honestly, my biggest gripe was the book had a bit of an open ending. Don’t get me wrong, it is a satisfying conclusion, but it does leave you wondering what happens next. Luckily, and I just recently learned this, there is a sequel coming out later this year and you can bet I will be scooping that book up the moment it is released.

Go on an Adventure

Reading The Island by Max Brooks is a lot like jumping into a new world in Minecraft. You are dropped into some unknown location and you have to figure out what you want to do. Of course, Brooks takes it a step further by putting readers directly into the character. Even if you are playing Minecraft, you don’t feel the pain of a zombie bite or get a full grip on the extreme isolation you face while playing.

This book makes up for that.

When you read The Island you are fully immersed into the world of Minecraft, building your own home in the middle of nowhere, crafting your tools, fighting against the monsters in the dark, and learning important lessons along the way.

If you couldn’t already guess, I do recommend this book, even if you’ve never played Minecraft before. I think it could be enjoyed by anyone. So go ahead, pick it up and go have an adventure in a world of unlimited blocky possibilities.

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