I loved this book so much right up until almost the very end. There will be some serious spoilers later, but for now, I’ll merely give an overview. A group of men crash their balloon near a deserted island in the South Pacific during the Civil War. They manage to make their way through the rough surf to a small islet off the coast of a larger island that has been formed by a volcano. At low tide, they cross the strip of sea between the two and begin to explore the larger island. They eventually find their engineer, who was lost in the ocean during their crash. It would seem that he’s been saved by some mysterious benefactor who put him in a cave to recover.
Things keep getting weirder when they find a trunk full of just enough clothing for the five of them. Just enough guns and ammo, too. The sailor and the engineer decide to build a ship and the others also pitch in their labor. On their maiden voyage, they circle the island and happen upon a note in a bottle. The note guides them to a neighboring island, where they find a man who has been isolated for years. Poor Ayrton seems to have lost all of his humanity, but they’re eventually able to bring him around.
For about four years, these men inhabit the island. They build a corral for sheep and their onagers. They cultivate crops and hunt the plethora of animals that live on the island. They use the advantage they have in their resident engineer to create a kiln and a forge for the manufacturing of tools and even a type of gunpowder. It would seem for some time that they’re all going to be okay. That is, until pirates also crash into the island.
So, here’s where I’m going to spoil it. I mean, if a book that’s over 100 years old can really be spoiled.
I was totally into this book until I hit 95% complete on my Kindle. That was the point where the hidden benefactor is revealed to be none other than Captain Nemo, from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It gives a very brief synopsis of who he is and who he was before he took the name of Nemo. The book actually suggested that I put it down, go read the first book about the Captain and his Nautilus, then return to finish reading the last 5% of The Mysterious Island. Yeah, that’s a no.
The structure of this book is maddening. But, the story and the mystery are enjoyable. If you’ve seriously never read Jules Verne before—like myself—then I highly suggest that these books be read in the following order: In Search of the Castaways, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Mysterious Island. I fully believe that the books would’ve been far more enjoyable in that order, though since I’ve yet to actually read the first two, I can’t be certain. I must admit that I downloaded the complete works of Jules Verne and I’m currently lost in his short stories. Then there are the dozens and dozens of novels he’s written. It’s a daunting task to become a Jules Verne fan.
So, if you like old-timey science fiction that sort of rambles on and on without really going anywhere at times, but is action-packed in others, then you’ll enjoy this book. I know I did.