Okay, hear me out on this one, okay?
Author: Max Brooks
Page Count: 288 (Hardcover)
Published By: Del Rey
Audio Book Narrated By: Jack Black (Not a joke)
Release Date: July 18th, 2017
Link to Purchase (Amazon)
Right now, you’re likely having the same thought I did when I first saw this book in my local book shop. “A Minecraft book?!” You’ve likely exclaimed at your screen. “Jonah, get this out of here! I don’t want anything to do with a book about a kid’s video game! Get it out of my face! Have I not suffered enough from all the kids doing constant Fortnite dances?!”
First of all, let the kids be kids and stop judging them. Secondly, like I said at the top there, hear me out. Or… read me out, I guess.
‘Minecraft: The Island‘, on the surface, seems like a typical novel adaptation; lazy, quickly slapped together, and only existing to make a buck off the source material. But when you look at the finer details, you’ll notice that something isn’t quite right. All the pieces are in place for it to be actually… good?!
First: it was written by Max Brooks. In case you didn’t know, he’s the writer behind ‘World War Z‘ (the good version, not that shitty movie or the new game), ‘The Zombie Survival Guide‘, and the ‘Harlem Hellfighters‘. All of which are some of my favorite books in the last few years. ‘World War Z‘ in particular is my favorite zombie story of all time, as it takes a more creative approach to the formula by making it a post-tense, documentary style retelling of the apocalypse.
Second: the audio book version. Admittedly, this was the factor that pushed me into buying it (thank you, Audible (not sponsored)). Normally, an audio book would be narrated by a specialist or the author themselves. But this one was done by one of my all time favorite actors: Jack Black.
The third and final factor was the typical: the reviews. It’s been fairly well received from critics. Usually, a book like this would sit at two to three-and-a-half stars. This one sits at a very solid four-and-a-half! “For a Minecraft book?” I thought, perplexed. “This can’t be right!”
So I decided to check it out. I mean, what was there to lose? Aside from my time, that is. If nothing else, I’d have something to talk about here!
And oh boy, did I.
Plot: Isekai Minecraft
Yes. You read that right.
Our nameless protagonist wakes up in the sea, drowning. Upon breaking back onto the surface, he realizes a few things: he has no memories, everything is made of blocks, and the laws of reality are completely different than anything he’s ever known. But things are even more dangerous than he knew, as monsters of all kinds suddenly start appearing. Now, he must learn the ways of this world to survive long enough to learn the truth of the big question: how did I get here?
It’s an easy plot to follow. It really should be, considering that it’s meant for children. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be well written, and oh boy is it! Not only is Brooks’s creative voice fantastic, but the story also explores a lot of interesting and pertinent themes. Particularly: growing up and the stress of becoming independent.
These are perfect themes to explore for a children’s story! A lot of kids have anxieties about these kinds of things! This book puts them in a way that, while acknowledging how scary they are, makes them feel easier to understand, thus easier to tackle.
Didn’t expect to have these kinds of themes explored in a book about Minecraft, huh?
Our nameless protagonist is also a pretty good character. We see him grow from a cowering, confused and lost man into a knowledgeable and experienced adventurer. It’s an incredibly natural and satisfying arc, one that carries the entire story incredibly well.
Why the hell does a Minecraft book have such good writing behind it?!
Voice: The Thrill of Learning How to Craft
Max Brooks has an incredibly unique and powerful creative voice. He manages to turn even the most mundane scene into an engaging and beautiful thrill! And he brings his A+ game to Minecraft: The Island.
He uses more than enough detail to paint a clear picture, but it never becomes boring. His use of metaphors and similes is masterful, and they all go hand-in-hand to make each and every scene totally fun and engaging.
The Island also puts you right into the protagonists’s head. You feel his anxiety, you experience his terror, and you revel with him in his triumphs. From beginning to end, you feel like you’re right next to the hero.
Which is the best feeling to have in a story like this.
Production: More Than Just Reading a Book
I’ve listened to many audio books for the sake of this series. But I have to say: this one completely stomps on everything else! I’ve never listened to an audio book this good!
First of all, the narrator. Jack Black is absolutely perfect here! He fits the protagonists shoes perfectly, and his voice and cadence make the story feel all the more grandiose. He is absolutely perfect for this story!
But it doesn’t stop there! The production team went all the way to create a completely immersive Minecraft experience. As odd as that may sound. They use musical tracks and splice in sound effects directly from the game when appropriate.
It doesn’t feel like you’re listening to a book. Rather, it feels like a classic radio drama. Hell, if there were more human characters, I’m sure they’d have brought in more voice actors aside from Jack Black! It’s clear that these guys decided to go all the way with this one, and it really shows! Listening to it is my preferred way of experiencing this book.
Seriously. If you take anything away from this review, let it be this: listen to the audio book version.
I didn’t go into this book with high expectations. All I had was curiosity. But I’ve come away from this one far happier than I thought I would! It’s incredibly well written and a ton of fun from start to end!
As weird as it sounds, I’d highly recommend this book! Specifically, the audio book version. While I have no doubts that the physical version is good, there is simply too much awesome stuff in the audio version! It’s a very short listen, so I’d say give it a chance. Trust me. You may be surprised.
God dammit. Now I want to play Minecraft. I’m in middle-school all over again!