I could easily be talked into giving this four stars for its high adventure, intriguing mystery and appealing characters. You've got to love a book that grabs you right from the beginning:
"Are we rising again?" "No on the contrary." "Are we descending?" "Worse than that, captain! We are falling!" "For heavens sake heave out the ballast!" "There! The last sack is empty!" "Does the balloon rise?" "No!" "I hear a noise like the dashing of waves! The sea is below the car. It cannot be more than 500 feet from us!" "Overboard with every weight!...everything!"
I must say, that listening to this (via the Kindle's speech feature while I was driving) was better than having to read all those exclamation points, but I was hooked and enjoyed the vicarious adventure.
Jules Verne's MYSTERIOUS ISLAND embraces the ever-popular story line of men surviving--even thriving--on a deserted island, but instead of getting there by shipwreck, these men have escaped from a Civil War Richmond under siege in a hot air balloon and are blown thousands of miles off course in the grip of a raging storm. Eventually, their balloon loses air and they fall into the sea and are washed up on an island. There they establish a settlement, and with remarkable know-how, tenacity, and courage, they make quite a nice life for themselves that lasts about four years, despite the challenges of tempest, wild animals, injuries, pirates, and, most intriguingly, a mysteriously benevolent but invisible presence that seems to defy the castaways' belief that they are alone on the island.
This book was written in 1874, and must surely have been influenced by SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON which was written in 1812. The similarities are striking in the remarkably clever things the castaways envisioned, built or fabricated to ensure their comfort and safety...everything from their lodging and outbuildings to a small sailing ship. Between them, they conveniently brought extensive knowledge of engineering, sailing, ship-building, astronomy, geography, botany, and chemistry.
The book does bog down occasionally, and the 19th century language is somewhat stilted. Every conversation seemed to include a "my boy" or "my man" or "my friend" (e.g., "'No doubt, my boy,' answered the engineer..."). The characters were ennobled by the author to be unrealistic paradigms of 19th century virtue: industrious, courageous, practical, and compassionate.
But these are quibbles in the face of the pleasure given by such a good story, and the way Jules Verne tied this book in with the story from 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA was an interesting and unexpected twist. This book is a classic for a reason.