Genre: Fantasy, YA
Publisher: Another World Press on September 13, 2016
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.
Sora’s life was full of magic–until she discovered it was all a lie.
Heir to Mt. Fuji’s spirit kingdom, Sora yearns to finally take on the sacred kami duties. But just as she confronts her parents to make a plea, a ghostly army invades the mountain. Barely escaping with her life, Sora follows her mother’s last instructions to a heart-wrenching discovery: she is a human changeling, raised as a decoy while her parents’ true daughter remained safe but unaware in modern-day Tokyo. Her powers were only borrowed, never her own. Now, with the world’s natural cycles falling into chaos and the ghosts plotting an even more deadly assault, it falls on her to train the unprepared kami princess.
As Sora struggles with her emerging human weaknesses and the draw of an unanticipated ally with secrets of his own, she vows to keep fighting for her loved ones and the world they once protected. But for one mortal girl to make a difference in this desperate war between the spirits, she may have to give up the only home she’s ever known.
Raised on Mount Fuji, Sora has spent her whole life immersed in the ancient traditions of her people, the kami. For Sora, the heir to the kami throne on Mount Fuji, this culture is her birthright. Or so she always thought…for it turns out that Sora’s merely a stand-in for another. She will not take the throne, and she will not manifest the powerful ki that will enable her to defeat the ghosts and demons that have suddenly overrun Mount Fuji. Instead, Sora must guide the real princess, hidden away in Tokyo, through this strange new land and the dangerous battles ahead.
Without the powers of a kami, keeping the real heir to the throne alive will be a difficult task. Kami are spirits that typically embody forces of nature, elements, landscape, and animals; using their ki, a mystical energy, kami monitor and mitigate natural disasters thereby protecting the human population. These components of the world building were far and away the strongest part of A MORTAL SONG, largely because it was refreshing to read a YA novel featuring a magical system rooted in non-Western traditions. However, it was pretty obvious to me that this book wasn’t actually written by someone with Japanese heritage (the author is a Canadian who spent some time in Japan) since very few cultural traditions, places, or even Japanese people were described. If all the characters didn’t have Japanese names, I wouldn’t even know that they were meant to be non-white since their appearances were so glossed over!
The subversion of the Chosen One trope was initially a welcome change from more typical storylines, but it quickly veered into well-trod territory. Crewe’s sustained emphasis on Sora’s feelings of inadequacy when compared to the actual “chosen one” really started to wear on me; unfortunately, this continued repetition left me feeling annoyed by Sora rather than feeling sympathetic for her. While it would’ve been unrealistic for Sora to welcome the news of her true heritage with open arms, I did expect her to recognize that she still has an important role to play much sooner than she did. Girl needs some perspective, stat.
Despite Sora’s own difficulties with the situation, she treats Chiyo, the real “chosen one,” with respect and kindness from the very first encounter. I really appreciated that Megan Crewe chose to have the two girls support one another rather than tear each other down, since that would’ve been both predictable and problematic. It would’ve been a tough sell too, since I thought Chiyo was by far the most likable character in A MORTAL SONG. With her purple pigtails, novelty socks, and her bubbly, chirpy personality was the perfect foil for Sora’s more serious nature, and she added some much-needed levity to the story.
Although the storyline was certainly grim at some points, I wouldn’t exactly call it gripping. The plot ofA MORTAL SONG was incredibly predictable, a fact that I couldn’t overlook in the face of all my other issues with this one. One scene in particular made me want to tear my hair out, as Sora is shocked to discover that someone has betrayed her…when this person was so clearly a double agent from the very beginning. I just found it difficult to believe that these savvy teens could’ve been so easily fooled.
For a book with so much promise, I found A MORTAL SONG to be quite disappointing. But you might like it more than I did, and if you’ve read and enjoyed it please let me know! I’m always sad when I dislike a Canadian read.