Meet Lalani Sarita – a young, dreamer of a girl who lives on an un-touched-by-time island called Sanlagita, in a fantastical world full of strange tribal rituals, weird beasts, myths, the worshipping of mountains, and an over-riding oppression of females by powerful, tribesmen.
It’s a challenging place to be for Lalani, who only really wants to find out whether her father is really dead (after he sailed through the deadly mist to try and reach the sacred island of Isa and never returned), and look after her sick mother.
The villagers – especially the women – are forbidden to do anything but work, catch fish and bow their allegiance to their abusive leaders. But Lalani, although bullied and outcast by people, wants to change things. So she heads up the forbidden mountain to find a cure for her mother’s illness. In the process, she meets a horned beast who deceives her, and accidentally causes the village to be flooded.
Lalani is forced to leave the island and sail in her father’s footsteps (and many other men too who have died on the deadly, distant sea) in the hope she can reach Isa, gather some magic and cure the village’s pain and oppression. On her journey, Lalani meets some of the most original, weird and wonderful creatures I have ever read in a middle-grade fantasy-adventure book.
The Filipino-American author – Kelly – creates an incredibly involving, believable level of myth and tribal mentality that I suspect comes from Filipino culture, ancient stories and ways of life. The female-oppression undertone here is not over done or heavy, but it is there as yet another obstacle for Lalani (and her friends) to get over, along with the fear of losing their island to powerful, god-like forces connected to the mountain.
This really is a stunning, magical, lyrical – sometimes full-on and disturbing – book that will transport you to Lalani’s cruel and beautiful world which she goes about re-shaping. Highly recommend this!