A Mortal Song by Megan Crewe

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Another World Press on September 13, 2016

Source: Publisher

Rating StarRating Starstar_half

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.View Spoiler »

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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.

Have you read any books with non-Western magical systems or any that subvert the Chosen One trope? Did you read A MORTAL SONG? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I’ve read books with non-Western magical systems, and they’ve been hit or miss. Christina Farley has a really great series (Gilded, Silvern, Brazen). I found the setting and cultural influences to be very authentic.

    I’m sorry this book didn’t work for you, Danya! I already know, based off your review, that I wouldn’t enjoy this book. Oh well!

    Wonderful review. =)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

    1. Ooooh! I’ve seen those books around online (Gilded has a gorgeous cover) but I’ve never taken a deeper look at them. I’ll have to see if the library has them, because I’m always on the hunt for more non-Western fantasy.

      It’s always disappointing when you dislike a book, but I’m glad I can help let people know my likes/dislikes so people can decide for themselves if it’s something they’d enjoy. On to the next book! 🙂

    • Lynn Williams

    • 6 years ago

    Yeah, based on this I don’t think this book would be for me either. Shame – I do love the cover!
    Lynn 😀

    1. I knooooow! The cover is SO beautiful. And to be fair, it’s also super accurate to the story.

    • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    • 6 years ago

    Oh, so sorry you were disappointed with this one. Definitely doesn’t sound like it would work for me at all

    1. Womp, womp. Oh well. I’m sure someone out there would really enjoy this one, but definitely not for me!

  2. I like that they could support each other, but other than that, meh

    1. I really appreciated that too! But yeah, not enough for me to like the book, I’m afraid.

  3. It’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy in a non-Western setting, but it’s often a hit-and-miss for me with novels in East-Asian settings — sometimes it ends up too weeaboo for my tastes. I would be interested in finding more books with Eastern-inspired magic systems though (e.g. the TV series ALTA/Korra are basically magical kung-fu). I think the movie Equilibrium did a good job in blending some Eastern-inspired ideas (‘gun-kata’) within a Western setting, so it would be neat to see more fantasy novels do that kind of thing.

    1. Yeah, I completely agree. Lately I’ve been really into the “own voices” movement in publishing, where we try to boost/rec/read books set in/about non-Western or marginalized cultures that are actually written by people who belong to those communities. They always seem less “weeaboo” to me, haha.

      Ooooh, Equilibrium! Good movie rec. I’ll have to check that out, because I haven’t seen it yet.

  4. Sorry you didn’t enjoy this one it could be really frustrating when everything is predictable. Tori @ In Tori Lex

    1. Normally a somewhat predictable plot is okay with me if the other elements are on point, but this one just didn’t work for me.

  5. That sucks that you didn’t enjoy it as the book does sound kind of interesting. I mean a non-western based magic system is always good and a change to the chosen one trope should be interesting but it sounds like a few too many things were done wrong to make that enough. I hate when that happens with books, they have all the makings of being good but then they are implemented a bit wrong so you don’t like it.

    I think if the main character had gotten a grip sooner and the plot wasn’t so predictable I might have been tempted to read but I reckon I may skip this in favour of some better books right now.

    1. I know right! I wanted to like it soooo badly, but after two chapters I was pretty sure that it wasn’t for me. Riffs on the chosen one trope are one of my absolute faves, although people are gonna have a tough time living up to “The Rest of Us Just Live Here.” SUCH a great book!

      Same! It was just one too many gripes piled on after the other. Oh well, I’m sure a lot of people would enjoy this one — it’s just not for me!

      1. This is true, I mean Patrick Ness basically conquered turning that trope on it’s head. I’d like to see more attempts to subvert the genre, though. Just because others have got to be able to do it well too.

        1. Yeah, that’s true! It’s not exactly a fair comparison for other authors either, since Patrick Ness is basically a genius. ????

  6. I had high hopes for this one and I was excited when I saw that you had reviewed. What a bummer though. I love the sound of the world building, but if the book is predictable, I probably wouldn’t particularly enjoy it as well. I do like that there are two girls who are supportive of each other though. It’s great to see more girls supporting each other in YA.
    Lovely review, Danya.

    1. Bleh. I was so saddened by this book. I feel like it had a lot of promise but just didn’t deliver. There aren’t enough non-Western fantasy novels out there, but I guess I just prefer ones written by people who are members of the culture they’re writing about. They almost always turn out better!

      Thanks Nick! 🙂

  7. The premise of this sounds really good so how disappointing to hear that it’s only a so-so read. Amazing cover though, even if it didn’t quite get anything else right!

    1. I know! Such a cool premise. Mount Fuji is so beautiful too (from what I’ve seen in pictures), so I really wanted to be transported there. The cover certainly does an amazing job of grabbing a reader’s attention!

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