Two preliminary apologies:
- Sorry for my long absence! I was at MidAmeriCon II until the 20th, had a long day of flights then so nothing got written, and then I started my senior year the Monday directly after. I foolishly did not set up a queue of posts because planning? What planning?
- I had to return the copy of The Lost Island, so there are no quotes, and no picture except for the one that I got off Goodreads. Thanks, Goodreads!
Now, on to the review!
I’m pretty used to Middle Grade-oriented myth retellings now. What you get is essentially Rick Riordan knockoffs, mostly in Western mythologies, particularly Greek, Roman, and Norse. And it’s not to say that there isn’t ripe enough material in those mythologies to fill a lot of good books, it’s just that… well, sometimes it gets a little boring.
Then I searched for “mythology” in my library’s catalog, and I see the name Momotaro! Wow! Japanese myth/fairytale! A non-Western mythadaption! How exciting!
I just wish that the book had been as exciting as the initial discovery.
What Dilloway does with Japanese creatures and heroes is basically what everyone else has done with various mythologies’ creatures and heroes: an underdog kid finds out he’s got a family connection to legendary people/powers, then has to go save [insert family member] and defeat [insert Big Bad here]. Which, to be fair, I probably should have guessed from the synopsis. But I was so excited!
The characters are incredibly familiar. Xander, the titular hero, is exactly what you’d expect from a male Middle Grade novel: unpopular for some reason, has trouble in school, is a nice kid despite superficial flaws, and Snarkiness. I was interested in how his being biracial would contribute to the story, but by the time it actually mattered, I was losing interest in the book, anyway. (It was an interesting take, though, considering the author herself is also biracial.) His best friend Peyton was… okay. Just your quintessential best friend. Jinx could have been more interesting but we just didn’t get enough of her, and what we did get was more irritating than anything. Her conflict with Xander didn’t have enough behind it to feel genuine, and her connection to the supernatural forces was… hazy at best.
Speaking of supernatural forces: don’t expect a whole lot, or at least, not a whole lot that’s explained or taken to an interesting place. There were a handful of wins – the tree spirit in that one scene was really good, and the little magic carvings (which I, tragically and unforgivably, cannot remember the names of) were delightfully fairytale-ish. But the other creatures and obstacles were… less successful, often just feeling like something to pad the book out, which it very much did not need.
I think the main problem was that Lost Island was trying to be Percy Jackson with Japanese mythological elements, not a Japanese mythological story. It hit all the PJ notes, changing Greek monsters to Japanese, making Xander a descendent in a long line rather than a direct son, losing parents left and right, bantering with cute girls, wandering through some magical land and checking off monster battles in order to level up… It was all so soulless. If the book had been more committed to feeling like a myth or a fairytale, then maybe some of the less intelligible things that happened would have gone over better (Peyton just grew wings because… he needed to? Okay.); if it had concentrated on doing something different instead of retreading the same old “boring kid becomes hero through power of friendship and love” path, I’d be less disappointed.
But the most disappointing thing about it is that the Japanese elements didn’t really matter. Any number of things could be exchanged for the kappa, the magic carvings, even Momotaro, and the book would still work. There was nothing inherently special about the way Dilloway used the mythical sources. With Antigoddess, you couldn’t change the gods from Greek to Egyptian without taking something away from the story; it’s the same case for The Gospel of Loki or Eight Days of Luke. Of course the elements could be swapped out, but the spirit of the story would change, because different mythologies have different priorities and ideas and – for lack of a better word, different vibes. The Lost Island, in my humble opinion, wasn’t sensitive enough to that.
I’m glad that someone out there is writing stories based on Japanese myth and legend at all, but I hope someone else can follow up with something more substantial – more non-Western – in the near future.