The Song That Sings Us by Nicola Davies
When animals talk, it's time humans listened: Harlon has been raised to protect her younger siblings, twins Ash and Xeno, and their outlawed power of communicating with animals. But when the sinister Automators attack their mountain home they must flee for their lives. Xeno is kidnapped and Harlon and Ash are separated. In a thrilling and dangerous adventure they must all journey alone through the ice fields, forests and oceans of Rumyc to try to rescue each other and fulfil a mysterious promise about a lost island made to their mother. A stunning environmental epic with cover and chapter illustrations by award-winning illustrator, Jackie Morris
I have just finished the Song that Sings Us by Nicola Davies and it was very hard to put down. This is just the sort of book that I love-a thrilling adventure that grabs you from the off and doesn't let go. A thrilling adventure that has deeper undertones that make you think. Perfect.
On the surface this book reminds me of a lot of other dystopian fantasy adventures. There are oppressed people treated cruelly by those in power and there is a struggle to change the power dynamic and make the world a better place for all. It had slight echoes of 'Children of Blood and Bones' by Tomi Adeyemi and 'The Gilded Ones' by Namina Forna, both of which are excellent books (although for a YA audience rather than MG). In those books the people oppressed have some sort of magic that makes them stand out as different and potentially dangerous to the tyrannical rulers and they are treated mercilessly until they rise up and fight back.
In the Song that Sings Us the oppressed people are 'Listeners' and anyone still trying to live the old ways, in touch with nature. The oppressors are the 'Automators' who hate nature and see it as dangerous and want to control the world. Listeners have the ability to listen to animals and see what they see, hear what they hear. It is an interesting premise and feels like a kind of magic in its own right. But here is where it is different to those other dystopian novels I have read because in those the power dynamic is with the magic users where with Listeners, as the novel progresses at least, the power balance is more in favour of the animals. The humans listen-the animals speak.
And what I think makes this book stand apart is its deeper message. This book is a love note to the natural world. It is a metaphor for what we see happening to our planet right now. The Automators represent those in power who are short sighted and blighted with greed, only wanting more, regardless of the consequences. The Listeners represent the people who can see the damage that is being done to our planet and want it to be healed and balance to return. One of the characters in the book, Ash, sums this up perfectly when he says 'All because people want and want and want. Why can't they just be?'
Those of you that know Nicola Davies writing will be familiar with her affinity with the natural world and her passion for the environment. Her picture books are stunning and do a great job at raising awareness of environmental issues. I can thoroughly recommend 'Last' which has just been nominated for both the 2022 CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenway Medals-that's quite an achievement in itself and well deserved. If you aren't familiar with her picture books, then it is definitely worth checking them out.
The writing in 'The Song That Sings Us' is stunning in places. The descriptions of the animals and nature are as beautiful as the real things-she really does them justice. The characters in this book really draw you in, it is very easy to empathise with the plight of the main characters Harlon, Ash and Xeno but I could not help but fall in love with some of the animals. I particularly loved the Gula (wolverine) who becomes a close companion to Ash, and if you do read the book I defy anyone not to be impressed by Skrimsli the tiger, captain of an ice ship.
And I really must mention the illustrations by Jackie Morris. The cover is stunning and the pictures at the start of chapters add another layer of joy to the experience of reading this book.
I think the book would suit older primary readers (9+) but would also suit YA and Adult readers. It is a very well written, engaging book. If you love a dystopian adventure and you want something different that sings of a love of nature then this is the book for you.
The Song that Sings Us really is a book worth singing about. I hope it gets read far and wide, it deserved to.
It is out now in hardback. If you are interested in buying it here are some links: