Rating - ⭐⭐⭐1/2
"Twelve-year-old Elissa has been raised in seclusion as a devotee of the Mother Goddess. She is a special child, a blessed child, a child who can sing miracles into being. Her voice can heal wounds, halt landslides, cure hunger--and even end wars.
But there are those who would use her gift for darker things. And when Elissa finds herself the farthest from home she's ever been--along with her vain and jealous music tutor, Lucio--she will have to develop the judgment to decide who wants to use her song to heal... and who wants to use her song to hurt."
We Are the Song is a standalone fantasy novel by Catherine Bakewell.
First and foremost, I would like to thank NetGalley and Holiday House for giving me the opportunity to review this in advance. Please note that this in no way affects my opinions. Also note that what I read was an ARC, and things may be subject to change for the official release.
I am conflicted because there are elements of this book I really enjoyed, but also some I could have done without. I haven't read many books with a strong focus on music though, so I thought that this was an interesting read because of that, and I ended up more or less enjoying myself. What I didn't like, however, though this is subjective, is the equally as strong focus on religion.
Let's get into the details.
I don't have much to say about the writing besides the fact that I thought it was well-written and easily digestible. I like the dedication the book took in making sure to imbue as many musical elements as they could, as the author labelled the chapters as verses instead. There were some spelling mistakes but this is an ARC, so they may be fixed.
My last comment would be that, although this is technically middle grade, it does not feel like it at all. It is written like a YA novel which a main character who happens to be very young.
We follow Elissa, a Singer, and her conductor, Lucio, as they travel through the lands offering miracles in exchange for donations during a time of war. Their journey takes a turn as Elissa learns that her faith and obedience to the creator, Caé, isn't as simple as she was taught.
This book is on the shorter side, and while I did enjoy the story, I don't think the author did the best they could do with the space they had. It took over half of the book to pick up the pace, or for anything substantial to really happen. Even by then though, not an awful lot happens in this book, and some of the choices made I thought were a bit extreme for the tone of the book.
As I said in the introduction, I tend to not enjoy books with a strong religious focus, because it generally never brings good things. And, that does happen here as religion was used as an excuse to get what you wanted, even if what you wanted was morally wrong.
This takes place in a world that has a matriarchal religion based around Caé, the creator. In life, you are given one of three roles under the monasteries - Singer, Conductor or Scholar. Like these roles, all roles were thought to have been given by Caé including one of high status like rulers.
This is where things got murky for me, and rulers were able to get away with anything because they ruled through Caé, and by disobeying them you would be going against Caé. Needless to say, I was not a fan of all the manipulation in this. I will admit though, the history lover in me would have liked to know more about the Scholar's.
Moving onto the magic system, one comment I have is that, while it is interesting, would be that it is very convenient. Similar to word magic, what you sing will come to pass. There are repercussions put in place though, as the more you sing the same song the weaker it gets.
On a final note, I appreciated the small details in this that were used to distinguish the different cultures.
Elissa is very naïve and is too trusting of strangers because of her occupation, and that got her into bad scenarios several times. In hindsight, I didn't realize that she was only twelve years old, so that makes a lot more sense now. She also struggles a lot with her faith in this book, rightfully so, which I thought was done well enough.
Lucio was a bit more frustrating to read about because of how faithful he was. He had no issue sweeping things under the rug because everything that happened must not have been wrong because Caé had to have ordained it. Bit ironic considering the fact that this is set during a war... He was kind of manipulative and not the big brother figure Elissa needed, and I don't think he got the proper redemption his character needed.
This was a pretty decent fantasy story. Was it perfect, no, as many standalones are not, but my enjoyment of the story managed to at least take over my very strong dislike for religious elements and manipulation?