Kenny Blackwood arrives in Tokyo to spend the summer with his father and is stunned to discover a destiny he had never dreamed of when he finds himself in the middle of a hidden war that is about to explode. Racing against an impossible deadline, Kenny must find the fabled Sword of Heaven and use it to prevent the disaster. But a host of terrifying monsters is out to destroy him, and success will come at a price. With clever, fearless, sarcastic Kiyomi at his side, Kenny must negotiate the worlds of modern and mythic Japan to find the lost sword, before it's too late.
The story opens with Kenny Blackwood on a flight across the Pacific, on his way to spend the summer with his father in Japan. It is a prospect that he is less than happy about, as his relationship with his father is strained to say the least, but Kenny's grandfather has arranged the trip and paid for the flight so he has little choice in the matter. As the plane is nearing Japan a flight attendant delivers an envelope to Kenny, containing a letter written by his grandfather and a small wooden whistle. As if this wasn't odd enough, there is also a separate piece of paper that instructs Kenny to make a copy of the letter, eat the piece of paper, and top only blow the whistle in an emergency. Of course, Kenny being a young teen, he can't help but give a whistle a quick blow, but it makes no noise at all. However, for Kenny it is the moment when the strangeness starts and his life will never be the same again.
Kenny soon discovers that he has magical gifts, inherited from his grandfather who received them in thanks for a noble deed he did following the Second World War. One of these gifts is the ability to see the many monsters and spirits that still exist in modern day Japan. He also finds out, from kick-ass, motorbike-riding Kiyomi and her father, that he is destined to continue the good deed of his grandfather and save the West Coast of the USA from a supernatural act of vengeance that will cause millions to suffer and die. To do this all he will have to do is survive attacks from numerous creatures from Japanese mythology, beat Hachiman, the God of War and destroy a monstrous, earthquake-causing dragon.
Rick Riordan has done Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology, and is currently writing the first book in a series that will feature the gods of Norse mythology. Francesca Simon has also covered Norse mythology in The Sleeping Army and The Lost Gods. Sarwat Chadda brought the gods and creatures of Indian mythology to us in his brilliant Ash Mistry series. And now writer Jason Rohan enters the fray with The Sword of Kuromori, the first in a series set in Japan, with a heavy focus on the various monsters, spirits and Gods of Japanese mythology.
Other than in Manga, Japan is a country that has so far featured little in books for young people. Of course, there is Chris Bradford's brilliant Young Samurai series and Nick Lake's Blood Ninja trilogy, but neither of these are set in modern day Japan, nor do they focus on Japanese mythology. Most stories for children and teens published in the UK that use a culture's mythology as their foundation focus on western mythologies. Sarwat Chadda started to address this imbalance with Ash Mistry and it is great to see Jason Rohan following on with this.
I am guessing that young Manga/anime aficionados may recognise some of the creatures and Gods in this book, but the mythology of Japan, like India, is a subject I know very little about. However, this did not affect my enjoyment of The Sword of Kuromori at all. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. I was entranced by the various creatures and spirits that Kenny encounters in the course of his quest, and spent a fair amount of time looking them up online to see if they were actual creatures from Japanese mythology or constructs of the author's imagination. And every single one of them exists as a part of Japanese culture. Oni (demons), Kappa (truly bizarre creature), Kitsune (fox spirits), Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog), the filth-licking Akaname... every single one of them will be as well known in Japan as the likes of Medusa and Pegasus are to British kids. Jason Rohan certainly knows his Japanese culture (hardly surprising as he lived there for five years) and he really makes these ancient creatures come alive for his readers.
If you're looking for a new book that will grab a 9+ reader and not let them go until the the final page this summer then The Sword of Kuromori should be high up on your list. It is a very fast-paced adventure story, with plenty of humour, especially in the interaction and dialogue between the confused and out-of-his-depth Kenny, and his new Japanese friend (and potential love interest), Kiyomi who is proficient with a host of weapons normally found in then possession of ninjas, and with an extensive knowledge of the monsters that are hidden from all but the handful of people with the gift. I believe this is the first book in a trilogy and I'm definitely signing on for the ride. I do not have a release date for it, but I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens to Kenny next in the sequel, The Shield of Kuromori. In the meantime, it's well worth your time making a visit to The Sword of Kuromori Facebook page over at https://www.facebook.com/swordofkuromori where Jason Rohan gives readers more details about some of the weird and wonderful creatures from Japanese mythology.