On the eve of his coming-of-age ritual, Samkad and his village find themselves on the verge of a changing world.
A member of the mountain tribe in 1899 Bontok, Philippines, Samkad is elated that the ancients have deemed it is his time to get the Cut, the ritual to be considered a man and a warrior. A bad omen at a preritual prompts a reading that reveals a provision: Samkad’s soul is tied to Kinyo’s, the son of a family friend the same age who was given to his aunt outside the village in infancy. Both must return to the village in order to proceed. Samkad’s father departs to search for Kinyo while Samkad and his female friend Luki look for other ways to prove his manhood. Father returns with Kinyo, who is now also fluent in English and wears Western-style clothing, accompanied by his aunt and Mr. William, a white American. Complications arise with the appearance of more Americans soliciting help from the village amid sightings of their blood enemy, the Mangili. Samkad and his father must warily navigate who the true enemies are. Writing in Samkad’s voice, Gourlay paints an intricate backdrop steeped in mystical and brutal imagery. Carefully built suspense and twists engage readers but occasionally overlook intriguing inner conflicts of characters, in particular the Americanized Kinyo and the tomboyish Luki.
A visceral coming-of-age novel examining the impacts of imperialism. (Historical fiction. 10-13)