In this middle-grade fantasy debut, an orphan living on ancient Kauai learns about his complex heritage—and that he possesses extraordinary powers.
Thirteen-year-old Moana is an outcast in his village, feared because of his “freakish” height, “eyes that changed from brown to turquoise depending on his mood, and skin the color of sour milk,” as well as the mystery of his parents’ death shortly after his birth. Besides his grandfather Huna and his dog, Hui, Moana’s only friends are the livestock he tends until he rescues an abandoned monk seal pup, naming it ’Opu. One day, he’s defending himself and ’Opu from bullies when he’s hit with a scent worse than rotting corpses—and the premonition that someone is coming. After watching in horror as red-eyed snake men tear the bullies limb from limb, Moana runs to Huna, who sends him to find the anukus, a primordial race of tiny people whose blood—and power over mana, the life force in all things—runs in Moana’s veins. But the teen is also descended from Ush-bara, the king of the snake creatures called ushukus. This combination of bloodlines means he’s the only one strong enough to defeat the ushukus once and for all and bring peace back to Kauai. In many ways, this first installment of a series follows a familiar pattern: youngster discovers his special status, magical abilities, and duty to fight evil. Halemanu refreshes the trope, however, by setting it in his native Hawaii instead of the usual medieval Europe. For his story’s supernatural elements, the author turns to Sumerian mythology and he provides glossaries of both Hawaiian and Sumerian-based terms for curious readers (for example, the Hawaiian list defines kapu as “Taboo, Forbidden”). A twist ending could have been better foreshadowed, but it skillfully sets up new challenges for Moana to face in the sequel.
Hawaiian and Sumerian cultural inspirations elevate this Chosen One tale.