The River Sai, by Rebecca Edwards

Fifty winters, ninety winters, one hundred and thirty winters passed, while the stone monks sat and prayed in the snow, waiting for the women who never came. And then a mountain witch came. A yamamba, with ice in her bones and witch-fire crackling in her hair. A cruel yamamba, who ate the strong young men that villagers sent to conquer her, who led stray pilgrims to their deaths on lonely cliffsides, who hated children more than anything in the world.

Twelve year-old Harumi is unhappy when her mother and grandmother decide to leave Tokyo to reopen a family shop in a cold hill town. The shop is full of dusty boxes and cabinets and everywhere she turns, are fragile old things. She discovers a ‘shishi’, an ancient lion-dog and her adventure begins. Harumi is transported to another time. She meets an odd old woman and an enormous bear, who it seems have a mission for her. Thousands of child souls are stuck between this world and the next, being tortured by a demon Harumi’s quest is complex and physically demanding. She encounters dream-eating baku, stone jizo, witches hags and all manner of strange creatures before her journey ends.

The River Sai is a Japanese ghost story, set thousands of years ago. Harumi travels from the ‘now’ world to a very different time. There she is asked by a large bear to undertake a quest at the River Sai which separates the living from the dead. A witch has trapped children’s souls on the bank of the river. Harumi encounters extreme evil but also unexpected friendships as she seeks a way to free the souls. This is an exciting hero quest with a young girl as reluctant heroine. Although the Japanese mythology may be less familiar to readers than perhaps Greek or Roman equivalents, there are plenty of familiar archetypes here. There is a lovely richness to the word images, enhanced by the authors own illustrations throughout. Recommended for upper primary readers.

The River Sai

The River Sai, by Rebecca Edwards
UQP 2007

ISBN: 9780702236112

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.