[I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley.]
First, please note this is not a standalone novel, contrary to what I thought when I requested it,[I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley.]
First, please note this is not a standalone novel, contrary to what I thought when I requested it, but part of a series (and very likely the last volume). However, I didn't find it difficult to follow the story and understand the characters: when the narrator alludes to events of the past or people he had previously met, he always adds a couple of sentences, nothing too long, just enough for a reader to understand the context. So this was good with me.
The setting here is that of feudal Japan (the Emperor and his court, bushi, military governors, geisha and courtesans) with a dash of supernatural: ghosts and youkai are common knowledge, and onmyôji and priestesses have actual power. In this world, Yamada and his faithful friend Kenji are confronted to attempted murder and political intrigue, from the Ise temple to the capital and the Emperor's court; I found the mystery decent enough, not too complicated (my guesses about a few things turned out to be right) yet not too easy either for the characters to understand, without convenient deus ex machina bringing the answers (Yamada deducted those).
It took me a couple of weeks to read, but it definitely wasn't boring (that was much more a matter of having lots of things to do and needing to prioritise other books in the meantime). The events made sense, the characters were likeable, and even though it's not my favourite novel ever, it was entertaining and believable.
On the downside, there were instances of Yamada 'hiding' things from the reader, which I don't particularly appreciate in mystery novels, and the female characters, while attaching, didn't have much to do apart from conveniently be here when a specific piece of information was needed, or wait in their palace for the men to do all the work. Granted, the setting itself doesn't lend itself to a lot of female freedom (aristocratic constraints, expectations placed on princesses, and so on), but it didn't help.
Conclusion: Still enjoyable in spite of these flaws....more
[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]
More an alternate history novel than a truly steampunk one, "Tôru: Wayfarer Returns" deals with lat[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]
More an alternate history novel than a truly steampunk one, "Tôru: Wayfarer Returns" deals with late feudal Japan faced with the potential intruding of American civilisation—more specifically, the last years of the Tokugawa bakumatsu, and the arrival of Commander Perry and his "black ships". The idea: what if, instead of feeling inferior to this technology, Japan at the time had had an industrial revolution of its own, and had been able to withstand such demonstration of power?
Enters Tôru, a young fisherman who, after being shipwrecked, was saved by Americans, and spent two years in their country before coming back to Japan with books, blueprints, and lots, lots of ideas about how to revolutionise his country for the day Westerners come to impose their trade and culture on it. Things aren't meant to be easy for him, first and foremost because bringing western books and machinery to these lands, and sneaking in at night, are deemed traitorous acts, punishable by death. When Lord Aya catches wind of this, his first reaction is to get the traitor executed. Except that ideas are contagious, and Tôru's more than others.
This first volume in the "Sakura Steam" series shows how a handful of daimyôs and commoners manage to find common ground to dig the foundations of Japan's industrialisation: first in secrecy, then by ensuring the support of some of the most powerful coastal lords, to make sure that when the Shôgun hears about this (and he will), they'll have grounds to argue their case, machines to show off, and engineers to explain how said machines will allow their country to stand strong and proud. These rebels definitely go against the stream in many ways, by also allowing commoners and women to take part in engineering trains and dirigibles. And even though some characters are (understandably, considering their upbringing) against this, they do try and see how this could change the world, and acknowledge that such "unexpected people" will do good and have a place in this new order. Not to mention that Jiro the blacksmith, or Masuyo the noble lady, are pleasant characters to see evolve, and I liked when they had parts to play; even some of the more unpleasant characters, like Lady Tômatsu, had their redeeming features.
However, while this is all very exciting, I could never really shake my suspension of disbelief, because everything happened both much too fast and sometimes too slowly as well: - The "rebels" should logically have been discovered sooner. - And, more importantly, building railroad tracks, engines, a fleet of dirigibles, a telegraph network, etc, in secrecy, with the (limited) means of a handful of daimyôs, in less than one year, seemed too far-fetched to be believable. Granted, they had blueprints and all; on the other hand, all those engineers had to learn from scratch, only from those blueprints not even in Japanese, translated and explained only by Tôru who isn't even an engineer, and... Well. Really, really hard to believe. Had it been done in a few years rather than a few months, I probably would have been, paradoxically, more excited about it. - At times the narrative devolves into explanations about the political views during the Bakumatsu, the fixed place of samurai vs. commoners—which is interesting, but was dumped in between scenes. It would have been more welcome if better intertwined with the dialogue and action, which in turn would also have left more room to the characters to fully interact, giving us a better feel for them. - It would've been more interesting IMHO to see a different "industrialisation", and not a mere "westernisation" of Japan. Something that would've mixed traditional/feudal ways with modern weaponry, instead of having basically one or the other. - Minor pet peeve: Tôru's secret, which he takes great pains to hide, but is much too obvious to the reader, almost from the beginning.
Conclusion: I wish it had been more "believable" in terms of alternate history, and had provided a different path than the expected one....more
I must say I picked this one because I had watched (and liked) the anime series, and I would recommend the latter overall. The book tells pretty muchI must say I picked this one because I had watched (and liked) the anime series, and I would recommend the latter overall. The book tells pretty much the same thing, only it's not as good, even though the themes themselves remain interesting: waking up in the world of your favourite MMORPG, having to make out what happened and to find out how to live from now on, being confronted to rules that make a lot of things redundant... How do you create a functional society in a world where you cannot die, and where going hungry and poor mostly won't happen, since just about anyone can kill a couple of monsters to earh their board and bed for the day? What happens to standard human rules, how do people keep their dignity and not devolve into doing anything they want, bad things included?
The concept and themes are definitely good. However, there isn't any definite plot (it read more as an introduction than as a real story for now), and while the rules of the "Elder Tales" video game are detailed, allowing the reader to easily discover this new world, they're also repeated a little too often. Granted, I'm familiar with MMORPGs, so I don't need their basic concepts to be explained, but I think even a reader who's never gamed doesn't need to be reminded three times how many magic-wielding classes there are, or that Character X is really tiny. It made me wonder if the story had been published as a serial first, with such means being used to, well, remind the reader of previous episodes. All in all, it felt a little repetitive and boring.
I still think "Log Horizon" makes for great world-building and story arcs. I'd however recommend watching the anime instead. It's much more interesting....more
(I received an ARC copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)
Although I didn’t find this novel exceptional as far as I am concerned as(I received an ARC copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)
Although I didn’t find this novel exceptional as far as I am concerned as an adult (simple writing style and predictable character development), I think it would nonetheless make a good read for its intended middle-grade audience.
The story is easy enough to follow. A middle school girl (Saki) forced to spend a few days for a traditional ritual at her grandmother’s, far from her city friends, cell phone and usual activities. Her family’s fairly typical, with her parents and an annoying brother, and Saki immediately comes off as annoying, too, since it’s obvious she’s self-centered and somewhat whiny, and that she associates with people who’re only friends on the surface (out of cowardice more than real nastiness, though: she wants to be popular, and doesn’t dare risk alienating the Queen Bees, so to speak). Not a very likeable character, which however leaves room for growth once she realises that in the country just like in Tōkyō, she needs to cut the crap and stop being such a big baby.
This characterisation is somewhat problematic, in that, as said, Saki’s not very likeable, and possibly difficult for a reader to identify with, because she represents aspects we usually don’t want to acknowledge in ourselves, especially when we’re teenagers: she’s kind of a bully by association, but also weak and ready to do silly things just to avoid being rejected. Her development, in turn, becomes predictable: either she stays like that or she becomes a better person, by learning to pick her friends and stand in the face of the real bullies. (I wasn’t sold on the stereotypical bullies; she’s “friends” with one in the city, then meets another one in her grandmother’s village, and both situations being so similar somewhat made them a bit unbelievable and cliché.)
On the other hand, such an evolution is a positive one, and seeing a character progress and find her own path is always nice. The novel shows how Saki gets to grow up and respect many things she didn’t pay attention to before, including family bonds, through her adventures following the Night Parade. Another good thing is how she’s represented as a young girl/teenager first and foremost, and not as a “look, I’m Japanese” character.
I found the book to be quite reminiscent of a Miyazaki movie (more specifically Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi: the outhouse with the Filth Spirit, the girl having to solve problems in the spirit world in order to atone for a mistake committed in the human world…), but the blend in folklore creatures and myths was less harmonious, and too often felt simply described, rather than vivid (and there’s room for vivid here: some scenes were downright scary, and could have had even more of an impact with just the right amount of storytelling). I suspect it will work much better for younger readers, and not for someone who knows more already. Also, some creatures were called by their Japanese names (tengu, kappa…), while others were in English, like the fox and the ogres; I’m not sure about the reasons behind this choice. That said, the spirits Saki meets on her journey through the sanctuary are interesting, and amusing for some (oddly enough, the tengu more than than tanuki, probably because he was so serious and driven that he ended up sounding funny–gallows humour and all that).
The messages carried through this novel were to be expected: how the modern world intrudes on the ancestral, spiritual one; how younger people are glued to technology (cell phones…) and don’t pay attention to traditions anymore; how it’s so easy to let “bad” people influence us just because we don’t feel brave enough to confront them (too bad we don’t get to see how/if Saki confronted Hana in the end!). It was a bit heavy-handed at times, but that was something I could forgive, because all in all, Saki’s progress remained enjoyable to read about: both as a journey to repair what she had rent in the spirit world, and as a journey in learning to solve problems and expand her view of the world and people in general.
[I received a copy of this novel from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.]
Good ideas in this mash-up of various mythologies and their ass[I received a copy of this novel from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.]
Good ideas in this mash-up of various mythologies and their associated creatures, however, in the end, it was a bit too choppy to my taste.
The world of Gaia was inventive, fun, full of conundrums and syllogisms, all of those making for a place brimming with diversity... and with the problems associated to it, especially acceptance. This theme, along with the one of "humanity" in its largest meaning, was developed through the homunculi: artificial human-shaped beings, crafted by alchemists, gifted with certain powers, with a beautiful appearance for some, with intelligence and feelings, yet considered as unworthy because they didn't have a soul—or so, some people said.
The political undercurrents permeating the story (the vote, the tricks used in Atlantis to thwart it against the homunculi, the strong will of a few people like Petra to help them get rights at last) were definitely interesting. Perhaps because of all the many creatures in this novel, the hypocrisy behind their reluctance to accept the "soulless" articificial beings was even more tangible, and made for a good metaphor of injustices happening in the human world. I can say I'd really have wanted this specific plot to shine more.
Where the mashup worked much less for me was in the narrative itself. A lot of things happened, more or less tied to the aforementioned plot depending on the moments, but they happened very fast, in a chaotic way. I guess it reflected the chaotic nature of Gaia, yet it didn't male for a coherent read, and there were several moments when I had no idea anymore what was happening, why, or how the characters had come to that particular point or conclusion. Even though it made more sense once I read a few pages back, it was annoying nonetheless.
The other problem with such fast-paced events was that they didn't leave much room to character development, and I felt I was told, rather than shown, the relationships between Tyro and the cat, Tyro and Mina, Tyro and Herakles... (Tyro wants to save him, but since I didn't get to see them interact much, I didn't feel very invested in knowing about the outcome. Same about Tyro and Ankh'Si: the conclusion here was so rushed I wasn't sure if my copy of the book missed a chapter or two.)
I really liked the world developed here, however it was so diverse that it eclipsed the characters. Since I like those to be as developed in a "humoristic" read as in a "serious" one, albeit in different ways, I suppose, it didn't work very well for me in the end....more
[I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
Like the first novel in this series, I find this one hard to rate[I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
Like the first novel in this series, I find this one hard to rate, as I liked quite a few things in it, while sighing at others. Probably my main issue with it was that it introduced plot lines, but didn't really follow them. All the while, the main story *was* a grabbing read nonetheless.
This time, the whole narrative is in Tark's voice, which probably was for the best: I liked the weird prose in the first book, but I'm still not too convinced by 1st-to-3rd person shifts in general, so I tend to prefer when a story sticks to one or the other. Bonus point here. (I've written this in more than one review: having one narrator in 1st person and the others in 3rd seems to be The Trend these past years... and I still don't get why.)
Tark was also much less annoying here. Two years have gone by, he's matured, he's been taking things into his own hands, and while aware of his inherent darkness (since he helps Okiku hunting down paedophile killers and rapists), he also accepts it as part of how their relationship has evolved. Of course, everything isn't perfect, they have their disagreements, and Tark's starting to wonder where the line is to be drawn—is punishing killers enough, or does one have to start killing them before they actually start killing, as a preventive move?
The thing is, I would've liked to see this explored more in the story, as it was a great moral theme. It wasn't, or not more than just for a couple of scenes. Too bad.
Instead, "The Suffering" goes in another direction. Not necessarily a bad one, just... different. It had its share of darkness and scary scenes as well, playing more on abilities Tark developed over the past two years, exorcising ghosts through dolls. Creepy dolls in America. Wedding dolls in Japan, as he and one of the miko from "The Girl From The Well" find themselves trapped in a nightmarish village where a ritual is waiting to be completed. It doesn't help that Tark gets swallowed by this place while there are dozens of people around him, and nobody even notices. That kind of scene tends to both creep me and grab my attention (must be my old addiction for anything Silent Hill-like). And the village didn't lack on the horror side, full of rotting houses, skeletons, old Japanese magic, tragic love stories gone wrong, and murdered girls intent on making trespassers suffer the way they did.
In that regard, this theme was an interesting echo and reflection on what Okiku herself used to be, after her death and her coming back as a vengeful spirit. In this second book, she was calmer, more composed, more attuned to Tark and to what had once made her human. On the one hand, it was good. On the other, she somewhat felt like a side character, in spite of Tark's longing for her presence even after they had fought (also, this time the dynamics was changed, and he had to be strong as well, because the spirits they faced were of an element against which water—Okiku's—was weakest). However, again, what could've been a thematic mirror wasn't explored enough to my taste.
And that's why I can't bring myself to give 4 full stars her: while reading, I kept balancing between "this is great" and "I wish this had been developed more". Add to this secondary characters that were nice to look at, but nothing more, especially Callie, who came along to Japan yet wasn't really involved in anything except for the search & rescue party in the forest. Kendele was an addition I can't really decide about: a good person, genuinely interested in Tark, yet also a plot device for him to realise what Okiku truly meant to him.
Overall, as a ghost story full of old rituals and beliefs, evil ghosts that all had their reasons to be like that, strange forest with a somber reputation, and traipsing along caves in search of the foul source of all that evil, "The Suffering" was a good read. Nevertheless, I think it missed the mark on a few but important elements.
(I got an ARC of this book through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.)
Not so much "terribly scary" for me in the end, in that I don't scare(I got an ARC of this book through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.)
Not so much "terribly scary" for me in the end, in that I don't scare easily, yet fascinating nonetheless for its depiction of ghosts, the appearance they have after death, and the imagery it conjured. I could fairly easily picture Okiku, the murderers she targeted and got revenge on in place of the dead children, said children literally latched onto those men's necks and linked to their limbs by spirituals cords... And the woman in black... well, all right, that one I'd definitely attempt to draw someday, although I'm not sure I could do her justice. I think the way the story was told, too, contributed to this: somewhat cold and detached, and special, because it's a strange mix of omniscient and first person point of view (the story's told by Okiku herself, who's able to observe other characters and their reactions, and sense their thoughts and feelings). In any other story, it probably wouldn't have worked for me; here, it did, because it seemed to fit with the ghost's paradigm. I don't know if other readers in general would like it, but as far as I'm concerned, it partook the fascination I had for this novel, through descriptions that were just the right length and just suggestive enough (all the more for the intended YA audience), without falling into the realm of "too much".
The Girl From The Well is loosely based on a well-known Japanese legend, that of a servant girl who worked for a lord, and was tasked with keeping ten precious plates; she was tricked into believing she had lost one of them, and was put to death for her "carelessness". As a result, she became a vengeful spirit who drove her former lord to death—and the number 9 sends her spirit into a frenzy. This was nicely reflected in the book, in that Okiku tends to count whatever she sees (people, items...), and the accursed number indeed makes her react violently. Forever detached from both human world and and elusive afterlife, she can only watch, in between enacting revenge throughout the world on people who've killed children, but were never punished for their bad deeds. The Smiling Man, especially, was of quite a scary persuasion—I find smiles way more frightening than other expressions whenever such characters are concerned.
However, this isn't exactly Okiku's story. Hers was already written, already told, and this is more a "what would happen some three hundred years later, how would such a vengeful spirit evolve with time." Partly to her own surprise, she finds herself drawn to Tarquin, a boy with strange tattoos, and whose fate is doomed to be a dark one if what plagues him isn't destroyed in time. (Note: there's no romance involved—a very welcome element in my opinion. It would just've been weird and misplaced in such a story.) Odd things happen around Tark, his own mother has been locked in an institution and has tried to kill him several times, and he just doesn't understand much to what's happening. But other people slowly start to notice the presence that haunts him, those people being mostly Okiku and his cousin Callie, and it's up to them to try and understand what his problem his, and how to solve it, which involves going back to his roots.
On the downside, I wasn't too convinced by the characters in general, in that they seemed more driven by the plot than people with their own lives. Okiku's involvement was also somewhat problematic, since she was mostly a watcher and didn't act as much as I expected her to. I think I would've liked her nature as a vengeful spirit to show through more than it did; for instance, one of the vengeance scenes made me feel like it had been put there as some kind of reminder, and not really as part of the plot. There was also one huge blunder that could've been easily avoided if only one of the characters had spoken out loud about a specific event, yet didn't for... no reason? I don't mind characters making honest mistakes, but not when the latter are the product of unexplained reasoning.
Overall, I had a hard time putting this book down, and remained fascinated, though with hindsight, those aspects I mentioned prevented me from rating it higher. (3.5 stars)...more
Un peu trop rapide sur la fin comparé au temps dévoué au reste. Mais cette fois encore, j'ai trouvé intéressante l'évolution du personnage principal,Un peu trop rapide sur la fin comparé au temps dévoué au reste. Mais cette fois encore, j'ai trouvé intéressante l'évolution du personnage principal, chez qui l'ont peut voir de véritables changements, avec acceptation de ses faiblesses aussi bien que de ses forces. A la suite des épreuves qu'elle a traversées, Yôko parvient à se trouver elle-même, tout en reconnaissant que son cheminement n'est de loin pas encore arrivé à son terme....more
More like 2.5 stars. Very, very mixed feelings here. I sort of enjoyed it, but...
I liked the second part better, in part because I'm not too fond of tMore like 2.5 stars. Very, very mixed feelings here. I sort of enjoyed it, but...
I liked the second part better, in part because I'm not too fond of treks in the wilderness/mountains, and also because of the more complex political layers I could sense in it. Also, Yukiko had to grow up, from the sulking girl of the beginning to one who finally understood that things weren't always what they seemed—and grow up she did.
More problematic was the balance when it came to the Japanese influence: I constantly felt it was either too much or too little. The first 100 pages or so contaid a lot of exposition/descriptions, clearly intended for people who don't know that culture; however, as soon as you know just a little, it's already too much. It's worth for the language as well. My knowledge of Japanese is very limited (2 hours/week for, what, two semesters?), but it was enough for me to notice all the glaring mistakes and weird approach. For instance, "shima" means "island" (among other things—you can't tell without the kanji), so "the Isles of Shima" is, uh, "the Isles of Island", which is definitely weird. Another example: when characters, who're supposed to speak "Japanese" (and we're made to feel like they do, it's too close in influence to pull the "it's only inspired by it" card), end up translating expressions. There's no way Buruu, linked to Yukiko's mind, would need her to translate an expression like "arashi no ko". So, for me, it was really troubling, and I'm positive such words could have been translated for the readers without having to resort to such devices.
My other problem with the novel came from some of the secondary characters, who weren't given enough spotlight, or were given too much for plot-device reasons. (view spoiler)[First, Aisha, who looked so promising, looked like she could've done and been so much more, and then... nothing. Second, Hiro, whose part was important, but whose influence in the firs two thirds of the novel sprung just out of nowhere. I would wonder: "Why is Yukiko thinking of that guy with green eyes? She only talked to him for five seconds at the beginning of the book." It was like insta-love fuelled by nothing. (hide spoiler)]
On the other hand, there's ground for a lot of interesting things in terms of world-building, and in how the blood lotus flower and the environmental problems play a part in Shima's setting. I may pick the second book at some point after all, to see what becomes of this world....more
Trop court, j'en aurais voulu plus! J'ai beaucoup souri en lisant c e livre; en même temps, il m'a aussi donné l'occasion de réfléchir à bien des idéeTrop court, j'en aurais voulu plus! J'ai beaucoup souri en lisant c e livre; en même temps, il m'a aussi donné l'occasion de réfléchir à bien des idées reçues qu'ont les Occidentaux sur le Japon....more
Ce livre m'a fascinée du début à la fin. Je cherchais avant tout à découvrir Murakami, qu'on m'avait conseillé de lire il y a de cela des mois déjà, eCe livre m'a fascinée du début à la fin. Je cherchais avant tout à découvrir Murakami, qu'on m'avait conseillé de lire il y a de cela des mois déjà, et j'avoue avoir un peu choisi au hasard: le résumé paraissait intéressant, le livre pas trop cher, et je me sentais d'humeur à lire une histoire de ce type. Ensuite... Une fois sa lecture commencée, j'ai eu du mal à le reposer. Tout cela peut sembler très simple à première vue, mais on se sent très vite bercé, emporté par ce récit au parfum tout à la fois de nostalgie et de mystère....more
C'est la première fois que je lis un ouvrage de cet auteur, suite à une recommendation qu'on m'en avait faite, et j'ai été agréablement surprise. OGAWC'est la première fois que je lis un ouvrage de cet auteur, suite à une recommendation qu'on m'en avait faite, et j'ai été agréablement surprise. OGAWA Yôko explore ici les thèmes de la mort et de la lente décrépitude, tout en mettant en lumière les sentiments de ceux qui resteront derrière ces mourants, devant désormais apprendre à vivre sans eux et à lutter contre la solitude que ce fait leur inspire. J'avoue avoir plus apprécié la première nouvelle que la seconde, qui me semblait partir quelque peu en dérive, mais dans l'ensemble, l'ouvrage est intéressant....more