WARNING! EXCESSIVE LENGTH AND ONE ANGRY WOMAN!
I really have no idea how I’m going to do this review when everyone else expressed everything I wanted to say in such an eloquent and succinct manner, especially Cyna’s review
You have no idea how badly, badly
, I wanted this book to turn out brilliant and smashing and turn into one of those amazingly successful books that takes the publishing world by storm. Even more so when the absolutely gorgeous and fantastic covers that came out which weren’t white-washed! Omg, SCORE! Although I am really tired of sakura (cherry blossoms) being used as a motif to designate/symbolize that this book is about Japan. I mean, really? Can we create something a bit more original that’s not so tried and predictable?
Ugh, I’m getting off topic.
So, when I read the first three chapters I thought this was great stuff. Oh, man. I was ready to start running around and screaming its wonders.
Until I hit that solid wall soon after.
Holy crap. That prose. It drove me crazy and made my eyes wander. There were long passages that described everything in minute detail and these many passages stretched over many, many pages. It reminded me of Cayla Kluver’s novel, Legacy
. One I also hated for the excessive mind-numbing amount of unnecessary overly specific descriptions that were just fluff and not needed. Not to mention I already read enough dense and long articles every day for grad school, my brain does not want to be burdened with more. It really doesn’t.
In fact, it got so bad that I started skimming a majority of the novel and I really can’t give an exclamatory
grade/rating/review/whatever you want to call it for something I skimmed the majority of. It’s probably why I forgot a lot of IMPORTANT STUFF I should have noticed.
You know, it really sits my teeth on edge when all along this book was heavily marketed as kind of like a book set in some sort of alternate history version of Japan with an added splash of fantasy and steampunk only it’s really a Japanese
-inspired story set in an alternate world. The Japanese elements of this story are so heavily borrowed to create a world just like Japan that I’m super critical.
I didn’t know until later but it really upset me that the extent of the author’s research was only via Wikipedia and by watching anime. Really? REALLY? Even when I had essays for my Japanese literature classes I did extensive research by reading the original source material, looking up the author’s ideology and how it showed up in his work, the social and political climate at the time, and even went through books that had critical commentary on the literary movement's novels. And that’s just an ESSAY. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? My culture and heritage is not something you can surface skip through a five minute perusal of links on Wikipedia and splash something together and say it’s a great homage to it. No. NO, NO, NO.
There is a lot of use and abuse of the Japanese language in this novel. I mean, if this is supposed to be set in an alternate world to Japan but is NOT Japan, why are they still using Japanese and THEN having characters NOT understanding whatever is said IN Japanese? That does not make sense at all!
It really aggravated me when the suffix –sama was used by itself as an address to someone of higher rank. Excuse me? Sama does not function that way. It’s a suffix
. It’s even stated in that glossary that it’s a suffix, so why is it used so incorrectly!? Ugh! Furthermore, if more research was done into the very rigid class construct and hierarchy system in Japan, you can’t just USE someone’s name and just add a –san or a –sama and address them as such. They are ABOVE you. You do not have that social status or standing or right that refer to them as if you were on equivalent levels. This does not automatically make your speech more polite. There is a lot more to it than that!
I don't remember this word being used that much in the novel but my eyes caught on it right away: sarariman or salary men/man. This is for white collar workers who spend all their time in offices and cubicles. This word has NO place in a fantasy novel set in a historical context because this word is a MODERN convention. I'm sorry, you can't just take a word like this and apply it for anything, especially in a historical context because the word is very MODERN. It's a borrowed ENGLISH word adapted for the Japanese language (or katakana-ized if you prefer). Gah! I just want to rip something into shreds.
Oh and then there's that "aiya" thing. Aiya means something like "oh no" or an expression of surprise, dismay, or shock when something happens you didn't expect or didn't want to happen. Like you placed your stack of books on the table and then as soon as you walk away they all fall down. Aiya is a CHINESE expression, NOT Japanese. I am telling you this bothered me a whole heck of a lot seeing this OVER AND OVER again. It may have the same phonological similarity but it is NOT Japanese.
It really irritated me when he just threw out random words haphazardly in his sentences. It just totally destroys the prose and it’s extremely unnecessary. It smells of weeabos going, “Omg, this is SO kawaii, ne?” Just SHOOT ME NOW. And he doesn’t do this sparsely, he does this ALL. THE. TIME. It’s an eyesore and something I commented on in other books. And that hai thing? COME ON. REALLY? Hai is not the general universal, yes, or I understood. You know there are other variations! Like un, sou desu, wakarimashita, ryoukai, kashikomarimashita,
all with varying levels of politeness and casualness. (And different conjugations). Meh…
Another thing that I hated was how the author used simple words to designate his world. Like “shima” for the Japan-like island place this story was set in. Shima means island, so Island Isles? WTF? I remember he said that it’s hard not to be literal and things but using simple words like kyoudai, shiroi, gaijin for your naming conventions sounds very ridiculous to a person who can understand Japanese at a high enough level. It does not bring any mystique or what not to whatever thing he’s trying to do because it only made me laugh. I think it’s a waste of time for the reader if you KEEP translating what the words are in very close proximity to when you originally used, especially when there’s already a glossary provided in the back. UGH. Some people might think this is cool but I’m sorry, I think this is terribly lazy because if you really wanted to use Japanese words you could at least try to combine words or kanji compounds together and make something up. Even putting together random sounds would have been fine as a last resort.
The male gaze is pretty prevalent in here. One scene that really grossed me out is that Yukiko’s identity is discovered by boys who peep on her when she goes to take a bath. REALLY?
That’s the only feasible way you could have had your plot move forward? By having guys PEEP on her? You couldn’t have say, had her tattoos uncovered when she’s FIGHTING monsters or something? I don’t know, something less creepy. It really creeped me out when the brother’s sister is described as being extremely beautiful that all men wanted a taste of – and that’s compounded by the fact that there’s some incest relationship going on there? SERIOUSLY? Did we really need that? Ugh, gross.
Btw, who are the gaijin anyway? This is never explained or dealt with. Also the lotus thing that everyone gets drunk on… Lotus? Why lotus? I mean, Japanese love to use nature and especially flowers as symbolism in their works but a lotus doesn’t have as much weight or impact as say sakura or kiku or a litany of other things. And if you wanted to show drugs, what’s the problem with opium that came from POPPIES? They did have that back then, you know.
I didn’t like how the poetry aspects were scoffed at. Haiku
is not the be all and end all of Japanese poetry, you know? There’s also tanka, chouka, renga,
and freestyle (plus many more). Being able to write beautiful poems was a point of pride back then. They would spend hours having poetry competitions adding to another person’s poem, or reading out loud their own. The one’s with the most eloquent, beautiful, witty, or impressive were seen as highly intellectual individuals that were praised and respected. I didn’t like how this was just thrown in as just to add more “flavor” to the story. I remember the manyoushuu being brought up and it was called, The Book of a Thousand Deaths, or I dunno some ridiculous title like that. FYI, it’s called “The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves”.
If you’re going to borrow so heavily from Japanese, at least create new aspects to your world. Something Shadows on the Moon
or the Eon: Dragoneye Reborn
series (although this one is based more off of Chinese culture/mythology) did quite excellently.
I kind of marginally liked Buruu’s snark and attitude and the connection he had with Yukiko as it was fun to see them grow into their bond together. The last quarter of the book moved at a lot quicker pace and I didn’t have to slog through it as much as I did in the first three-fourths. At least there were plot twists I wasn’t expecting. I even sort of liked Yukiko’s romance with the green-eyed (ugh) soldier because she got to have a consensual sexual relationship with him and wasn’t shamed for it (at first), until you realize he used her feelings and sex against her as a form of manipulation and called her “filthy” and “dirty”.
There was something that always bothered me about the green-eyed soldier until Linda’s post
pointed it out perfectly. These are ASIAN characters where the majority of common people have BROWN eyes. I know there are exceptions like some ethnic Chinese groups or Mongolian people (although this is contested as there may have been crossing way back when) but for regular pure-blooded Japanese people, this is practically impossible. Why can’t Yukiko be initially attracted to someone with BROWN EYES? What’s wrong with them? Meh.
I can go on and on and on but this review is heinously long. There’s also the problem I had with the depiction of the Shinto gods, the grossly incorrect usage of kimono – including juunihitoe (for royals!), pandas, inconsistent and/or incorrect romanization of Japanese, non-Japanese names (Aisha!?), and a myriad of other things.
To sum it up quickly: Bitterly disappointing. I am not happy. Not at all.