Archive for the Novel Category


Summer Reading: The Fractal Prince (English)

July 9th, 2017

In May 2017, I  wrote a glowing, if mostly-incoherent review, of Hannu Rajienmi’s novel The Quantum Thief.  This brilliant, but lightspeed paced science fiction novel centered on gentleman thief Jean le Flambeur, who was simultaneously attempting to free himself from the prison of his own mind after the destruction of the Earth, escape from a detective convinced he had something to do with a murder, and convince an Oortian warrior and her ship to help him steal something – and in return for their help, do a favor for her goddess, the pellegrini, who may well be his former lover in god form. All wrapped up in multi-layered realities of virtual existence, the mechanical Sobornost, the various Zoku, and the Founders all carving up the various kinds of reality for themselves.

Maybe you can understand why I was a little incoherent. 

In Volume 2 of the series, The Fractal Prince, nothing is less complicated and into the various Japanese, Russian and Qabalistic references, we now add classic Arabian mythology in the form of the wildcode of the deserts and the Djinn who make deals and possess and the Aun who, as they move through and into people, who wish to consume. In the desert city of  Sirr, left on a destroyed Earth, surrounded by wildcode, we follow a young woman, Tawaddud, as she tries to save her family.  We meet the King of Mars and a economy based upon the time in a lifespan.

While Jean investigates his own mind palace, Mieli and her sentient ship, the Perhonen, find themselves once again entangled by her goddess, the pelligrini, who has indeed turned out to be Jean’s former lover Josephine. The pelligrini wants Mieli to help Jean, but she has a different agenda than the thief. Mieli spends time in her own past with her late lover Sydan, only to discover the truth about who destroyed the Earth.

Because Rajienmi favors throwing you into the story without any extraneous explanation (what Amy Goldschlager at The LA Review of Books called his strict adherence to “show, don’t tell”) there is a certain presumption of your willingness to be in the game without all the rules as you read. For my part, I am all in on this. I love this no-expository form of writing. It assumes the reader is as fast a thinker as the writer and to that, I say, bring it on, Hannu. ^_^

Where in the first book, Mieli and Perhonen are supporting cast to Jean, the story strips away from itself in this second book. The ship Perhonen becomes even more of a character, Jean becomes less of one and Tawaddud and Mieli each take up an equal share. The Fractal Prince is not a gentleman thief’s story anymore, it has become a ensemble cast adventure. And it’s worth every moment spent with it. For a competent, tragic, sensitive, strong lesbian female lead, you couldn’t do better than Mieli. Now all we need is to get her a new girlfriend. ^_^

Ratings:

Story – 10
Characters – 9 all the way around
Lesbian – 5 

Overall – 10

I’m currently reading the third of the series, The Causal Angel. I’ve slowed myself down to a chapter at a time, so I don’t slam through it too quickly because it’s so damn good.

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Summer Reading: The Quantum Thief (English)

May 28th, 2017

Raffles. Bandette. Ana DuPre. Jean le Flambeur.

What do all these names have in common? They are members of the privileged class who, for one reason or another, make their living as thieves.

In The Quantum Thief by Finnish author Hannu Rajaniemi, we meet the last of these – Jean le Flambeur – in prison. Sentenced to die repeatedly in a series of video game-like scenarios until he can convince his warlike and violent partner to work together. So far, he’s not having any luck, but then a sentient ship, the Perhonen, and her pilot Mieli break him out of prison at the bidding of Miele’ goddess. And we are catapulted into an adventure that was so complicated and so damn interesting, I can barely describe it.

Jean is competing with his other self – the self that locked him into the body he currently has – his ex-lover, and the arch-detective who his following his trail after the death of a chocolatier.

Rajaniemi writes at a blazing pace and he presumes you can keep up. From the Oubliette, a shtetl filled with Qabalistic references, to the gaming Zoku of space and the Vir, the virtual realities of a dozen different simultaneous layers of existence and society, you are expected to grasp the obscure and the created knowledge with equal fluency and speed. 

I loved this book.

Which is all well and fine, Erica, you say, a hint of impatience in your voice, but why are you reviewing it?  

Because of Mieli. Mieli is an Oortian, a tribe of people who are portrayed as rather…Finnish…in a mythological manner of speaking. Mieli’s former lover was Sydan, another woman with whom she had a complicated and involved history. Mieli is currently seeking Sydan, who disappeared when Earth was destroyed. Mieli now serves the Founder, pelligrini. Along with her sentient ship, the Perhonen, Mieli is as critical to the plot as Jean is…although I might put Perhonen slightly higher on the cast listing.

If you’re confused about now, no worries, this was just the vaguest, most superficial taste of the high-density information dump that is The Quantum Thief.

Did I mention that I loved it? 

Mieli is another cool, competent lesbian, with a nicely melancholy backstory. She’d fit nicely enough with all the cool lesbian detectives of the 1990s. Kate Delafield, meet Mieli. You’ll get along swimmingly.  

Ratings:

Story – 10
Characters – 9 all the way around
Lesbian – 3, but it’s there

Overall – 10

I adore writers who assume I can keep up with them, and Rajaniemi is the best I’ve ever read in this regard.This book relies on obscura and slang from Japanese, Russian, Yiddish and a few other languages, but if you’re a patient reader, everything is given context in an Escher kind of way. Just hang on for the ride.

Thanks to bestie Daniel H for the recommendation – you are now among the very few who can recommend things to me. ^_^

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Ten to Chi no Moribito, Part 3, New Yogo Koukoku Hen (天と地の守り人〈第3部〉新ヨゴ皇国編)

November 27th, 2016

ttcnmnybAt last. 

We arrive at the final chapters of the long, dark travels of the female bodyguard Balsa and her ward, young Prince Chagum.

It’s been about 9 years or so, since I first encountered the anime Seirei no Moribito (released as Moribito in America by Media Blasters and recently re-released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Viz Media.) I still consider this to be one of the finest anime I have ever watched – superior even to the books it was based upon.

I’ve reviewed most, but not all, of the novels here on Okazu. 

When we left the narrative in Part 2 of the final arc, the Tarsh Empire is massed to attack Chagum’s home, New Yogo. As the story opens up in Ten to Chi no Moribito, Part 3, New Yogo Koukoku Hen (天と地の守り人〈第3部〉新ヨゴ皇国編)., Tarsh arrives at the plain where Tanda and the other men of his village have been impressed by the army to do manual labor. Unable to do anything at all, Tanda can only watch as the men and boys he’s grown up with are slaughtered around him. The tide is turned only by the timely arrival of troops from Rota and Kanbal.

Torogai, having confirmed that the waters of Nayug are about to overflow into Sagu and boiling and unfettered, will destroy New Yogo, has gathered as many of the Yaku shaman she can, in order to do a dangerous spell that, if successful will help to warn people, and if not, will destroy her. Another of their number had recently attempted it, but had died trying.

Chagum returns to the Palace in New Yogo, only to find that his father is not the man he (nor I) thought he was. He comes to court bloody from his first battle, scarred by knife and sword, and finds the man he thought was his father, viewing him as a hated rival. Chagum tries to warn him of the impending flood and the war, but he and his message are rejected. (And finally, I see that the Emperor was not really all the nice all along. The live-action got it right and I was wrong.)

Almost immediately, one of the Generals attempts to assassinate Chagum, but Shuga, who knew it was likely, is there to heal him. While healing, Chagum is pulled into Nayug, where the water spirits tell him about the flood. Still in Nayug, Chagum goes to his father’s court, but cannot be heard. He is able to cause a ruckus and get Shuga’s attention. Shuga, who has been warned by Torogai also tries to tell the court, but he too, is not fully successful. He tends Chagum’s body and awaits the end.

Torogai completes the spell and is able to save many people, by getting them away from the river before the flood.

But the hero of the story is down in Tarsh. The pirate Hyuugo, whom we had thought was dead, is brought home, barely alive. There, after the old king dies, with the two sons vying for the position of King, Hyuugo tells Prince Raul that he cannot win against the alliance of New Yogo, Rota, Kanbal and Sangal and the only thing he should do is immediately withdraw. The day after Raul is made King, the war is over.

And I stared. Um, huh? That’s it? Boom? No more war? Yup. End of war. 

Chagum’s father and most of his court died in the flood of boiling water out of Nayug. Tanda lost his arm and his will to live in the war and is suffering from PTSD. Balsa is tending to him, knowing there’s nothing she can do. Slowly, New Yogo is rebuilding, but a lot of people will never return home. As summer dawns, Tanda finally turns towards healing and he and Balsa finally kiss.

Chagum is walking through the palace and find his younger sister and brother. Tortured by the idea that he is about to become “the voice of god” and knowing perfectly well that he is merely a human, he decides he’ll rule in such a way to make his siblings’ lives peaceful. Two days later, Chagum becomes the Emperor of New Yogo.

Summer passes, then fall, then winter and spring and once again it is summer. Balsa returns home, paying one last visit to the old lady Masa who took in Asura and Chikisa (from Kami no Miribito, Part 1 and Part 2,) who have decided that they are ready to think about returning to Rota. Finally, Balsa returns to her home, where Tanda is cooking her dinner and Torogai is hanging out drinking. 

The End.

Ratings:

Overall – 8

Other than the abrupt end of the war, nothing was really surprising in this novel. Nonetheless, I’m kind of glad that we got to see Balsa and Tanda end up together. The plotting in the novel series has always been a lot of set-up for a handwave ending (which is one of the several things that the anime did better than the novel), but the characters have always been worth it.

Turns out there is one last book in the series (other than the cookbook, Balsa’s Table.) Nagareikumono: Moribito Short Story Collection, (流れ行く者: 守り人短編集) follows Balsa as a young girl, traveling with her foster father Jiguro. Undoubtedly, I’ll end up reading it eventually. 

But this is the last of the Balsa and Chagum books and, for a series that took me about 5 years to read, it was pretty damn good. Now I can kick back and watch the live action and complain about all the changes, just like a real fan should. ^_^

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Heartcatch Precure! Novel (小説 ハートキャッチプリキュア!)

March 7th, 2016

HCNovelImagine for a second, your favorite cartoon as a kid, turned into a dark adult novel. Okay, well that doesn’t work for me, because my favorite kid’s cartoons were already pretty dystopian, like Star Blazers and Thundarr the Barbarian, but you take my point.

The PreCure franchise has been Toei’s leading girl’s cartoon series for more than a decade. Each series has some commonalities, but the main premise is that a series of bad things are stopped by the legendary warriors  PreCure (which originally stood for Pretty Cure, but that’s basically fallen out of the story.) The first series is streaming on Crunchyroll and, until the current series, Mahoutsukai PreCure, the formula does not vary too much. A magical creature finds a girl, tells her she is a legendary warrior, they have to find the thing and save the kingdom, you know how it goes.

In 2010, the franchise piqued my interest with Heartcatch Precure!.  Six years ago, really? It was, I think, the best season of the show so far, although the seasons that have come after Heartcatch have almost all been watchable by my standards.^_^

Imagine my surprise to have heard that a Heartcatch Precure novel was being published. Thank you Komatsu-san for keeping me up on important news like this!

And so I have read the Heartcatch Precure! Novel (小説 ハートキャッチプリキュア!). Which brings me back to the beginning of this blog.

In the Heartcatch anime, the lead character is Tsubomi who, along with classmates Erika and Itsuki, fight the evil Dune, with his right-hand man Professor Sabaku and his henchmen Cobraja, Kumojacky and Sensorina. It was a very gay series, even when it wasn’t really gay, but what made me most intrigued was the inclusion of an unusual character, Tsukigage Yuri, voiced by Hisakawa Aya. Yuri was a very unusual character for PreCure – a little dark, without being evil. (Her name mean’s “moon shadow”, so let’ call it moon-behind-the-clouds dark.  But then, a character who was so dark, her name was Dark Precure, started targeting her and the story got really good.

The Heartcatch Precure Novel takes a look at the whole anime from the perspective of Yuri and, as a result, is somewhat darker than the anime.

We meet Yuri when she is first tagged as a Precure, watch as she struggles alone against the Desertrians…and, as she burns out completely. Although her fairy, Cologne begs her to find allies, Yuri insists on fighting alone. She meets her match in Dark Precure, but it’s Sabaku who defeats her, destroys her gem and kills Cologne.

We watch Yuri fall into depression, Erika’s sister Momoka drag her partially out of it, and her involvement with the next PreCure to be discovered. As you can imagine, her reaction is not joy to see she has been so summarily replaced. But slowly she comes to like the girls and eventually a desire grows in her to fight again….only, without her gem, she cannot transform.

The rest of the story follows the anime closely as Yuri meets Cologne again, her gem is revived and she is once again able to transform into Cure Moonlight. The four PreCure meet and are defeated by Dark and Sabaku, power-up and are able to defeat them, in the process learning their true identities. Sabaku is Yuri’s long-lost father and Dark the clone daughter he fabricated.

And, finally, they defeat Dune, save the planet and live happily ever after.

Despite it being an almost literal rendering of the anime, with the grim opening and an added epilogue, the focus on Yuri makes the book rather grimmer than one might expect from a PreCure series.

Interesting to note that  in the book – all of Sabaku’s henchmen and Kaoruko notice Dark’s resemblance to Yuri and comment on it. Former PreCure Karuko tells us, the reader, that she thinks Sabaku is Professor Tsukikage well before the reveal.

The added epilogue is edifying, as well. Tsubomi does indeed make into NASA, Itsuki becomes a fashion model, Erika a designer and Yuri, a scientist, like her father. We also see Yuri and her mother visiting her father’s grave, something that they would never include in the animated series, although he dies in the final battle.

Despite this being a character novel for a children’s cartoon, there is no doubt that the intended audience is teens/adults. No illustrations grace the pages here and there’s very little furigana. Clearly this is for those of us adults who watched the series and thought “I wonder what this story looked like from Yuri’s perspective?” The answer is “It looked a story of a fall from pride and redemption through friendship.” With a creepy cloned sister.

Honestly, I enjoyed this book and not just because I liked Cure Moonlight best (which I did.) The book was well surprisingly well-written, with a constant emotional shadow and a slightly-grownup feel. Not too grownup, mind you, it’s a book about Cure Moonlight, after all. ^_^

Ratings:

Overall – 8

A surprisingly good read that I often found myself lingering late to get another page or two read before I went to sleep.

For hardcore fans only, obviously. Who else would read this silliness? ^_^

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Novel: Ten to Chi no Moribito: Part 1, Rota Oukoku Hen (天と地の守り人〈第1部〉ロタ王国編)

January 24th, 2016

TtCnMRbBefore we get to talking about  Ten to Chi no Moribito: Part 1, Rota Oukoku Hen (天と地の守り人〈第1部〉ロタ王国編), I need to back the story way up. The last you heard about Balsa was in Kami no Moribito (Part 1 and Part 2) where she helped two kids escape slavers and stopped a vengeful god from destroying many people, among other things.

After that, we turned our attention to Chagum, the Prince in Seirei no Moribito, who carried the spirit within him and whom Balsa had to save from being killed thereby bringing an unending drought upon his country. It’s been 5 years since Chagum and Balsa have seen each other in the flesh. In Yume no Moribito, they met briefly on the side of Nayug, the other world that inhabits the same space as their world. Chagum’s sickly older brother has died, leaving Chagum the Crown Prince of  the Kingdom of New Yogo.  He now has a younger brother and a little sister.

As he turns 16, Chagum sets off on a tour of their world. This is his last chance to really experience freedom before he’s an adult and he’s taking the opportunity. In the books Kokuu no Tabibito (虚空の旅人) and  Aochi no Tabibito (蒼路の旅人), we follow Chagum as he travels to, first, the southern islands, where he is implicated in a murder plot and thwarts a ritual sacrifice of a young girl and in the second, in a trip to the Sangal Kingdom’s archipelago, where he is captured by pirates and taken to the second Prince of the Tarsh Empire, who tells him that war is coming and Tarsh will rule everything in the world. Chagum is sent back, but is once again waylaid and taken to the Rota Kingdom (where Kami no Moribito took place.)  I didn’t review these two books, because while Balsa is mentioned, she does not appear.

Okay, so. As Ten to Chi no Moribito opens, Balsa has taken up her old job as bodyguard for hire again, when she is found by someone with a letter for her. Do you remember the youngest of the King’s hunters who tracked Balsa and Chagum? His name was Jin. After failing to capture them he left the employ of the New Yogo royal family and became a pirate. In Aoichi no Moribito he and Chagum meet, but I never felt her was truly an ally and was working against Chagum while pretending to be friendly. (Chagum’s one sort-of ally in that book was a pirate captain, Hyuugo. Hyuugo liked the young prince and felt bad about having to kidnap him.) Anyway, Jin sends a letter to Balsa telling her Chagum is missing, presumed dead, on the way to Rota.

Balsa decided she’s going to find Chagum and bring him back home. Her adventure takes her through a bit of Sangal and into Rota, where she is tracked by soldiers, jumped by a bunch of heavies working for a local criminal boss whose ass she kicks. She was fabulously badass in this scene.

The recurring theme at this point is that Balsa, although she doesn’t think of herself as anything different, is massively famous. She literally cannot go anywhere anymore, because the moment the woman who weilds a spear  arrives in town, everyone knows it’s her. There are songs sung about her and Chagum. They cannot ever be unfamous again.

While escaping from royal hunters for the Rota kingdom, Balsa meets up with Hyuugo, who is mortally wounded. He tells her everything he knows, and explains in detail that war is coming and New Yogo is doomed unless it allies with Sangal, Rota and Kanbal against the Tarsh Empire. He’s got an exceptional grasp of the politics and the veil falls from Balsa’s eyes, she knows where Chagum must be.

Balsa find herself helped by a village headwoman, and yet another long insightful conversation happens, explaining the political ramifications of the situation.

We briefly turn to Tanda, who is found and “captured” by a bunch of soldiers, but discovers they are extremely young and scared to death of the war that they know is inevitable. (We also have short scenes where we revisit Torogai, Tanda’s teacher, Chikisa and Asura from Kami no Moribito, and other characters from past books.)

Balsa makes it to Rota where she is admitted to Prince Ihan’s presence without delay. This conversation was so adult, it was almost refreshing. Ihan admitted he had had Chagum, and why he had captured the boy – he was going to hold him as insurance that New Yogo allied with them. But Chagum, who was being moved further north, was longer in his castle. And Shihana, the shaman huntress from Kami no Moribito, who had been after Asura, is now hunting Chagum as well.

Balsa heads north, finding dead bodies and broken military troops along the way. The wolves were attacking  again. (The wolves of Rota get a lot of play in Kami no Moribito. They attack in massive packs and are ferocious. The first time in KnM we see Asura draw down the vengeful god is to destroy a wolf pack of hundreds.)

In the forest, shadowed by a wolfpack, Balsa is attacked by a group of men. With the wolves at her heels, she fights man and canine and is rescued, barely by a group of three men, one of whom is Chagum. The other two are killed and Chagum and Balsa are wounded.  When Chagum embraces her, Balsa notes that he’s now taller than she. They find a hut to in which to hunker down against the snow and tend to their wounds. Warm, fed, and trying not to die of infections, they have an emotional reunion. And they talk about the war that is coming.

With the snow swirling around them, Chagum asks if Balsa will take him to Kanbal and she agrees, even if her bones should break, she’ll take him there.

End of book. Phew!

As with Kami no Moribito, I’m kind of surprised at the political maneuverings and details in a YA series, but I’m also kind of glad that Uehashi-sensei doesn’t underestimate her audience, and presumes they are completely capable of understanding the situation.

But most importantly – Balsa. She is now 35 and is still at the top of her game It’s obvious that she’d prefer to be a small-time bodyguard leading people across the mountains, but is neither running from nor appalled by her fame. Although she has not, she says, heard any of the songs about her. She is still quite capable of being the person who changes the course of history…and when she meets Chagum once again, it’s pretty obvious that they both think it’s inevitable that she will be. We also get a few clear glimpses at her feelings for both Tanda and Chagum. During a long, cold night while on the road, she wishes for a brief moment to be in Tanda’s arms. I think this is the first time we’ve seen that kind of admission from her.

Her affection for Chagum has never been hidden, nor his for her. He’s spoken of her admiringly in every book. When they reunite, it is with a warm embrace. We never doubted for a second that they missed each other. ^_^

Nor do I doubt for a second that they will once again change the world. Who can stand against the Ten to Chi no Moribito, the guardians of heaven and earth?

Ratings:

Overall – 9 Awesome, with  a side of terrific. This book has it all. Chases and fights and intrigue and Chagum and Balsa reuniting. ^_^

This final arc is a three-book series. I hope to be able to complete it before we get the story in the Moribito TV series!

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