Posts Tagged ‘Asian’

shika3

I just loooooove these covers!

Publisher Description of Series

A self-assured warrior stumbles into a game of Go that turns fatal. An ambitious lord leaves his nephew for dead and seizes his lands. A stubborn father forces his son to give up his wife to his older brother. A powerful priest meddles in the succession to the Lotus Throne. A woman of the Old People seeks five fathers for her five children, who will go on to found the Spider Tribe and direct the fate of the country.

As destiny weaves its tapestry in Lian Hearn’s Tale of Shikanoko series, an emotionally rich and compelling drama plays out against a background of wild forests, elegant castles, hidden temples, and savage battlefields in Lord of the Darkwood.

About :

Lord of the Darkwood, the third installment of the four-part medieval Japanese fantasy serial The Tale of Shikanoko, covers an enormous amount of time considering its small size of 220 pages: over a decade. As the older power-players of the empire die out, a younger and equally-ambitious set of players matures and takes over. This book covers that shift and the shape of the book reflects it: unlike the previous two installments, the ending does not hinge on a monumental choice by our eponymous hero; in fact, Shikanoko hardly appears at all, compared to his near-constant presence in the first two. I enjoyed this shift from the older to the younger characters; the flat male characters in authority during installments I & II interested me less than the younger crowd does.

Spoilers For Books I-II in the next 2 paragraphs!

In the first two books, Hina lived as a neglected stepdaughter who was then captured and raised by her father’s mortal enemy in another town. All these years, she admired the Deer’s Child (Shikanoko) from afar. But the death of the Autumn Princess at the end of book II leaves Hina in charge of Shika’s infant son—and she only twelve years old herself. In book III, she hides among the courtesans of Lake Kasumi’s pleasure boats and works for them as she comes of age and watches Shika’s son grow up. Along the way, she meets the true emperor for the first time.

Meanwhile, in the Darkwood, Shika’s Spider Tribe sons grow in emotional maturity and demonic magic. Like Hina, they learn of love and lust; but unlike the powerless Hina, each of the sons finds his own place in the power hierarchy of the family, and the most powerful among them shape the empire far beyond the Darkwood, inheriting the power structure left by the deaths during of the first two books. Ultimately, they aim to spin a trap for Shikanoko, the father who sent them away at the end of book II, as he hides in the Darkwood, unaware and still lost in grief for the death of his beloved Autumn Princess, now over a decade before.

Overall :

Even though Lord of the Darkwood feels very much like an installment (instead of a novel), I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the previous two. The younger characters present a wide array of hopeful heroines and terrifying monsters, and their journeys more than make for an interesting story. With Hearn’s characteristically spare, but perfect prose, she has drawn an even more immersive and adult fantasy world than her famed Tales of the Otori series.

****4/5 STARS

Lord of the Darkwood is adult fantasy written by Lian Hearn and was published August 9th 2016 by Fsg Originals. Paperback, 224 pages. Thank you to Lian Hearn, FSG Originals and Netgalley for my review copy! The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.

shika2

“He sleeps beneath the lake,
The dragon child,
But he will wake
And spread his wings again,
When the deer’s child comes.”

Sounds so peaceful, right? Pastoral, almost.

But the Tale of Shikanoko is a bloody game of thrones inspired by medieval Japan and told in riveting, heartbreaking fashion.

About :

If you haven’t read book I or at least my review of book I, my recap of the plot won’t make much sense because there’s sooo much going in this series. Lian Hearn’s spare style allows for constant action, and the politics of the large cast is fairly complex, so if I try to recap every important plot line, my entire review will be one long recap and you won’t need to read the book anymore!

But here’s the short version of volumes 1-2:

An impostor prince sits on the Lotus throne and the Heavens take out their vengeance on all as the true emperor hides his identity from his scheming enemies. Shikanoko, The Deer’s Child of the prophecy, retreats to the magician Shisoku to mend his broken deer mask, following a humbling magical defeat by the Prince Abbot. While there, his heart softens toward a dangerous new threat, the five Spider Tribe demon children birthed by the Lady Tora. But despite the chaos all around him, all Shikanoko can think about is the true child emperor and his guardian, the lovely Autumn Princess…Autumn Princess, Dragon Child is an adult fantasy written by Lian Hearn and published June 7th 2016 by FSG Originals. Paperback, 288 pages.

Thoughts :

“The Tale of Shikanoko” series contains four volumes, but it’s really one long story published in four installments. FSG Originals published all four in quick succession in 2016. I read the first installment back in August 2016, so I worried about keeping track of the large cast after so many months; but with a little patience and piecing together, I was able to pick up the story again. I do, however, recommend reading them all within a shorter space of time than I did.

As in volume one, the main form of currency in volume two is power. Although the women vary in motivation and personality, the men all ruthlessly take power to protect themselves and their own families and tend to blend together to some degree. (I felt the same way about the genders in Across the Nightingale Floor, Tales of the Otori #1; but my antipathy toward the bland male characters in that earlier book was much stronger. I do find the characters in The Tale of Shikanoko much more interesting, as a whole, as well as finding the larger plot and style much improved.) But Hearn has a way of changing my mind about seemingly-irredeemable primary and secondary characters. I always end up caring about them by the end.

Shikanoko’s character develops in particularly interesting ways. His defeat at the end of book one broke him, and during the course of book two, he starts to grow from used child to adult warrior/sorcerer. His new humility proves to be a strength, by the end of this volume. His character development is one of my favorite things about the story.

Each volume ends with a monumental choice by Shikanoko—usually a combination of glorious victory and terrible mistake—and each time this poignant victory/defeat has made me eager to to pick up the next installment (although I didn’t get the chance to do that after volume one). Many readers have concluded that combining Shika’s story into one large volume would have made more sense, since the four small volumes (all well under 300 pgs, extremely short for adult fantasy) have very little in the way of self-contained plots. But regardless of this publishing model, the story is just as compelling in one or four volumes.

Overall :

So far The Tale of Shikanoko series is very dark and very adult, nothing like what I remember from Across the Nightingale Floor. I’m completely hooked!

Plot: 3.5/5
Characters: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Worldbuilding: 4/5

****4/5 STARS

Recommended To :

If you enjoy literary fantasy and Asian settings (specifically feudal Japan, in this case), I highly recommend this series. Not recommended to readers wanting fast, action-oriented or “magic-systems” fantasy; though the spare, impactful style never wastes a word, the tale’s emphasis on character and political machinations leaves little room for action or humor. And although magic exists and influences the story in interesting ways, it remains completely mysterious to readers, used for atmospheric and structural elements.

The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors. Thank you so much to Lian Hearn, FSG Originals and Netgalley for my free review copy! I loved it.

Last Star BurningOne of my favorite things about book blogging is finding out about awesome books I might not otherwise run across. A couple weeks ago, Book, Bones and Buffy posted this great lineup of 2017 ya speculative releases and there it was: Last Star Burning.

Must! Have!

Goodreads Description

Sev has been tattooed with the White stars of a criminal since she was eight. That’s the penalty for being the daughter of the woman who betrayed their entire nation.

Now her mother’s body is displayed above Traitor’s Arch, kept in a paralyzed half-sleep by the same plague that destroyed the rest of the world. And as further punishment, Sev must do hard labor to prove that she’s more valuable alive than dead.

When the government blames Sev for a horrific bombing, she must escape the city or face the chopping block. Unimaginable dangers lurk outside the city walls, and Sev’s only hope of survival lies with the most unlikely person—Howl, the chairman’s son. Though he promises to lead her to safety, Howl has secrets, and Sev can’t help but wonder if he knows more about her past—and her mother’s crimes—than he lets on.

But in a hostile world, trust is a luxury. Even when Sev’s life and the lives of everyone she loves may hang in the balance. Last Star Burning is ya fantasy written by Caitlin Sangster and expected to be published October 10th 2017 by Simon Pulse. Hardcover, 400 pages.

The author actually lived in China, so I’m crossing my fingers for some awesome setting-inspired fantasy elements!

What books are you waiting on this Wednesday?

portalofathousandworlds

“I helped him advance on the staircase of worlds.”

A pretty euphemism for assassination, no?

About :

The Good Land lives for centuries at a time without serious threat to its traditions. Each dynastic emperor rules from The Heart of the World, unseen by the masses and advised by his eunuchs. Periodically, rebellions protest the power of the emperor’s “usurper” mother, who appears to rule the throne; fortunately for the ruling class, the only real competing power lies with “The Grey Helpers” of “The Houses of Joyful Departure”—you guessed it, an assassin’s guild 😉

But the emperor takes fearful notice when the Man of a Thousand Lives reappears, a man who is reincarnated cyclically through the ages to share the wisdom of the prophets about the Portal of a Thousand Worlds. This time, the Man of a Thousand Lives prophesies the opening of the Portal. As the auguries pile up, the powerful grow nervous, for the Portal always brings great changes to the Good Land. Dynasties end and natural disasters rock the land.

The changes rarely favor the powerful. The Portal of a Thousand Worlds is adult epic fantasy/alternate history authored by Dave Duncan and published February 14th 2017 by Open Road Media Science & Fantasy. Duncan also authored The King’s Blades and The Seventh Sword series.

Thoughts :

Portal of a Thousand Worlds feels like the sort of book that might take a lifetime to write—tightly plotted and cast, fully-developed in setting and characterized by the sort of raucous, racy and word-perfect humor that enlivens what might otherwise be considered a grim Chinese political fantasy.

The conflict between Emperor’s family and the rebels is the main focus of the book. Every so often, the focus slides back to the Man of a Thousand Lives (also known as the “Firstborn” or the “Urfather”) and his mysterious agenda; but basically every other narrator (and there are many) focuses on the palace intrigue. Most of the narrators are either nobility or Grey Helpers, and from them we learn delicious details of both palace life and the inner workings of the assassin’s guild. It’s like a very (very! Wonderfully! Atmospherically!!) Chinese Game of Thrones.

The story builds to address the climactic mystery of The Portal. Only rumors survive about its opening in centuries past, and nobody knows why. But everyone wants to know, of course—so they ask the Firstborn, who currently resides in the body of a fourteen year old peasant boy named “Sunlight.” But even he doesn’t know much—he always gets assassinated before the Portal itself opens.

So everybody watches and waits, anxious about the opening of the great portal.

My favorite part of Portal is the delightfully wicked and ever-present humor. Clever verbal gymnastics, situations that lurch sideways and riotous personality humor kept me giggling throughout the book. The Firstborn himself trademarks his own running joke, sharing hilarious anecdotes or reprimands about the confusion surrounding past philosophical teachings.

On top of the humor, surprises show up on every page. Tensions run high with conflicting character agendas, sudden tips in power, deaths, magics and all kinds of other ingenious plot twists. I was never bored. Certain portions could have probably been trimmed to shorten the book—I didn’t expect to take two weeks to read this ARC; but every page was honestly a pleasure to read.

The ending may disappoint readers who enjoy the concrete answers often found in a hard-fantasy like Brandon Sanderson’s stories; nevertheless, I found it to be profoundly touching and everything I didn’t know I wanted. I love the theme about how the passage of time can affect religion and public perception of religion. The religion also serves justice in a rather unique way…

The limitations of the female sex may also bother some readers. Life is unapologetically rough for all but noblemen (emphasis on the “men”), in this early 1800s-like Chinese fantasy. Women can gain only a little power, and only by birthing sons; as such, every female with a modicum of power spends or has spent time as a prostitute or concubine. If feminism is a touchy issue for you, you might consider the female situation anything from boring to grating; I took off half a star for the disturbingly obvious lack of strong, unique female heroines. But thankfully despite the limits on female power, I enjoyed the female characters as much as the heroes in this one. The range of personalities is both vast and entertaining. (My favorite character, Horse, grew up in a House of Joyful Departure where females get just as much opportunity and have just as much success as males. He is one of the few men who respects women outside the bedroom…and you might like where his arc leads, and what it promises for the future of the Good Land.)

Overall :

I thoroughly enjoyed Portal. The humor and inventiveness far outweigh any negative considerations. It’s billed as a Chinese Game of Thrones, which seems like a fair description. (You might take this with a grain of salt, as I’m only familiar with book 1 + season 1 of GoT.) Occasional short action scenes pop up, but mostly as humorous or dramatic beats. The book is much more about politics and power than about the magic or even the Portal, really.

Recommended To :

Anyone looking for a hilarious and political epic fantasy with a Chinese twist. Not recommended to feminists. Slight content warning for younger readers, there’s some violence and a loooooot of sex, haha. I don’t recall anything too dramatic, but sex is probably mentioned on every other page, in some form or another (often as a device of humor).

4.5/5 STARS

Thank you so much to Dave Duncan,  Open Road Media Science & Fantasy and Netgalley for this amazing ARC of Portal of a Thousand Worlds!

‘The woman is a danger…What she does is an abomination.’”

About :

Shai is a MaiPon Forger in a country that despises Forgers as abominations. When she gets captured during a routine palace art theft, she scrambles for an escape plan; but before she gets the chance to spring herself from prison, her captors change the game.

‘She is a valuable tool. This woman can save us. We must use her.’”

They visit her prison cell and demand that she complete a job for them, a job so secret that Shai knows she will be murdered at its close: reforge the emperor’s soul. The Emperor’s Soul is a Fantasy Novella written by Brandon Sanderson and published October 11th 2012 by Tachyon Publications. Hugo Award for Best Novella (2013), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Fantasy (2012).

Thoughts :

This novella opens with the emperor’s staff debating the fate of their captive Forger, and this first layer of cultural tension immediately intrigued me: What is Forging? Why do they hate it? And why must they use it to save the country?

Nearby in prison, Shai desperately seeks a way out of her cell before the next day’s scheduled execution, and her technique introduces readers to the unique Asian stamp magic of the novella:

To Forge something, you had to know its past, its nature.”

At this point (on like page four), the cultural tension and the magic already have me intrigued. Then the emperor’s councilors arrive and explain the situation to Shai and to readers: the emperor has been attacked and needs a new soul to survive.

Whoa. What?

They grant Shai a stay of execution for the next hundred days, during which she must create the soulstamp—a task that will involve a huge amount of complex, untested magic.

Her ambitious artist’s soul longs to create the perfect soulstamp, but she knows she must prioritize one thing over this primal urge toward faultless creation: she must escape before those 100 days are up or she will never leave the prison alive. The 100 day countdown heads each new section, and I totally felt the squeeze by the end of the novella.

Over the course of the story, Shai uses her magic in a variety of ways: transforming her room, making various stamps to reforge the emperor’s personality and history, etc. But a constant war rages inside her between the need to create a perfect soulstamp and the need to escape with her life. Her escape plan is just one more layer of mystery that kept me reading.

The final layer that got me fully invested in the story relates to the characters. In order to escape, Shai knows she’ll need to do something that makes her cringe: she’ll have to manipulate the elderly Arbiter Gaotana who visits her cell to test the soulstamps.

Gaotana seems to have the most integrity of all those palace staff, as he alone regrets the need to forever silence the young Forger after she completes the stamp. So when he criticizes Shai’s choice of profession—thief, Forger, abomination—Shai feels his disappointment keenly.

Why? Gaotana thought again. Why would someone capable of this artistry, turn to forgery?…Why not be a true artist?”

Aarcanum-unboundednd now she has to trick him—just to escape with her life? It made my heart hurt just thinking about it!

Overall:

I love the human psychology and the theme of cultural misunderstanding in The Emperor’s Soul. And, of course, I love the Asian-inspired stamp magic. It ties in with the “form” type magic present in Stormlight Archives, I think, too—or it sounds like it does, anyway. In fact, I love the format and pacing and characters and everything about this story! I’m so happy it was included in Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection, even though it was published previously. I kinda wish we could hear more about Shai because her potential as a heroine is limitless; but I understand that Sanderson wants to finish a few series before starting an entirely new one, haha.

Recommended To:

Although the novella is set in the same universe as Elantris, the reading order doesn’t matter. In fact, this might be a great introduction to Sanderson’s work, if you’re not ready to jump into The Way of Kings. There’s no fat to trim.

*****5/5 STARS

emperor-eight“It was a time of troubles and opportunities. In the capital the Emperor was weak, his sons rivals. His brother-in-law, the Prince Abbot at Ryosonji, was regent in all but name. He favored the Emperor’s younger son and carried on endless intrigues against the Crown Prince.”

Premise :

Dark forces plot against the heir to the Lotus throne, wishing to replace him with his younger brother.

Far from this royal contention lives a young orphan named Kazumaru. After his uncle forces him from his rightful inheritance, he is used by a magician and sorceress for their dark magic, giving him a power that changes the course of his destiny. He becomes Shikanoko, “the deer’s child,” and soon inadvertently attracts the attention of a dangerous sorcerer, the treasonous Prince Abbot. But as Shikanoko learns to wield his powers, he finds that instead of giving him freedom, they put him in new kinds of bondage.

The power struggles of Hearn’s medieval, mythical Japan pose all kinds of threats to a friendless teenaged boy. Shikanoko trusts no one, but still he devotes himself to the service and care of others, giving readers hope for the development of a just warrior over the four installments of the fantasy series. Adult Fantasy, Published April 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Originals.

About :

I wasn’t thrilled with the first Lian Hearn book I read, Across the Nightingale Floor , which to me felt underdeveloped in almost every way. But when I saw her new quartet, published entirely within the space of a year, it occurred to me that with a few changes, I might enjoy her books. So I decided to try Emperor of the Eight Islands.

I’m so glad I did.

Pride began to well up in him, sweet and seductive, telling him he deserved all things, that he was allowed all things, that he could take what he wanted, in this world and the next.”

Thoughts :

This book felt much darker and more adult than Across the Nightingale Floor. Sex plays a large role in the dark magic that binds Shikanoko to his destiny—and sex rarely means love, in this story. It means power: the power of the heir, the power of dark magic over a victim, the power of lust. Everything is a power struggle.

Thus, ambition and motivation animate the characters much more than personality, giving substance to the clashes between them and making them, at times, unlikable. But within a few paragraphs of reading from their perspective, I found myself in full sympathy with them, despite my direct opposition only pages before.

The style is very spare and active; activity, rather than thought or conversation, drives every scene of the narration. Hearn only gives us one or two telling details of everything, amidst the action, but I was never confused. Every vital piece of information stands out clearly in this concise 251 page installment.

This is the magic of Lian Hearn.

The terrible, horrible cliffhanger of an ending is only mitigated by the publication of the rest of the series in such quick succession. Emperor of the Eight Islands is more installment than standalone. Immediately upon finishing, I requested a copy of book II and started reading.

Overall :

The style of Emperor of the Eight Islands is spare and brutal, but the characters lead us to hope for the destiny of the Lotus Empire. Recommended to adults and—maybe—older teens who enjoy a more literary kind of fantasy.

Trigger Warning :

Rape.

4.5/5 STARS

Thank you so much to Lian Hearn, FS&G Originals and Netgalley for the review copy!

a-mortal-song-tour

I hadn’t thought my heart could break any more than it already had. Apparently I was wrong.

Premise :

Sora believes herself to be a kami, a Japanese guardian of the natural world. Kami have made their home on Mt. Fuji for generations, and now Sora lives there with her kami parents and community.

But when hordes of ghosts invade the mountain with the help of a demon, Sora finds out that her whole 17 years of life have been a lie: she’s a decoy, a human changeling given temporary kami powers only to protect the identity of the true, prophesied kami heroine who will save Mt Fuji from certain doom. Sora’s last responsibility to the kami is to find and prepare the prophesied one to save the beloved mountain kingdom. YA Urban Fantasy published September 13, 2016 by Another World Press

About :

A Mortal Song, an action-oriented Fantasy set in modern Japan, turns the expected YA Fantasy trope—”Prophesied teen hero saves the world!”—upside down. I requested this arc based on freshness of the premise and the fact that Megan Crewe’s other work sounded so promising. But the book turned out to be a complete 4 star surprise!

First Impressions :

My first impressions, upon starting the book, were negative. The first 15-20% of the book is the weakest section, to my tastes, for two reasons: (1) I already knew the first “reveal,” which Sora spends the first 10% learning. (2) Right off the bat, Sora’s apparent crush on her friend Takeo bored me; the descriptions are painfully clichéd, such as, “My heart skipped a beat.”

But when I met some of the well-drawn secondary characters, near the 20% mark, I realized A Mortal Song was going to be more than a plot-first three star with lackluster characters. It took a little while to interest me, but I was totally hooked by 40%.

And about that boring crush? Just wait till you see how that turns out. Sora is awesome.

Other Awesome Things :

amortalsong

(1) A Mortal Song is so Japanese! Especially the good mix of unique and well-trodden mythology. I mentioned that I enjoyed the hints of Asian culture in Keira Drake’s The Continent, but those were background noise compared to the rich, thriving culture and mythology of A Mortal Song. Just the idea of the nature spirits that live on Mt. Fuji feels very Japanese, but add in the descriptions of modern-day Tokyo, the supernatural creatures and the style of warfare, and we have a totally unique YA Fantasy.

(2) The action. I felt like I was playing a video game as I read the fight scenes. The large, well-developed cast of heroes fights their ghost and monster opponents with both typical and atypical weaponry—legendary swords, yes, but also charmed slips of paper called “ofuda.” Sora and the human fighters slap ghosts with the ofuda to banish them to the underworld. In addition to the exciting action scenes, Sora actually solves problems creatively, which is a fresh attribute in a YA heroine. She combines human and kami techniques to make good tactical decisions.

(3) The plot never gets bogged down in character-building, but the female heroines are wonderfully drawn. The true kami heroine, Chiyo, is such a great character! I love her relationship with her human boyfriend and how she and Sora are both so strong, but so different. Sora’s character arc is particularly complex and interesting. She has to accept the loss of her kami powers and learn to think as a human. It’s exciting to watch her accept and use both her human and kami skill sets during the course of her heroine’s journey. I love the climax of her character arc and I’m so excited for readers to meet this new heroine.

Complaints :

(1) The antagonist isn’t entirely believable, although his plan is creative. (2) The guy characters basically feel like props to fill out the character arcs of Chiyo and Sora.

Overall :

A surprisingly moving read. The beginning and ending of the book are the weakest points, but as far as emotional resonance, the middle—from 35-95%—is full of surprises.

Recommended To :

Teens and adults looking for a good Asian Fantasy and/or good action-oriented fantasy. Fans of Mulan. This is way better than Eon by Alison Goodman, imo.

****4/5 STARS

Thanks so much to Megan Crewe, Another World Press, The Fantastic Flying Book Club & Netgalley for my arc of A Mortal Song!

megancrewe

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Like many authors, Megan Crewe finds writing about herself much more difficult than making things up. A few definite facts: she lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and son (and does on occasion say “eh”), she tutors children and teens with special needs, and she’s spent the last six years studying kung fu, so you should probably be nice to her. She has been making up stories about magic and spirits and other what ifs since before she knew how to write words on paper. These days the stories are just a lot longer.

Megan’s first novel, GIVE UP THE GHOST, was shortlisted for the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her second, THE WAY WE FALL, was nominated for the White Pine Award and made the International Reading Association Young Adults’ Choices List. Her Fallen World trilogy (THE WAY WE FALL, THE LIVES WE LOST, THE WORLDS WE MAKE) is now complete and she has a new trilogy forthcoming in October 2014, beginning with EARTH & SKY. Her books have been published in translation in several countries around the world. She has also published short stories in magazines such as On Spec and Brutarian Quarterly.

Contact Megan online at these places: WebsiteGoodreadsTwitterFacebookTumblr & Instagram

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~* GIVEAWAY *~

Includes all of the following Japanese media and treats (all books in English translation and all DVDs with English subtitles):

BooksMoribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi and Death Note Vol. 1 by Tsugumi Ohba

Anime series (DVD, complete collections): Cowboy Bebop and Princess Tutu

Anime movies (DVD): Grave of the Fireflies and Princess Mononoke

Live action movies (DVD): Battle Royale and Hana and Alice

3-month Japanese snack box subscription: WOWBOX (your choice of type)

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