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Tales of the Otori

Sunday, October 11th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

One of the interesting things about fantasy fiction is the way in which it is still mostly an English language phenomenon. This isn’t to say that there isn’t any original non-English fantasy, but even in European bookstores the vast majority of fantasy books in Deutsch or italiano will feature the names of familiar English or American writers. I spent my semester abroad in Japan, so I find it interesting that the best Japanese-flavored fantasy I have encountered to date is written by an Australian woman who apparently hasn’t even spent all that much time there.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on Japanese culture, so no doubt there are numerous details that Japanese readers would find jarring, incorrect, and annoying, but the small-scale saga which begins with Across the Nightengale floor seamlessly incorporates various elements of Japanese culture with magical elements that are derived from Japanese folk myths and animist religion rather than conventional Western tropes. The author, Lian Hearn, also does a very good job of making her characters abide by historical cultural norms, although unfortunately she can’t quite resist giving one female protagonist a strong streak of strong independent Western womanhood that is misplaced by some five centuries. It’s not egregious, though, and doesn’t detract from what is an excellent series of unusual fantasy fiction. I particularly liked how the author wisely avoids the Imperial court in favor of setting the saga in the midst of the sort of the rivalries between petty noble fiefdoms that took place far from the center of shogunate power as well as how she shows the importance of agriculture and the peasantry in the calculations of the warring aristocracy.

I can recommend Tales of the Otori without reservation, although I will caution ebook readers to be careful not to confuse them with a series of very bad adult novels also set in Japan with similar sounding names.

1 Comment »

  1. I just recently bought this book. At first glance i thought it was a japanese history book (one of my favorite subjects to read about) But then i saw that it was a fantasy novel. I bought the first one, but sadly it got placed on the need to read eventually pile. I agree that we need more fantasy coming out of this area. The book Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa is a really good historic fiction novel.

    Comment by Glenn - October 16, 2009 3:56 am


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