|Bonus points for such an awesome,|
Most times, I like to read a series completely before I review it. Sometimes, I encounter a book that I just have to talk about as soon as I read it. That's been the case here. Like a lot of people, I grew up enamoured with Japanese culture. I watched anime when I came home from school, and I played video games from Japan. I read manga. I loved Japanese street fashion, and have always wanted to visit the country. I read Memoirs of a Geisha and loved it, read about the issues around it, and then proceeded to read other literature on the topic. To say the idea of a young adult book with a historical Japanese/fantasy setting intrigued me is putting it mildly.
I guess the only thing I can say is that something didn't quite feel right? Something felt off. As a fantasy, there wasn't enough fantasy to feel like a fantasy. As historical fiction... well. As I am neither Japanese or a history scholar, I don't feel qualified to speak on how accurate the culture and history of this book is. However, it feels like a mash-up of ideas from different periods of Japanese history. Some of the names felt weird to me.
However, that is not to say I didn't like the book. I did, I really loved it. The prose is perfect for the style of book. I found myself starting to love some of the characters. Books that take me away to somewhere different are by far my favourite type of books. The plot twists are well-forshadowed, but not easily guessable - the type you'll think back on afterwards, and realise they make sense. I particularly loved Mariko, our main protagonist. However, we are often told that Mariko is smart, logically so, and curious. Her curiosity I could see - she asked a lot of questions. However, she often seemed to act rashly, on impulse, with her emotions being her driving force. Mariko is obviously smart and inventive. I just feel like I didn't need to be told this to realise it?
One of the things I loved was the commentary on gender, and gender roles. Mariko feels constrained by her gender. Within the confines of her setting, she often finds ways to subvert the expectations placed on her as a woman and defy the stereotype. However, she starts with a "not like other girls" mentality - "Hattori Mariko was not like other girls. She was more," "Perhaps a girl who prized such things [pretty dresses] would be pleased." However, when she meets Yumiko, a maiko, they have a discussion on the various types of strength woman can display. "Mariko supposed it was possible all woman and men were forced to wear their own types of masks."
One of my favourite things about both of Ahdieh's series so far is the glossary. I like to read it to learn new words - even ones I'd heard of before may have a slightly different meaning in context. I also love how she managed to evoke a different time and place. She does manage to make her worlds highly believable, from descriptions of clothes and foods to language. I know a lot of people dislike the slipping of foreign words into books, especially speech that is meant to be translated. I have appreciated it in some books, since I like to expand my vocabulary.
I have to mention how this book has been called a Mulan retelling, despite being set in a culture inspired by Japan. If you ask me, it's different enough to stand on it's own. I understand that Mulan as a legend is intricately tied to Chinese culture, and the history between China and Japan has been fraught, to say the least. Since Asian cultures are not interchangeable, I find it odd. This article explains the problems with it better then I ever could.
I would recommend this to people who like books that take them away to another time and place.