This alternative take on medieval Japan is one of my favourite series of books. There are actually 5 books altogether, but the middle three run together to tell one story – that of a young boy, Takeo, and his journey from an isolated mountain community to discover his true heritage as part of the Tribe, a secretive society whose members possess mystical powers. Under the tutelage of his uncle, Takeo grows up and becomes embroiled in feudal disputes amongst warlords, whilst trying to master his own powers and hide them from those who would exploit his abilities for their own gain.
There have been some criticism of these novels – some people don’t like the fact that the author has taken inspiration from medieval Japan (character and place names, geography, the caste system), but that she has altered certain elements and traditions to fit in with the fantasy world she has created. To me, though, there is a difference between finding inspiration in something and actually basing a fantasy novel on historical fact. Hearn has clearly stated that these books are not fictional stories about Japan, and this was obvious to me when reading it. She hasn’t tried to change history, merely used certain ideas from which she has created a fantasy world.
Not every character in these stories is good. Not only do they have flaws, some of them are downright foolish and often mean. And yet I still liked them all. You can get a real understanding of the motivations behind their decisions and the traditions by which they must live their lives. Even those who make the most terrible decisions that make you cringe with despair still manage to evoke a sense of empathy and understanding.
“Death comes suddenly and life is fragile and brief. No one can alter this either by prayers or spells.”
I have read the other two books in this series, which I did enjoy and will review, but this central trilogy I feel is the strongest element. I do love stories about Eastern culture, whether fact, fiction or fantasy, and these books delivered vibrant stories that left me wanting more.