I love the premise for this book: In Heian Period Japan (something like 794 to 1185), the land is at peace with its neighbors, and prosperous – but the supernatural world is another story entirely. The nights are thick with ghosts and demons, most of them dangerous enough that walking out after sundown is a very bad idea for most.
Not for Yamada no Goji, though. He is a demon-queller, an investigator, noble enough to be eligible for hire by greater nobles, but not noble enough to actually have money or position. He would live paycheck to paycheck, if he had a steady paycheck; as it is he lives from job to job, and sometimes takes extraordinarily dangerous jobs simply to get by. Fortunately, he has the assistance (not always eager) of the priest Kenji, who is a priest much in the same way Yamada is a nobleman: in name, mostly. Still, whatever Kenji’s faults in the minutiae of devotion (keeping up his tonsure, keeping sober, keeping away from women and sake), he is a powerful exorcist and maker of wards, and therefore an invaluable sidekick for a demon-queller.
This isn’t a novel, but a collection of stories that constitute a larger story arc. Each story is self-contained, but meshes beautifully with the rest. When Yamada contemplates an empty sake barrel in one story, we know the reason he drained it lies in the first story.
I was thoroughly confused when Our Hero instructed someone to call him by a more familiar name, “Goji”. “But – Monogatari -?” I thought. What I did not know: according to Wiki: Monogatari “is a literary form in traditional Japanese literature, an extended prose narrative tale comparable to the epic.” To Kill a Mockingbird: charmingly, becomes Arabama Monogatari.
The writing was excellent; any disappointment I felt that this was not a novel is on me, not the book. I enjoyed the characters – Kenji kind of slipped right in under all defences – and I’m becoming more and more fascinated by Japanese mythology. I love a good kitsune. This is highly recommended.
Also? Great cover.
- Genji Monogatari (源氏物語) (nightinbloom.wordpress.com)
- Japan’s Heian Period, from 794 to 1185 (japanesesearch.com)