Today we have Kojiki, which is the debut novel of author Keith Yatsuhashi.
In Kojiki, one of the Kami, Vissyus, has gone insane and was imprisoned by the others long ago. Now that prison has failed, and he has escaped, bringing two powerful guardians with him to wreak vengeance on the world that abandoned him. It is up to a seemingly ragtag band of Kami and their guardians to try and stop him.
The back cover blurb indicates that Keiko, a teenage girl who is traveling to Japan to fulfill her father’s last wish, is our main character. This is only partially true. It is correct that–in time-honored anime fashion– she is much more than she first appears and is absolutely vital to the story, but we also have substantial chunks of the book written from multiple other viewpoints. Most notably, Yui (daughter of a Kami), Eric Aeronson (another Kami), and Vissyus (the big bad) are substantial narrators in the book.
Let me start the critical part of this review by saying I liked Kojiki. The author states that this book is an homage to Japanese culture and all the anime series he watched as a child. The Japanese mythology and legends which he uses to create the tapestry of plot lines in this world are all very lovingly rendered. The imagery throughout the book is superb.
That being said, this is a dense book. It will make the reader work for the payout at the end. If you are looking for a fluffy, light read, this is not the book for you. There is a lot going on, and by the time I was half way through this book, I was pretty sure it could have easily been split into two or three books– possibly with some awesomeness still left over on the cutting room floor for a book four or five.
On a scale of dense books, with Deverry Cycle being the low end, A Song of Ice and Fire in the middle, and Foucault’s Pendulum being the top end, I would put the level of PTFA needed to read this book right up there by Foucault’s.
Now, I loved Foucault’s Pendulum, and if you already like Japanese mythology and have a good grasp of the common myths and figures, this book can be a lot of fun. References and interesting twists on Japan’s many legendary figures abound. Some of characters are even plucked straight out of history, and re-purposed for this story.
However, to someone who isn’t at all familiar with Japanese mythology, there are an awful lot of characters and contexts flying around to keep track of. I’ve been a Japanophile since 1998, and even I had a hard time keeping up with the onslaught of characters and situational references. There arequite a few viewpoints, and events often occur in widely separated geographic locations, but I’ve read series with more and not had a problem. (Cough, Song of Ice and Fire. Cough) That got me to wondering what was different about this book. I thought about it for quite a while actually, because overall I really enjoyed the story, and yet in places, it still managed to lose me. I finally came upon what I believe is the culprit. Or at least for me.
The author has obviously spent a lot of loving care on his characters’ histories. And because many of them are Kami, those histories can be very lengthy. The author can’t resist including long flashbacks of events that happened a hundred years ago at yet more locations. There are whole chapters that are nothing but flashback. Then add the fact that these flashbacks only exist to give us back story on current events, and suddenly you’re in the middle of an exposition swamp, when you thought you were going to be playing chicken with a maniacal dragon in the middle of Ginza.
To be honest, I would have been happier if those flashbacks had been their own book, rather than disrupting the immediacy of the catastrophic, epic level shit that is going down in present day. Especially since the author already has so much material to begin with, without having to pull in giant chunks of the past. I especially found myself skimming over flashbacks that dealt with how much Eric and another Kami used to be head-over-heels for each other. Yes, I understand that the author was trying to show how their relationship contributed to Vissyus’ present-day crazy times, but instead of building up empathy with me for any of the characters involved, it just dragged down the pacing in the front of the book.
This book is hugely ambitious, and I really like that. The scope and complexity of the plot is immense. But there are definitely parts of the book where there is too much of a much-ness.
My final take on this book is that is a very good read that could have been an amazing one, but is held back from its full potential by several places where the story just doesn’t hold together as tightly as it could.
Is this book still worth picking up? Absolutely.
Will it piss some people off with its uneven pacing? Sure.
Would I read book 2? Yes, I would.
In spite of the issues I’ve picked on above, this is a truly Herculean first effort from this author, and I will be keeping an eye out for more of Keith Yatsuhashi’s titles in the future. I expect we’ll see great things.