An immersive, satisfying read…
Youmans’s ninth installment in her ambitious The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow Boy series is a carefully plotted, engrossing historical fantasy with plenty of twists and turns. Japan, 1877. The Satsuma Rebellion is contained, and the rebels are defeated. Princess Otohime needs help as she makes arrangements for her ambitious project of resettling refugees displaced by the rebellion. Azuki, Shota, Iyrtsh, Renko, and Akira are doing their best to help. When Oni asks Azuki for help, the Toki-Girl knows she must find a way to help Oni. Meanwhile, Eastern Dragon King Ryuujin and Western Dragon Queen Rizantona ponder the future of their species and the planet. Youmans’s characters are solid and easily likable. The historical setting of the Meiji Era Japan is crafted with skill—the norms, the culture, the superstitions that ruled the minds of the masses, the gender disparity, particularly the practice of female infanticide in certain situations, socio-political situation and economic reforms—all of it come alive. Similarly, the diversity of the people who inhabit it —both dual-natured characters and their human counterparts, their physical abilities and psychological burdens—is refreshingly visible. The narrative follows a linear structure: there are conventional character interactions; moral, philosophical, and political dilemmas; humans and the dual-natured protagonists’ personal struggles; and a nation on the brink of industrial revolution. The cultural diversity of the cast is presented in extensive, agreeable strokes, with Azuki’s passionate spirit consistently at the center. The dual-natured characters’ interpersonal dynamic with their human counterparts is rooted in reality. The plot bounces nicely alongside Azuki and her friends’ various explorations. Susu’s boyish enthusiasm comes to the fore throughout the narrative and rubs off on other dual-nature characters. Fascinating challenges and intriguing explorations are in plenty. However, the story lacks the visceral tension, generated by both the internal and external dangers threatening to shatter the peace of the nation, that gave the previous installment its edgy brilliance. That said, the book is an engrossing read, with a story that provides continuous surprising twists. The accompanied photos and detailed artwork provide extensive information, adding plenty to the text while grabbing the reader’s attention with entertaining visuals. This is an ambitious story: with its extensive cast and vast scope, the novel cannon be read as a stand-alone. New readers will benefit from reading the series in order. An entertaining installment in an ambitious series that does not neglect the vitality of its plotline. A must-read.
The Oni’s Shamisen
Book 9: The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow Boy
Pub Date 19 Apr 2022
PRICE $6.99 (USD) Kindle edition, $11.21 Paperback