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A Wholly Reluctant Blog

A blog by someone who prefers writing to writing about writing, but treats blogging like bad-tasting vitamins.

Currently reading

The Phantom Tollbooth
Jules Feiffer, Norton Juster
Walter Scott
Cloud Atlas
David Mitchell
Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit
Daniel Quinn
Bulfinch's Mythology
Thomas Bulfinch
Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863
Shelby Foote
A History of Mathematics, Second Edition
Carl B. Boyer, Isaac Asimov
The Weeping Empress - Sadie S. Forsythe A reader, like the main character, Chiyu (whose name I pronounce in my head like the latter portion of an explosive sneeze), is likely to begin this story a bit disoriented. Here we have a perfectly normal woman in her night clothes inexplicably surrounded by the gristle and blood of broken bodies, soldiers in tunics hacking medievally at citizens, and two invincible warriors resisting them.

Holy beans! (or something equally, if not more profane) you think to yourself. Where on God’s green Earth are we? How do I return to whence I came? Nevermind that. Let’s get out of here.

Chiyo obediently follows this same train of thought, linking up with fleeing citizens, the two warriors guiding them to safety. Pretty standard stuff that proceeds about as much as you might expect. Then, after all of their efforts, the two epic heroes do something shocking (a euphamism that with any more detail would be considered a spoiler) and at the same time we learn about a fairly striking prophecy. At this point the story takes off.

From this point on I enjoyed this story. Not that I didn’t enjoy the story leading up to this unexpected turn of events and important reveal, but this is the point where the tale entered fabled New Territory, piquing my interest as it had not before. Suffice to say, characters we anticipated might be archetypal and bland were abruptly not so. I’ll spare readers any further detail outside of this small tidbit: the title fits, as you might expect.

As an added bonus, I enjoyed the tidbits of scripture, or what have you, provided at the outset of each chapter, giving us an insight toward a prevailing religion and shaping the ensuing story. As a fan of Watership Down and The Shipping News, this can be a remarkably effective device if done well, and if the author is either studious enough to locate an appropriate quote, or clever enough to invent one of their own. Forsythe gets the nod on the latter (assuming the religious text she quotes doesn’t actually exist).

All in all, an excellent story that, once I crested that first mount of “where am I and what exactly is happening here and… oh! That was unexpected!” I cruised along to the wholly satisfying conclusion.

Why, oh why deduct a star, then? The missing star lends entirely to preference. There are several different styles of writing, and I tend to prefer tight narratives, where this story tended to offer descriptions that bordered on excessive, such as using two sentences to describe something where one might suffice. (e.g., “She couldn’t breathe. Her breath came in sharp uncontrollable gasps.” “…panicking and uncertain of what to do…”) That said, to each their own, and Forsythe gets full marks for all but the Personal Preference category, which is completely subjective, but something that weighs heavily in my opinion of a story’s enjoyability.

This isn’t a romp, or a happytime joystory full of girlish frolicking and adventure, and I think that is the story’s biggest strength. A good story is a convention turned on its head, and this story demonstrates some skillful acrobatics.