Saturday, February 9, 2013

Richard Parks “Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter” (Prime Books, 2013)

Yamada no Goji is a supernatural detective in feudal Japan.  For a fee, he investigates situations involving various supernatural phenomena (foxes, ghosts, demons, trolls).  

A couple of things about the book will either make it or break it for you. First, this is a collection of short stories, not a novel.  This means that the readers’ expectation of character and plot development will not be fulfilled.  While there are some recurring characters and themes, there is no overall plot to this collection.  Yamada no Godji gets called in on a case, investigates, & moves on.  This can be frustrating, as each story just seems to be a variation on what came before, and not any sort of progression.

Second, the setting is unusual.  While recent years have seen growth in non-Western fantasy stories, the feudal Japanese setting is still rather unusual.  I am no expert on Japanese folklore or history, but my impression was that Parks dealt with these issues with sensitivity and a certain amount of accuracy.  But readers may be upset to discover that none of the typical Western tropes are in use here. (Although it’s possible to see how tropes could develop from this setting – the scheming courtier, the bandit, vengeful ghost, etc).

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