The Boy in the City of the Dead (The Faraway Paladin #1)

Title: The Boy in the City of the Dead

Author: Kanata Yanagino

Series: The Faraway Paladin #1

Will remembers his previous life. He’d just drifted through, never engaging, never really risking, dulled to life and death. But he remembers, even as he’s now in the body of a baby, being raised by three undead caretakers in an abandoned temple. He’s determined to use this second chance well. He’s determined this time, he won’t just exist, but really live. And, trained by a warrior skeleton, a priest mummy, and a wizard wraith, he’s gaining the skills and tools he’ll need to tackle just about anything.

It’s really hard summarizing this book, which is easily one of the best—if not the best—I have read this year. This is one story where I feel the reincarnation piece is absolutely vital to the plot, rather than yet another gimmick to get the main character to another world. Will’s whole reason for going after life full-tilt is because he is inwardly grieving over the absolute waste he made of his previous life. He’s learning the difference between existing and really living.

And he’s doing it in the company of some of the kindest, yet most challenging adults you can imagine. That they’re undead is a bit alarming to him at first, but he quickly realizes they mean him no harm.

[…] my situation was neither dream nor vision. It felt far too vivid and far too realistic. And I couldn’t imagine what would have to go wrong for a person to start having visions of having their diaper changed by a reanimated corpse.

This is also hugely funny. A lot of the humor is tied to seeing childhood through an adult’s perspective, but the characters themselves are also a real treat. There are so many moments that made me pause to laugh.

Would anyone launch into an explanation of astronomy, physics, and the theory of nuclear fusion after a child asked, “Why does the sun shine?” Not usually. Your answer would be something like, “Mister Sun is doing his best to give us all light and keep us warm.”

Blood’s got some really solid combat advice (Gus, too). I love his motto. “Get ripped, and you can solve pretty much everything by force.”

And the magic system is also interesting. There’s good reasons why being a mage can’t be industrialized, and why being a combat mage is particularly hazardous. No matter how much Will learns from Gus, though, Gus is simply so much BETTER that Will has little trouble staying humble.

From Mary, Will learns a good deal of practical skills, like how to manage a garden, clean the house, and do various chores. I love how this is balanced with learning both physical and magical combat. He’s learning how to be helpful as well as independent, to not be a leech on the people around him. This aspect of self-sufficiency hardly ever gets mentioned, much less given equal weight as learning to fight.

The translation on this is so good I wouldn’t have guessed this was originally in another language if I hadn’t already known. Huge props to the translator for making the English flow so smoothly.

Overall, this is a special book, one whose words and characters will linger long after the final page.

Mary was sitting perfectly upright as she spoke. Her words were solemn, like a priest delivering a message from the gods. “There will be times when you will suffer a loss. There will be times when you are blamed unjustly. You may be betrayed by those you help, the good you do may be forgotten, and you may lose what you have built up and be left with nothing but enemies to show for it.”
Her serious atmosphere quickly softened. She beckoned me over to her, and held me tight. “Love people anyway. Do good anyway. Don’t be afraid of loss. Create, don’t destroy. Where there is sin, grant forgiveness; where there is despair, hope; where there is sorrow, joy. And protect the weak from all kinds of violence.[…]”

Highly, highly recommended.

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