Tag Archives: myths-japanese

City of Gods II: Horsemen (City of Gods #2)

Title: City of Gods II: Horsemen

Author: Jonathan Maas

Series: City of Gods #2

The Horsemen have learned much during their time at the Academy, but now they have to face final exams. True to form, the exams aren’t easy—and some of them require involving themselves in the outside world. And after, everyone is split up as they’re sent on their first real missions . . .

I still think this is better as “kids with powers” than Horsemen specifically, the little nod to a vision of horses notwithstanding. That said, it’s still an interesting world, and each of the kids gets a lot of opportunity to develop.

In some ways this feels like a novella about the final exams, followed by the first half of a book about their first missions. That’s not a bad thing—both stories rotate between all four Horsemen and the split means things can go in several directions. One of the missions, for example, is directly built on an exam.

I like that Gunnar’s challenge is more about leadership, because he’s not really used to working with others still, much less the people who actually end up by his side. And I liked that Rowan isn’t quite as one-dimensional as he’s seemed (I usually love berserkers, but Rowan being an arrogant bully cancelled that out). I liked that Saoirse picked up the biggest incongruity about the minotaurs and is clever in playing to her strengths. I liked that Kayana gets challenged over her sociopathic tendencies, because Tommy and Cassander show her she may be extremely intelligent but she’s operating from a bad set of assumptions about humanity. And Tommy not only has a chance to be more of a leader himself, he’s got hints about the shape of his destiny that intrigue me.

Some of the characters felt a bit weaker, though. Cassander sometimes comes across as less of a character and more of a mouthpiece, and I dearly hope Kayana’s “overpopulation is the problem” confronts the reality that people can be jerks just fine even if they have all their material needs met.

Overall, though, this is still a really unique setting that I’m enjoying a lot. It’s fun to see Apaches and Celts and Spartans and Amazons and so much more all vying for attention. There’s enough tech to be a light sci-fi while of course the gods provide a lot of magic. I rate this book Recommended.

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City of Gods: Hellenica (City of Gods #1)

Title: City of Gods: Hellenica

Author: Jonathan Maas

Series: City of Gods #1

In a world where gods and mortals squabble over a constantly changing set of countries, Hellenica has dared to try something different. They have chosen 16 different beings with their various powers to train as peacemakers. People who might be able to change the status quo. Of those, the wildcards are the four Horsemen, whose powers no one fully understands and whose destiny points towards great things . . .

I’ll be honest—I really enjoyed this as a story about kids with powers, but I think the kids with powers shouldn’t have been associated with the Horsemen. For one, the White Knight doesn’t appear to be Conquest, but reminds me more of the rider from Revelation 19:11-16, which has imagery depicting someone with powerful speech. Also Pestilence is used here, which has a very interesting set of powers but doesn’t technically seem to jibe with the descriptions of Revelation 6:1-8, which reads more like Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. The only reason this MATTERS to me is because we are talking about various gods and legends, and by and large everyone else fits pretty well into their source material (I was highly amused to see Dagon show up. Talk about obscure deities).

That’s also what trips me up on some of the other details. We have Horsemen, who are part of Christian doctrine, but they have no horses. They don’t even seem aware of the existence of God, with the possible exception of Tommy, but there’s no indication Tommy actually BELIEVES in the faith of his hospital. Saoirse even worships a completely different goddess. They not only don’t have horses, there seems to be no need or desire for them. So again, this really works well as kids with powers, but I have a ton of trouble buying these are actually the Horsemen. I don’t really care that two of them got gender-flipped to female to provide a balanced team. The other things bugged me more.

Once I decided to pretend these weren’t actually the Horsemen but rather just a bunch of kids with interesting powers, I could enjoy the rest of the story a lot more. There’s a good mix of personalities as well as powers. Tommy’s kind and caring nature is at odds with the fact that he’s basically a walking vector for every disease known to man (and probably will accidentally invent new ones if that’s what it takes to infect someone). Kayana is highly intelligent but absolutely clueless about the workings of normal humanity and tends to view things in a very black-and-white manner. Saoirse has very ill-defined powers, but being raised as a high-class prostitute has left her attentive to the subtleties of humanity, and she prefers to avoid conflict and seek to talk her way out of problems. Gunnar feels like he got the short end of the stick. He’s Spartan, raised in a culture of war, and a pit fighter—but apart from a few glossed over fights at the start most of his matches do little to highlight any unusual skill or any kind of power. I was particularly miffed at the bout with the Amazon near the end. They don’t have any divine power, and he should, so why couldn’t it have turned out a bit differently?

Gunnar’s the one I hope develops the most, as nothing he’s really done so far has hinted at him being anything different than a Spartan, except the mystery of what he did with his rite for adulthood that has cast him out of Spartan society.

Overall I did enjoy this. It was fun to see so many different cultures and gods represented, even though the story mostly picks a few varied examples rather than try to handle absolutely everything. The friendship between the four main characters is growing, and if this book is any indication the story will continue to unfold in unexpected ways. I rate this book Recommended.

(And if you want a less ambiguous take on the Horsemen, I highly recommend Riders, by Veronica Rossi.)

Noragami Aragoto (Anime)

Title: Noragami Aragoto

Episodes 1-13 (13-25 overall; it’s season 2 of Noragami)

Yato’s trouble as a stray god of calamity are only getting worse. Bishamon, the war goddess with a huge grudge against him, has finally pushed him too far. And beyond that, Yato’s shadowed past is coming back to haunt him . . .

This season focuses on two major arcs, which was great for me since I prefer longer stories. I particularly liked what happens with Yukine this season.

Last season, Yato went far above and beyond to give Yukine every chance he could, and Yukine is determined to repay the favor. He’s too new to really know what’s expected of him, so he’s determined to learn how to fulfill his role to the best of his ability (and his abilities are considerable). The methods he chooses surprise those around him, and although he succeeds in many things, it’s still an open-ended question whether or not he can grant Yato’s dearest wish. That part will likely hinge on Yato himself.

It’s also interesting to see Yukine’s building rivalry with Nora, the other major Regalia in Yato’s life, but one Yato doesn’t seem to want—perhaps because she has multiple names from multiple masters. Yukine wants to be dependable enough that Yato can abandon Nora for good. Nora, however, has her own plans for Yato.

Some parts of these arcs felt a bit rehashed, as Hiyori loses her memories multiple times, although one of those times was a good reminder to her that she’s not specially immune from the consequences of forgetfulness. But Hiyori in general is still a great character. She knows she’s important to Yato, but he can still be really annoying to her since he has no concept of how to relate to people as friends. Still, when she does attempt to do something to make him happy, she never expects the kind of reaction she gets. She’s HUMAN (mostly), and although that puts her under basically everyone who has powers, she’s got her own strengths that none of them can duplicate.

And I liked the direction Yato took here, where his troubles are more evident and his hyper personality comes off more like a desperate wish for how he wants to be. He’s hardly mentioned his own history. Yukine and Hiyori are stuck asking the gods who knew him about a lot of the details, but even they only have fragments of the full story. Yato still has his really aggravating moments, but overall I’ve come to appreciate him more as a character, and I hope he and Yukine will be able to work out a new direction for his life.

Overall I think this is a stronger season than the first, with Yukine’s big moment and subsequent development my favorite parts. But I also liked the deepening relational dynamics, the high level of action, and the rising stakes. There’s a bit at the very end that hints at further complications to come, so I hope a third season will be announced at some point. Until then, I’ll be reading the manga to figure out what happens next. I rate this series Recommended.

Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate

Title: Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate

Author: Richard Parks

Series: Yamada Monogatari (technically there are more about the same character but I was unable to track down what order they are supposed to go)

Yamada no Goji is a minor nobleman with a keen mind and a tolerable blade, but he has little influence at court. So when the conspiracies of the nobility reach out to ensnare him again, he’s reluctant to get involved. But for the sake of an old friend, he agrees—and finds himself confronted by a silent killer who is leaving dead bodies around the city. If he can’t solve the mystery fast enough, he’s bound to lose more of the few people dear to him.

I’m reading these incredibly out of order, I suppose, but it didn’t make much difference as far as I could tell. The story is good about introducing characters, places, customs and so on as needed, without assuming too much knowledge beforehand. I liked the historical Japanese setting, and how naturally the supernatural intersects everyone’s lives. Yamada is smart but not impossible to follow, and the layers of mystery generally work well.

I wasn’t as fond of the alcoholism, or the way the story breaks between its first segment and everything that comes after (largely because Yamada spends four months drinking his life away). It’s a little harder to sympathize with his poverty when he’s wasting multiple opportunities to stay farther out of it.

All in all, though, it worked far more than it didn’t, and I would be interested to read more in this series. This story is fairly self-contained, so it doesn’t hurt to read out of order or as a standalone. I rate this book Recommended.

A Mortal Song

Title: A Mortal Song

Author: Megan Crewe

Sora has lived on Mount Fuji with the kami for her entire life, until a demon and his army invade. Then she learns she’s not kami herself, but only a substitute—a human traded for the real kami princess, a hedge against a prophecy of darkness that her parents hoped wouldn’t happen until the kami girl had grown strong enough to handle it. With the only home she’s ever known in danger, Sora is determined to save it . . . even if she is destined to be nothing more than support for the real princess.

This was fascinating on a number of levels. Sora wants desperately to be the hero. It’s her mother and father, her friends, her people that are suffering under the brutal tyranny of the invaders. Nor is the wider world immune, for without the kami’s guiding influences, various natural forces will get more and more unbalanced. But wish as she might, she continues to stumble across her own weaknesses and inadequacies. The need for food. The need to rest. The terrible truth that her inner self is changeable, not an incarnation of strength like Takeo’s nature is to loyalty. And the humiliation that another girl exists, a kami that is everything she thought she was.

The people around her are fascinating, too. Takeo’s loyalty is to the princess—but which one? Sora can’t figure out if their friendship since childhood will put her above the true princess . . . or if it’s for the best if he doesn’t. I liked the difficulty Chiyo has in accepting her own role, which is even more poignant because this struggle comes through Sora’s point of view, who is dealing with the same thing herself but is less able to admit it. Keiji is also a good foil to Sora, as his own humanity and weakness helps her to come to grips with her own. I do wish Haru had gotten more time, though. He felt barely developed, and once I realized his character wasn’t going where I expected, I was a bit disappointed not to know him better.

The setting is also wonderful. The story takes place in Japan, but since this is the world everyone knows, the story doesn’t waste time over-describing things that may not be familiar to a Western audience. In fact, the various kami, ogres, and other creatures justly get more attention. And what a nice variety! I knew a fair number of them and still found a couple I hadn’t seen before. Also some of the ones I had given up on seeing made a surprise appearance right before the end.

And the ending! I kept wondering if the prophecy would play out straight or get subverted, like the whole plot has subverted the typical tropes. I think it’s a testament to how well told the story is that it kept me guessing right up until the last. It felt like a very fitting way to finish things.

I was less fond of the romance, more because I dislike love triangles in general, and I felt that Sora’s new attraction happened really fast. But it never got pushed hard enough to overwhelm the rest of the plot, and I did like that it ended relatively positively for everyone involved.

The plot does wrap up well enough that a sequel doesn’t seem likely. Still, this was a very good read, and one I’m likely to come back to again and again. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Nightmare Ninja (Moonshadow #2)

Title: The Nightmare Ninja

Author: Simon Higgins

Series: Moonshadow #2

Silver Wolf has not forgotten the young shinobi who humiliated him previously. He’s got a plan to usurp the Shogun and take over Japan, but first he schemes vengeance for his own honor.

Moonshadow and Snowhawk are called away on a rescue mission. Some unknown force is threatening the White Nun, and she’s specifically asked for their help. An extended solo mission comes with plenty of dangers, but Moonshadow also struggles with his own role as the leader. Is he going to have to choose between Snowhawk and his own duty as a shinobi?

This remains an excellent series. Japan’s history comes to life, and the fights in particular show a good understanding of the martial arts involved. I particularly liked the early fight on the rooftops—even when swords are drawn, neither swordsman dares actually block the enemy’s strike, because that would be noisy. And Moonshadow is an excellent fighter—as is just about everyone up against him. Seeing that in action is a lot of fun.

I also liked the various abilities the shinobi have mastered. They add a nice touch of fantasy to the historical fiction, and an extra element of uncertainty as Moonshadow and Snowhawk have to defend themselves against increasingly unusual attacks. And the mythological monsters were great.

Character-wise, I liked the progression for both Moonshadow and Snowhawk. Moonshadow is maturing in leadership, in his ability to make the split-second decisions that might save or doom him and others. He really liked Snowhawk, as a friend, and perhaps more than that . . . but he’s deeply committed to the ways of the shinobi, and she’s breaking code in ways he shouldn’t be excusing. Snowhawk, for her part, is finally free of the tortures of the Fuma clan, but her heart is still chained to them through her anger and unforgiveness. It’s a fatal flaw in a shinobi: she knows she has to master herself, but how?

Overall this is a second book just as strong as the first. I’m eager to see how this continues. I rate this book Recommended.

Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Momotaro #1)

Title: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters

Author: Margaret Dilloway

Series: Momotaro #1

Xander is, as far as he knows, normal. Which is why it comes as such a surprise to him when his father hands him a comic he supposedly drew (but doesn’t remember) and tries to explain he’s a descendant of the legendary Momotaro, the Peach Boy of Japanese mythology. Momotaro was an artist/warrior, and Xander . . . well, he draws. And he programs. But he’s going to have to figure out the rest of it fast, because he’s the only one available to stand up against the terrible oni bent on destroying the world and his family.

I had somewhat mixed feelings about this. I liked the spin on the Momotaro story, especially how the thread of the three companions (dog, pheasant, and monkey) works itself out. Especially the pheasant. I liked the Japanese myths and how they worked into the story, too. The oni come in many sizes and types, both friendly and not, and although some like the kappa or kitsune may be familiar, others are likely to be new. And I liked how Xander’s everyday life starts to blend and then totally collapses into this island of myths.

Peyton’s role in the story was both surprising and satisfying. He’s Xander’s childhood friend, despite them being opposites in most ways, and even though he doesn’t seem to have a place in Xander’s grand destiny as the descendant of Momotaro, he pledges to help in any way possible when Xander has to go after his father. And then the story twists a bit, and Peyton finds out he might have more of a role than he suspected. He’s the one who learns more than expected on the journey, and who shows he’s a different person by the end.

I wasn’t as fond of Xander. The contrast is meant to be rather sharp between who he is and who his esteemed ancestor was, and really, it wasn’t the non-athleticism that bothered me. It’s more that Peyton has a better character arc than he does. Xander gains a few powers, but he doesn’t really change. I have hopes that future adventures would push him farther. His computer abilities, for instance, don’t make much of a difference at all.

Overall this wasn’t a bad read, just one that wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped it would be going in. Some little details, like the clear MineCraft clone, annoyed me but kids might find it cool. I rate this book Recommended.