Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Maiden of the Needle, Vol. 1 by Zeroki: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Maiden of the Needle by Zeroki

Maiden of the Needle is a Japanese light novel. A Tokyo woman finds herself reincarnated as a baby in a world with fairies and magic, with all the memories of her previous life. Yui’s new family has the unique ability to weave magic into clothes, but when it turns out she doesn’t have the ability, the family treats her like a slave.

At fifteen, Yui is sold to a man who is hated by her family. But he turns out to be a nice person and under his care she thrives and she’s finally able to show how skilled she is both as a seamstress and as a wielder of magic. Fearing for her safety, he instantly betroths her to the former king who can protect her.

This was a typical transmigration novel. The world is non-Japanese and organized like a video game, which Yui soon realizes. There are also elements of hero tropes, with labyrinths and the final boss that needs to be defeated. The bad guys are truly evil and good people are purely good. And the heroine turns out to be unique in her abilities and the saviour of the realm.

The story was light but interesting, and not in any way unique. Like most books in this genre, the narrative relied heavily on telling and was a bit all over the place, though I’ve read worse. The entire backstory is given in the first chapter, with random infodumps at odd times. Most of the book is from Yui’s first-person point of view, with occasional third person POVs by other characters.

The first volume has no romantic plot. Yui is fifteen, which apparently isn’t too young to become engaged. Her fiancĂ©e is in his fifties, which would’ve been grosswas a bit grossbut he gives to understand that the marriage will be in name only. All the other potential romantic interests already have their partners.

Unlike most light novels I’ve read, the first volume doesn’t end in a cliffhanger. It does set the story for the next volume though, and it sounds interesting enough to continue reading.

I received a free copy from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Shanghai Immortal by A.Y. Chao: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Shanghai Immortal by A.Y. Chao

Shanghai Immortal is Asian fantasy set in 1930s Shanghai and its counterpart, Immortal Shanghai, where the demon king Big Wang rules over ghosts and demons. Lady Jing is his ward, a half-vampire, half-fox spirit with anger management issues. Her hundredth birthday is coming up and with that she’ll finally take her place in the council governing the otherworld. Only, she doesn’t want to.

Neither does her maternal grandmother, the queen of fox spirits. She failed to kill Jing when she was a child and she’ll do everything to stop Jing now. But Jing is onto her plot. If only she could make Big Wang believe her instead of being sent to the human Shanghai like a rebellious child, with a human man who owes Big Wang a favour.

This debut novel was a good try. A good try at fantasy, a good try at historical novel, and a good try at romance. None of it really worked though, and the result was a mishmash with a hasty feel and no proper plot.

The Asian elements didn’t feel entirely Asian, as Jing was such an independent spirit who didn’t respect anything or anyone, and because the beings of Chinese folklore were made to behave like ordinary humans with no clues to what they were, Jings blood drinking aside. The historical elements of mortal Shanghai consisted of trivial facts with a lot of American things in the mix that made them feel inauthentic even if they had been genuine. And the romance was very unromantic. Partly it was because Mr Lee was a boring character, but mostly it was because of Jing.

This is marketed as an adult fantasy and Jing is turning a hundred. But she behavesand is being treatedlike a sixteen-year-old who’s never seen a man or heard of sex. It wasn’t cute; it was just aggravating. No matter how sheltered a person has lived, they’ve learned everything there is to know about human relations and everything else besides in a century. But Jing showed no signs of a life lived.

Making her behave like a clueless twit ruined the romance and didn’t do any favours for the book either. If you want an adult heroine, make her behave like one. Basically, this reads like a young adult fantasy with all the tropes that go with it, so treat it as such.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Associate Professor Akira Takatsuki's Conjecture by Mikage Sawamura: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Associate Professor Akira Takatsuki's Conjecture by Mikage Sawamura

Associate Professor Akira Takatsuki's Conjecture is a Japanese light novel set in a university in present day Tokyo. Naoya Fukamachi is a first-year student trying to figure out college life and what he wants to study. What he doesn’t want are activity clubs and friends. If at all possible, he would stay away from people completely.

Naoya has a unique ability to hear lies. It’s a distortion of sound that is painful for him, so much so that if many people lie around him, he might faint. To survive, he hasn’t a single friend, and even casual acquaintances are upsetting, because he doesn’t want to know when they lie. Large lecture halls are a nightmare.

But they can’t be avoided. On a whimor so he tells himselfhe attends a course on folklore that specializes in urban legends, ghost stories, and strange phenomena. It’s held by professor Akira Takatsuki whose enthusiasm for his topic keeps the students glued to their seatsor it’s because he’s very handsome.

For extra credit, Naoya submits a story of a strange event that happened to him, and even though he doesn’t tell everything, Professor Takatsuki knows it’s real. He’s an eccentric person who gets excited fast, and so he decides to make Naoya his assistant, mostly because Naoya has common sense the professor lacks and can read maps. And then he learns about Naoya’s ability and it turns out that the professor has a similar story in his past.

The book consists of three cases the pair investigate. There’s a haunted house, a curse, and a girl who has been spirited away. They’re fun stories, though not particularly difficult to solve, with some exciting action too. And they are good windows to Japanese society and folklore. A lot of folklore. The author is either a folklorist himself, or a true enthusiast. Occasionally the book reads like lecture notes, but everything is always interestingat least for a historian like me.

But the main mystery remains unsolved for now. What happened to Naoya and the professor when they were children. Were they genuine supernatural events or something more mundane. What they know is that both have been permanently altered because of it.

This was a good start for a series. The cases were complete and the book ends at a natural point and not with a cliffhanger. Naoya and Takatsuki were great characters and complete opposites of each other; the teacher student dynamic was occasionally upside down, which probably doesn’t translate well to western readers. For a light novel, the story had a more mature feel than I usually associate with them, and it reads more like a paranormal cozy mystery than a young adult novel. I’d very much like to read more and I hope the rest of the seven volumes are translated too.

I received a free copy from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation vol 5 by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation by MoXiang Tong Xiu

The English translation of Chinese boylove cultivation fantasy, Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, is now complete with the fifth volume. It’s been a fun journey of friendship, betrayal, and love. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangi went through literal death before they were able to love in peace.

The last volume had the final battle with Jin Guangyao that takes the remaining of the story. We learn about his motives, which actually made him a slightly more sympathetic character, and also who set Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangi on the path of uncovering him, which offered a surprise. And we have the happy ending we’ve hoped for, although if that had been the ending of the book, it would’ve been slightly unsatisfactory with its briefness.

Luckily, we get more. The main story took about third of the special edition. The rest consisted of eight longish stories about the life of Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangi in their happily ever after. They were fun and very smutty, as Lan Wangi turned out to be not only insatiable but also to possess a great stamina. There are also a couple of before stories, one about Jin Guangyao even. I loved reading how the two had a normal, if not entirely calm life.

There were some complaints about the quality of translation when the first volume came out. Even I noticed some odd word choices, but those were gone by the last volume. Nothing had been done to the narrative inconsistencies though, that likely stem from the original webstory form. Timeline was occasionally all over the place and characters repeated actions like sitting without standing up in between. But these were small things that didn’t bother me as much as they might have if the story hadn’t captivated me.

I’m not sad that this is the end. The short stories were perfect in showing how the two live happily ever after and that’s how I like to imagine them. I very likely often will.