Admittedly, the closest I’ve come to indulging in Asian literary influences were Sidhartha from a Far Eastern Literature class in High School, a Folklore course in college, and a bit of Manga, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokemon from my son’s affiliations when he was young. It’s sad, I know. I’ve been living under multiple rocks for far too long. Yet in my own defense, there is so much spectacular literature in the world… I can’t possibly be expected to understand it all intimately. So, with this read, I’ve been introduced to a new escapade in storytelling… at least for me… and I’m delighted.
I can’t tell you what I expected when I began reading this novel. I heard the author, Xander Cross, read during a few Virtual Book Festivals, and so I had a bit of a taste… but I was walking in largely unaware of what I might find. I love picking up books this way… first introductions are incredibly seductive.
What I can tell you now is that not one page of this book was tedious or indiscriminate. Every moment of conflict or repose was crafted for a reason. Every word of dialogue is spoken with the goal of revealing a personal connection you didn’t think you’d find. The cadence of the story feels natural, and the breadcrumbs of anticipation are impossible to neglect. The author knows his way around the playground of Asian folklore. His devotion to research adds depth to his writing as he crafts a respectful homage inside the allure of dystopian possibility.
Each of the characters in this story are full and rich in their creation. They fight, speak, dream, and strategize exactly as they should… none of it is out of place, nor dropped in simply for shock value. As the main character and the others follow through their individual story goals, we watch loyalties unfold and we discover relatable characters where we least expect them. Rather than trite, magic is natural. Battle is an honored tradition; a currency to earn respect.
The most interesting aspect of this book for me, was the way the author crafted the evolution of his main character. We’re taught in creative writing class that a protagonist should evolve, grow, and change toward a positive arc as the story tracks from chapter one to the end. Xander has, quite skillfully, flipped this notion inside out. The protagonist, Hayate, moves through the story from a place of near serenity and focused spiritual purpose, toward a place of emotional and spiritual degradation, but he retains a hard-won respectful dignity. It feels perfectly right that he does not deserve our disdain. We cheer for him at every step. Why? Because as our eyes inhale the story, we share in his frustration as he recognizes his fall from grace. We acknowledge that he’s making the change out of self-preservation and within the very same traditions that enlightenment demands.
Throughout this story, subtlety lives well in the shadows with assertive posturing, vibrant word choice, and emotional manipulation. This author has done nothing by happenstance. It’s all a beautifully choreographed dance revealing the underbelly of survival without giving in to the trope of sacrifice.
This is the first book of a series I am eagerly looking forward to devouring. Thank you, Xander Cross; you’ve set the bar very high for my next Asian folklore reading experience.
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