Tuesday, February 25, 2014

AH! Year of the Demon!

Steve Bein (who I’m often accidentally touting as “Steven” for some reason) has done it to me again with his second book, Year of the Demon.  I am completely--utterly--sold on his Fated Blades series.  There is absolutely no going back at this point, and I am thankful for that.  So thanks, Steven--Steve(!).  Thanks for saving me from abandoning the urban fantasy genre, whether you consider your series urban fantasy or not.  See, while I understand and have spoken on the crossing of genres in you series, the fact still remains that I read fantasy books following a female lead for the sheer enjoyment of watching a lady kick paranormal ass.  And what makes the Fated Blades series so adoringly special?  You don’t dress said lead underneath a Chick Lit vanity lamp.  No.  Your main character (much thrills to the fact that she’s Japanese) is too busy solving narcotic cases, with ancient and paranormal glamour.  No, your main character isn't off swooning over any bare-chested bad boy with an agitated haircut.  She has a job to do, and it doesn’t involve her following the romantic blooms of her heart.  Praise Jesus!

Year of the Demon (book two in the Fated Blades series) takes place about two good skips (relate that to time) away from where book one ended.  After her gutted, near-death experience during her final battle with one of Japan’s yakuza (specifically labeled Kamaguchi-gumi or “clan“) crime syndicate henchmen, Fuchida, Mariko is now the proprietor of an ancient samurai blade known as Inazuma steel.  Nonetheless, there were a total of three blades pounded out by the fabled Master Inazuma, and each contains a different, mystical characteristic that presses into the spirit of its wielder.  Mariko manages to survive the fight with Fuchida with the blade--Glorious Victory Unsought--acting as a savior to her entry level samurai skills.  I state this in opposition to Fuchida's hedonistic-driven techniques, tickled by the bloodlust of his particular Inazuma blade, Beautiful Singer, screaming for Mariko's life.  

Known for its ability to turn on its wielder should its wielder seek the pride of battle victory, Glorious Victory Unsought seems a perfect fit for the usually skeptical Mariko.  So despite Mariko’s skeptisim in all things related to the blade and its power, she now officially owns a hard-sought Inazuma blade.  And what it’s worth in the power it draws from its wielder is universes more than the millions she could pawn off it.  Needless to say, that is the least of Mariko’s interest anyway.  She treasures the blade, as it harbors a sentimentality she wishes to hold on to (no spoiler here). 

Japanese demon mask from the movie Onibaba
Unfortunately for the reader, Mariko does little with the sword in Year of the Demon; however, that doesn’t slow down the general interest in its power.  Besides, Mariko couldn’t help it that the blade was stolen from her within the first 33 pages of the book.  Talk about hard luck.  Nevertheless, such thievery isn’t done without forwarding the plot.  Apparently an ancient Japanese cult, referred to simply as The Wind, has its eyes set on reuniting Mariko’s sword with a centuries-old traditional demon mask.  Placed on its adorner, this mask is said to create the strong desire to inflict torture or death on others.  The adorner implements the mask’s dark cravings through a multitude of murderous/torturous avenues, as we‘re shown through the eyes of several of the book‘s villains.  Nonetheless, it is also made apparent that the mask truly hungers for the blood shedding potential of Inazuma steel.  In Mariko’s case, the only one of the three available to The Wind is her Glorious Victory Unsought.  

The Wind obtains Mariko’s blade.  Together with the demon mask, they set forth plans to construct mass destruction over the city of Tokyo‘s population.  Mariko wouldn’t have much of a stake in the matter if she weren’t a detective assigned to a narcotics case linked to The Wind’s infernal plan.  And that’s besides the fact that her blade was stolen from above her slumber, as well as the fact that Fuchida's underboss has a bounty out on her.  Nevertheless, said underboss is the previous owner of the mask and offers to waive Mariko’s bounty should she return it.  And that is where Year of the Demon takes off.

And yet… that’s not exactly what sends Year of the Demon sparkling into the night sky.  The narrative of the book divides itself throughout the voices (though not in first person) of multiple protagonists, or loosely labeled, B Plots.  We have Mariko’s segments plugged into modern day Tokyo, or the Heisei Era according to the book; our familiar underdog from the last book, Daigoro, resumes his tale and dealings with the mask in the Azuchi-Momoyama period; and a new face, Kaida, in Japan’s Muromachi era shares the third narrative string.  Kaida takes us to places within the demon mask’s origin, while lightning us up with her troubles as a one-handed pearl diver tormented under her stepsisters' nasty little codes of conduct.  Each story lends the history of the mask and sword, forming the backbone of the book which lie in Mariko’s present investigation.  

Hardly formulaic, this jumping between periods was introduced in the first book and is even more engaging and plumped with ancient tales in this one.  And while I have no qualms about slipping into the predicaments of ancient Japan, and the delightful characters who unveil its ruthless politics and seemingly misogynistic nature, that slipping oftentimes makes me forget about Mariko’s journey.  As I mentioned in a previous post on the first book, I seldom found a connection with Mariko.  I blame part of it in the book’s technical sense; many more pages are dedicated to characters of the past and their individual stories.  So in reverse, Mariko’s story is the appetizer to Diagoro’s struggle to uphold his family name through the villainous actions of a twisted General who wears the demon mask with pride.  And even I felt Mariko played second to Kaida’s full blitz-style entrée where we witness the longings of a girl who will risk her life to be set free from her family.  Actually, Diagoro reads like the entrée and Kaida is the satisfying dessert dish.

So I’ll admit that I wasn’t totally pulled into Mariko’s investigation.  Nor was I completely wowed by its conclusion.  It almost felt like the interruptions of leaping-into-the-past killed the buzz and structure of her storyline and plotting.  It didn’t leave without its highs, however, including a couple of raids and slick bantering between characters.  But it wasn’t as astounding as the other stories.  I would hope that the third book thickens more in Mariko‘s favor.

Are you currently thrilled by Steve Bein's series also?  Looking forward the the third book as much as me?  Do you like Bein's push more toward historical fiction?  Or do you want more of his modern crime thriller forward by Mariko?  Do you also think a balance should be carefully laid out between the two?  Comment below.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Total Pageviews