Showing posts with label Steven Bein. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Steven Bein. Show all posts

Friday, April 24, 2015

Bein and His Wind

Tokyo is about to find itself in the grips of a stream of terrorist attacks driven by a religious zealot named Joko Daishi. Joko is dedicated to his beliefs, those of which circulating around how society needs purification through a baptism of fire. However, the unconcerned citizens of Tokyo are too wrapped up in their bustling lives to give a damn about his message. And not “giving a damn” may be the reason Joko found himself released from police custody after his last terrorist event (check out book two in the series, Year of the Demon). And while Tokyo’s police department may have turned somewhat of a blind eye to Joko’s terrorism, Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro has not. Unfortunately, there’s not much she can do.  Having thwarted Joko in the past, Mariko's petition for her Captain to detain and hold Joko eventually causes her her badge. (You know, because she’s a woman and can’t be vocal.  That type of bullshit.)

Without the support of the Tokyo Police Department, Mariko has to find other resources to stop Joko from destroying Tokyo.  What Mariko doesn't know is that she's already drawn the attention of an underground syndicate known as The Wind. The Wind once harbored and trained Joko Daishi and, in effect, is responsible for him. Regardless, they need Mariko’s help.  She carries an Inazuma blade, handed down to her by her deceased senshi.  Inazuma blades are centuries old and cursed; The Wind believes this is their means of stopping Joko.  So Mariko's choice becomes simple–yet highly complicated.  She can join The Wind to stop Joko Daishi, or go at it alone before her city is destroyed. And the longer she contemplates her choices, the more personal her decision becomes.

Wow. Now where do I really start with this one? First, this is book three (and I believe it’s the last) in Steve Bein’s Fated Blades series. As I've mentioned in previous posts about previous books, the series is part contemporary crime thriller and part historical fantasy. It switches time and space.  A lump of chapters are told in the today's world, viewed through Tokyo Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro.  Her chapters focuses on her role as the owner of one of the various cursed Inazuma blades crafted in ancient Japan, and how she uses the blade to stop terrorists. Meanwhile, the counter chapters follows the story of a young, crippled samurai named, Daigoro. During Japan's Azuchi-Momoyama period, Daigoro is the owner of the same Inazuma blade as Mariko. The majority of his narrative revolves around him using the sword as a means to protect his clan.  With a mother suffering from a nervous breakdown after the death of his father and brother, adjacent clans use political manoeuvres and intrigue in attempts to take what little honor and status Daigoro has.  Naturally, they want his blade as well. 

These two have carried the series since the first book. However, in the second book came a new character named Kaida.  

Kaida was a pearl diver who turned away from her family to become an assassin working for The Wind.  Unfortunately, the continuation of her story isn't in Disciple of the Wind. So I was a bit disappointed.  Clearly her portion was meant to give readers the history behind the origins of The Wind, origins that would've been beneficial to Disciple.  But for Disciple's length purposes, her story is available in a Kindle novella.  I'll probably get to it at a later date.

Despite all that, I'm happy to say that there is more Mariko in this entry. And more Mariko means far more action in the form of shoot-outs, sword fights, and a healthy dose of detection and crime boss confrontations. In Year of the Demon my biggest complaint was the lack of her presence, so I suppose it worked to cut out Kaida’s story. Nevertheless, that’s not to say that Daigoro’s portion isn't as strong, as it draws to its own conclusion within the series (his opponent is easily the most interesting and best). I love his bits in particularly because they're all about ancient Japanese political intrigue.  Careful navigation of politics operate better than a flat-out sword fight, if you want to save your family and save your ass from a beheading. But trust me, there are still plenty of sword fights and action in his story as well.

Now I still have to mention how–after three books–some of the characters in the series come across as slightly overblown. One example comes in how Mariko’s Captain was an unapologetically drawn bigot who did a lot of fist-waving and kowtow-demanding of Mariko...still.  It just got old with him shrieking at her, and no amount of head-bowing could save Mariko or my patience.  Also, I know I just said that I was happy to see more Mariko, but even she suffered from moments of overdrawn-ness.  She karate chopped and sprung her way through some scenes where she didn’t appear threatened or in immediate danger.  So yes, there were times when I wished she would chill out for a second on the Zero Woman act.  

There were also moments where action scenes were muffled and scrambled with disorienting choreography. A bad guy leaping from a hail storm of bullets manages to hide undetected behind the leg of a pool table inside of a bar, meanwhile Mariko and her partner are underneath that pool table unaware of him. And when they finally notice said bad guy, he jumps up and leaps out of the window.  You can only wonder if the bullets stopped raining over the place enough for him to take the risk. Or still, how and when did he get behind that pool table’s leg undetected?  Lots of scenes came across like this.  Those hazy, semi-teleporting characters and scene transitions that aren't quite clear.

All in all, I highly recommend the Fated Blade series. Especially for those interested in Japan, Japanese culture, crime fiction, and historical fantasies.  Additionally, if you're like me and have mostly given up on the urban fantasy genre, this may be your ticket back in.  Give this series a greenlight.  

Lastly, if this is the last book, I can say I'll miss the series.

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.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

January Reading Wrap-Up

January was a very good month.  My year of blogging and book tubing remained strong, just as I’d planned and continue to work on.  Set the stage and keep on performing… so to speak.  In any regard, time to wrap up my January reads as we move on into February.  My list is incredible short because two of the books I’ve already written about on Comic Towel.  If you’ve read any of these books and have something to share about them, please feel free to do so.  Who doesn’t love discussing books, right?

Beside finally finishing Laurell K Hamilton’s airless Anita Blake novel, Affliction, and Maya Angelou’s inspirational collection of essays in, Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now, I finally managed to catch up on Steve Bein’s multi-layered genre novel, Daughter of the Sword.  I also devoured Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's Mao.  Needless to say, I am now pleasantly--pleasantly--satisfied with them both.

Daughter of the Sword

Daughter of the Sword combines elements of urban fantasy, historical fiction, and crime fiction into one fantasy seen cavorting down some mean and murderous Tokyo streets.  To a degree, however.  The fact is that the narrative switches between several time periods between 1587 Japan and 2010 Tokyo.  Nevertheless, the story begins with Tokyo detective, Mariko Oshiro (the only female detective in the city so noted within the text), in the midst of placing a cap on a string of narcotics dealings taking place within the city.  Almost inadvertently, her sister collides into her latest sting operation, troubling Mariko’s position.  Go easy on the drug-using sister?  Or book her?  Mariko goes easy on her sister and later finds criticism for her actions via her partners.  It’s already troubling being the only female detective in Tokyo--now this.  What troubles abounds Mariko gets worst when the new station lieutenant, Lieutenant Ko, gathers Mariko into his office for a critical rundown of her previous operation.  In basic terms, he’s a straight-up asshole to her for a variety of reasons besides the fact that she is a female cop.  Nevertheless, with his rank, he decides to put Mariko on probation from working Narcotics cases, and in turn, sends her on “shit cases” involving an elderly Japanese man who recently reported an attempted burglary of his home.  Someone tried--but obviously failed--to steal one of his many ancient swords.  To be specific, his Master Inazuma sword named Glorious Victory. 

Reluctantly taking on the case, it's here that Mariko is introduced to Yamada, the elderly man who reported the attempted burglary.  With this introduction comes a budding friendship and a peek into the legend by the ancient Inazuma swords--which consist of three swords providing three different utilities to its wielders.  Now, while Mariko’s case seems packed and all well and good, what really sets this story off is the leaps into the past we experience as the narrative switches.  I should clarify that the book remains third person, however the narrative changes by providing interlocking plots that illustrate the purpose and power behind each Inazuma sword via characters from ancient Japan.  This was especially fun for me because I love Asian ghost stories and Japanese Kwaidan tales.

Now, the third narrative point revolves around the actual villain and his quest to retrieve the three Inazuma swords.  Meanwhile, he wields the bloodiest of them all, Beautiful Singer, around Tokyo leaving a trail of bodies for Mariko to follow.

The way this book comes together between these three points is what kept the text fresh and engrossing.  You get the history behind the swords, as well as the case, as well as the desperate actions of the villain, all rolled into one.  It’s also told through a solid beat, or voice, that is consistent throughout the ride.  Therefore, the switches between narratives didn’t drag through certain areas to impress you with monologues on tradition and culture.  All that was woven into the voice.  A personal plus for me was that the book wasn't urban fantasy underneath the veil of chick lit.  Therefore, no romance was present enough to override the plot.  That, my friends, is gold country right there!  I recently bought the second novel in the series, Year of the Demon, and will be sinking my teeth into it this month.  Steve Bein.  You have a new fan.

The Unknown Story: Mao

Without a doubt, The Unknown Story: Mao, by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, made for a thick and concentrating read.  There was absolutely nothing light about this 600+ page elephantidae of a biography uncovering the life of one of China’s [add your own adjective here] leaders.  I walked away from reading the book mesmerized, puzzled, and a little appalled at this leader’s tenacity to beat an entire country of people down, particularly through the use of vicious indoctrination and starvation.  Now, much of this I’m familiar with having read books (fiction and non-fiction) revolving around the atrocities of China’s Cultural Revolution.  However, there was no way I could know--or even come to understand--the truth behind its history.  This book provided that truth; some agree some disagree.

What a spread of information!  From Mao’s Communist beginnings, his many rivalries (I saw Chiang Kai-shek more like a nemesis; only one I voted for between the two), his usurping of the Red Army, and the fate of his wives; this book was just an uncontrollable wealth of information page after page.  Let’s not even forget to mention Mao's ugly Purges, kidnapping schemes, poisonings, and failed attempts to spread his Maoism across the world as China starved.  This book was explosive to say the least, and I enjoyed every minute of delving into the dept of this man.  It was an exhaustive ride, but very much worth the trip.  Guided by Chang and Halliday’s near seamless writing, I found myself devouring every bit of painted descriptions, character (though they are actual historical people) portraits, and factual (rather documented) pieces of dialogue.  However, I must say that in the beginning I was gathering a “textbook” feel for the book, but eventually their storytelling operation took over the more I understood the role and names of the historical people this book was written around.  Only then did each event unfold ceaselessly until its end.

More could be written on this biography--lots more.  As usual, any biographer will receive their share of criticism about their interpretation of history.  Apparently, Chang and Halliday received theirs in bulk.  Nevertheless, for the individual that I am, I am happy to say that I found myself complacent with what I received from this book.  I can’t weight fact from fiction because I‘m not an expert or historian on the subject of Mao.  All I can say is that I read the book, soaked into the history/story, and found myself a lot smarter and informed at its end.  That’s good enough for me.

What I'm Currently Reading

A couple of weeks from now will mark a year since I had this particularly book.  After digging into the depths of Mao, I thought it was time for some light reading... with a little post-apocalyptic zombie mayhem.  Domino Falls (second in a series) by the married writing duo, Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due, had been staring at me from its sleeper position on my shelf for quite some time.  I figured what the hell, I could save money buying books by reading what I already have.

At approximately 179 pages into Domino Falls, I have to say that I like the first book in the series, Devil's Wake, a little better.  Mainly because in Devil's Wake we are introduced to the zombie outbreak on what is known as Freak Day, as well as the immediate chaos that followed.  Plus, we witnessed how the cast of characters came together, which is always fun.

In Domino Falls, the pacing has slowed down considerable from chase scenes, survival tactics, and shootouts.  This is done in favor of building character conflict/discord/relationships, survival-town huddling, and a creepy mystery hinting to something out of The Walking Dead's Governor's secret room.  I haven't gotten into that part quite yet to tell what is happening, but it's definitely happening.  I'm kind of upset that I put the book down a year ago after stopping about 20 pages in.  The shift in pacing between the two books is necessary.  So what was I thinking?

Nevertheless, the draw of this series (when is the 3rd book due?) is the fact that the main cast of characters are people of color.  It's the same cast of survivors, ranging from late teens to mid-twenties, that were introduced in the first book, Devil's Wake.  From African-American to Native American, the seven of them (plus a dog) find themselves manning and avoiding the politics that make up the survivors town/colony inside Domino Falls.  While several of the cast of characters annoy me, I can't help but grin because I know them so well from the first book.  Should something happen to one of them, I don't know how I'll handle myself.  With that said, I don't think all eight of them will come out of this novel together.

After I post this, I'm seeping back into their world.

Books That Didn't Make It

There is one book in the month of January that I bought and couldn't find myself to finish.  I found it at my public library's bookstore.  It's called The Healing, by Gayl Jones.  I haven't decided whether I should give the book another try or not, but as of right now, it's on my TD pile--To Donate.  I've never read Gayl Jones, but I am a complete sucker for African-American writers who are of a certain age writing with a certain wisdom and vernacular that reminds me of butter on toast.  While I don't doubt that a book about a traveling faith healer is absent of some of the elements I love in African-American writers, Gayl Jones's The Healing just missed its mark with me.  It wasn't so much that the narrative is written in a stream-of-conscious fashion, it's the fact that her dialogue is un-punctuated!  If you have the patience to re-read lines to determine whether you are comprehending inner monologue or actual dialogue, then good for you.  For me, it's not worth the headache.  Maybe one day I'll get there, but I'll have to settle for what I am familiar with in this instance.  I can read The Healing to be absorbed into a story, not to find myself reading the equivalent of stepping carefully over shards of glass.  Sad that I didn't make it...

Thanks for catching up with me.  I'll share my latest video explaining as an extension to this post.  Well, actually, this post in an extension to the video.  (^.^)

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