Fumi Yoshinaga–Ōoku: The Inner Chamber, Vol. 1

The What: In an alternate 18th-century Japan, the Redface Plague sweeps through the populace and kills 75% of the male population. Women step into previously male roles, including that of the Shogun. The Shogun keeps an inner sanctum of men called the Ōoku for her, uh, recreational purposes. It is there that our plucky protagonist, Yunoshin Mizuno, finds himself when his samurai family falls on rough times. Mizuno trades in his freedom for money for his family by joining the Ōoku, but what price will he pay for his sacrifice…?

The Good: Oh, the artwork! The artwork! Crisp, clean lines bring the world of the Ōoku to life. Yoshinaga has a well-trained eye; there is enough detail to make a believable and engaging world, but not so much as to bog down the flow between panels. Beautiful. Also, her drawings of facial expressions are incredible. There is such subtlety in them. Outside of the artwork, there are substantive themes for the thinking reader to ponder. Questions about the nature of political power and the origin of gender differences abound. Also, with its many relationships between those of unequal social status and/or age, this title would be an excellent springboard for discussions of what constitutes consent.

The Meh: Rarely have I taken such pleasure in writing a “Meh” section of a review. Here goes: the cast of tertiary characters is poorly differentiated, the plot is ludicrous, the narrative takes a paperclip bend around the middle of the book and never recovers its momentum… and none of these problems hurt my enjoyment of the book. Yoshinaga has a sharp instinct for “feel,” for the big picture of her work, and she wisely chose to put her time and energy into the facets of the book that made it into the “The Good” section. The “meh” aspects aren’t vital to the book’s overall impact, so no harm, no foul.

Hand It To: Older teens (the sex isn’t particularly steamy, and fades to black without showing anyone’s, um, interesting bits, but the themes are mature), Japanophiles, and older reluctant readers.

Advertisements

Review Minis: Less Words, Just As Much Fun!

Hello, noble readers! In the interests of writing *some*thing about the heaps of books I’ve been nomming my way through of late, I decided to do mini-reviews. I’ll do one sentence each of my usual categories, so hopefully you’ll be able to get the flavor of the book even in this brief format.

Bizenghast, volume 6: Having conquered enough restless spirits, Dinah prepares to meet her new protector at the mausoleum, but new discoveries mar the experience. The art is better than ever, the vibe is deliciously macabre, and–one word–Edaniel! Unfortunately, the problem of uneven and difficult-to-follow plot development continues to dog the series. Hand it to Goths, fans of American manga, and anyone who likes cosplay.

Black, White, and Jewish: Rebecca Walker spent her formative years bouncing back and forth: between parents, between coasts, and between cultures. Her honesty is heartbreaking, and her experiences as a “Movement Child” are unlike anything I’ve read before. I would have enjoyed the book more if she had shared more of her adult reflections on her childhood; as it stands, she tells much of her story without unpacking it. Offer it to fans of memoir or feminism, or Nancy Pearl’s character readers.

Blood Roses: Francesca Lia Block brings us another book of magical realist urban fairy tales, this time in the form of short stories. The language is beautiful and shimmering, as always, and teenage girls will relate to the intensity and awkwardness that Block’s protagonists bring to their relationships. For longtime Block readers, there may be nothing new here, but the shorter story lengths may attract readers daunted by page count of the Dangerous Angels anthology. Suggest it to fans of magical realism, high school girls, and readers with an interest in urban glam.

Graceling: Katsa is Graced, meaning that she has a superhuman ability; her Grace is killing, which her uncle uses for his own nefarious purposes. Katsa’s journey from property to person takes her through literal and figurative lands, and the writing is good enough to make this fantasy plot feel fresh. Teens with conservative convictions may find the heroine’s takes on marriage and abortion to be off-putting. Try it on fantasy fans, older teens, and fans of non-conventional romances.