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Kitsune-Mochi (Kitsune Tales Book 2) Paperback – October 23, 2013
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About the Author
Laura VanArendonk Baugh was born at an early age and never looked back. She overcame her childhood deficiencies of having been born without teeth and unable to walk, and by the time she matured into a recognizable adult she had become a behavior analyst, an internationally-recognized and award-winning animal trainer, a costumer/cosplayer, a chocolate addict, and of course a writer. She works in animal behavior by day and haunts Japanese culture and anime conventions by night. Find her at www.LauraVanArendonkBaugh.com. She tweets at @Laura_VAB, too!
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While most of the events of Kitsune-Tsuki are alluded to throughout the first act of Kitsune-Mochi, full appreciation demands that you read Kitsune-Tsuki first. It is a quick, enjoyable read with a surprising twist at the end that leads into Kitsune-Tsuki so well that it feels almost as if it were the first chapter of the larger, combined work.
Through Kitsune-Tsuki and Kitsune-Mochi, the author weaves a world of mythology and magic, history and honor, of noble warriors and clever monsters. As I was reading, I had no trouble picturing the action on the pages, even if that action was nothing more than two friends sitting and watching the sun set. More often than not, I pictured the story as a series of watercolor woodblock artwork such as something Katsushika Hokusai might have produced.
Despite the trappings of Japanese history, folklore, and mythology, this is Not Japan. Various aspects of the history and mythology have been changed in order to accommodate the greater story, and the author does a fine job of outlining these changes, as well as her reasons for them, in the introduction. I don't mind authors taking artistic liberties when it comes to history and mythology, and probably wouldn't have noticed them had they not been pointed out. However, if you are a stickler for perfect accuracy in your historical fiction, it is something to keep in mind.
That being said, there is a great deal of Japanese sprinkled throughout the book. Characters frequently switch between Japanese and "English" depending on the formality of the conversation and many of the youkai (mysterious creatures) are referred to by their Japanese names, such as foxes being referred to as kitsune. If you have any experience with anime, manga, Japanese films, etc, you will have little trouble discerning their meaning through context, but there is a helpful glossary at the back if you run into any trouble.
And speaking of youkai, they abound throughout the story. Many different forms and varieties of youkai appear, from the noble (if mischievous) kitsune to hungry kappa to towering oni. I enjoyed seeing how they interacted with each other and how they fit into the overall scheme of things, both in their interaction with and avoidance of the human world. In many ways, the author subverted the concept of monster and man by making some of the youkai so much more interesting and sympathetic than some of the humans.
Overall, the main theme of the story is love. Romantic love, requited and non, familial love, love lost, and what the power of love can drive us to do. It can inspire us to noble deeds more powerful than we ever imagined possible, and it can drive us to depths and into hatred more terrifying than any youkai. We see the pain of lost love twist an otherwise normal man into a terrifying monster, even as new love helps a child grow into a man.
Overall, I enjoyed Kitsune-Mochi and Kitsune-Tsuki very much, and would recommend them to anyone who enjoys mythology, folk tales, or Japanese history. The characters and world are rich and inviting, and I would gladly visit them again for another adventure.
WARNING: Kitsune-Tsuki spoilers ahead!
The novel follows the onmyouji Tsurugu and his friends as they attempt to protect the daimyou's household from both human and supernatural threats, all while hiding their own identity as kitsune who serve the daimyou's wife. The story contains a really well-concocted blend of human and supernatural characters. I found the timid servant girl Murame just as likeable and interesting a character as, for example, the more magical and boisterous kitsune twins Kaworu and Genji. Even the dangerous and frightening youkai are more than just brutish monsters, while ‘ordinary’ humans play the villain just as well. And I’m kind of a Tsurugu fangirl. He’s awesome. Just saying.
The author's pacing is excellent. Her chapters are generally short; those that are longer are broken into smaller sections, so that the story moves along at a quick speed and no scene ever feels as if it's dragging on too long. VanArendonk Baugh uses these sections to her advantage, switching character perspective often enough that 1) things stay interesting and 2) we see the world from many points of view and get to know her characters well in the process. This last point is especially important given that the characters inhabit a world (Heian pseudo-Japan) in which their public behavior and interactions are dictated, and restricted, by rules of formality and status.
And if you’re just looking for a good story, reasons to read this book include: an adorable romantic pairing; a tense but at the same time hilarious kappa-baiting scene; kidnapping (well, foxnapping); revenge; more revenge; stupid chickens; talking paper; ninja; and Japanese self-defense with your very own kitsune personal trainer.
Those unfamiliar with Japanese culture and language should be aware that there is a lot of Japanese in this book. There is a great glossary in the back, but readers might find flipping back and forth tedious, especially in a Kindle edition. My advice is this: just keep reading. The meaning of important terms is made clear either through apposition or context, and many are used frequently enough that their meaning, or at least their intent, is obvious. Googling "shinden-zukuri" will also give you a good idea as to the design of the daimyou’s house.
Loved this book – hoping to see more kitsune adventures in the future!