When her brother Hiroki disappears after a violent altercation with school bullies, eleven-year-old Yuriko finds a magical book in his room which leads her to another world where she learns that Hiroki has been possessed by a spirit from The Book of Heroes.
All right folks, I'll get this out of the way right now. This book will not be for everyone. Like in Brave Story, Miyabe opens the story by ripping out your heart and stomping on it. Yuriko is an eleven year old girl who is being forced to watch as her family is hounded by press over the mysterious and bloody nature of her brother's disappearance. Then, being the only suitable candidate to exist, apparently, she has to step into a crazy world that is so wholly intangible that it will make your head spin. In short, the books opens depressingly and waxes philosophical. I would go so far as to say at least seventy five percent of the book is set up, explanation or back story. That doesn't mean it's not a good story. It is. It's just something of a push to get through, although those who can remember the tome that is Brave Story may appreciate it's apparent brevity at a mere 352 word-packed pages.
The characters are interesting enough--Yuri is a touch on the young side, and accurately portrayed to include several outbursts and minor breakdowns. She starts out, in a way, more mature seeming, falls back several steps but then continues to grow as the story progresses. Her main companion, Aju, is a dictionary that is purportedly "young." I don't remember the years exactly, but they give his spunky almost teenage [without the melodrama] attitude a certain amount of viability. Their interaction is mutually supportive, especially when introduced to the man who would be their guide and, more or less, protector on the journey, Ash, or Dmitri. He is a wolf, the title given to [or quite possibly taken by] those dedicated binding the King in Yellow once more. He's older, but not specifically aged [possibly immortal or just improbably long-lifed], and tends to be gruff nine times out of ten with a few shining moments of gentle behavior toward his youthful companion.
There is one final character, but he's another piece of literary device that I have yet to quite figure out. Before Yuri can go on her quest, she must visit the Nameless Land where she is met by a group of monks called the nameless devouts. They are all mirror images of the same person, young without youth and very simple. They are kind of like the Borg without the assimilatory powers--there is no time, no change, in the nameless land. If one comes they are there, part of the collective, but if one is gone, they never were. All are the same--one existence, many bodies. And out of this collective comes the final companion--a nameless devout singled out in shame by a book and sent on the journey. His being is explained slowly and surely as he becomes less and less one of the expressionless group. He is taken in [and named Sky by Yuri] to be an aid and protector, but Yuri is almost more protective of him, especially when Ash seems to take an irrational dislike to the boy.
But the journey is a long one and an extremely metaphysical one--the reader is regularly called back to the fact that the world does not exist as we know it and is quite capable of falling under the power of something it helped to create. The Hero, referred to in the title, is the shining glory side of the King in Yellow who is, in turn, the shadow and flipside of the hero. Miyabe delves not only into what a "hero" is, however, but also what creates a story and a world. The reader needn't feel alone if they are baffled though, as Yuri is right alongside, picking things up as they move.
All in all, it's actually a very involving read, with a strong story to back it [though the ending might disappoint, if you're hoping for an all-around conclusion and wrap up--just warning you] and while it might be hard for more inexperienced readers, don't let the pretty cover with the little girl and the mouse fool you. Miyabe paints some beautiful, heartbreaking and terrifying pictures in this story, this journey to save one and to save all.
Eleven-year-old Yuriko Morisaki is an ordinary fifth-grade student until her older brother Hiroki does the unthinkable. After a bad altercation at school results in his disappearance, Yuriko embarks on a journey to save him. The most interesting thing that drew me into the story was this: the "hero" is not as good and virtuous as our society allows us to believe. Only one part is. No matter how magnificent the hero, there is always a darker side that we overlook. The hero has two sides to him, and the darker side of the coin is often referred to in the novel as the King in Yellow. It's hard to explain the concept, but for example, think about Hercules. He performed a lot of heroic deeds, but also did some pretty vile stuff that would seem more like what a villain might do. This dual look at heroism was interesting to me, especially since it's something I've been studying in order to flesh out my own characters. I love the concept that there's more to a hero than what meets the eye. Things aren't always black and white.
The part of the hero that is the King in Yellow likes to wreak havoc on our world as much as the hero likes to save it. He needs vessels to break out of The Book of Heroes, where he has been imprisoned in the Nameless Land where all stories are born. Yuriko's brother Hiroki finds The Book of Elem and uses it to unknowingly become the last vessel and release the King in Yellow from imprisonment. Taking on the role of Allcaste, Yuriko finds herself faced with an impossible quest to save not only her brother, but the entire world.
The Book of Heroes was really unique and refreshing. I'd never read a book quite like it before and after turning the last page, I wondered if Miyabe would write another book in her world. I also went back and re-read the poem at the novel's beginning in addition to perusing the prologue once more, which gave me an even fuller understanding of the story. I also took a more in-depth look at the cover and understood why the artist created the image they did (much as I did after finishing Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me earlier this year). It made sense in a way it wouldn't have before I started reading the book.
It was also interesting to read a Japanese novel after having lived in Japan. I could visualize Yuriko's world much better than I would have had I never been there, though I don't feel the lack of knowledge would detract a reader from the story. It just made things like school life, teacher/police/parent/student/etc. responses, etc. make more sense. There were a couple of "monster" fights that were uniquely Japanese. If I hadn't seen the Hayao Miyazaki movie Spirited Away, it would have been harder to imagine black-tentacle monsters with dangling faces because I've never been one for Japanese horror/monster stuff. However, by envisioning No-Face or No-Name or whatever the character's name was, it gave me an idea of what the author was referring to. It was really interesting to see what constituted a "traditional" Japanese novel. Before Miyabe, the only other Japanese author I'd ever read was Haruki Murakami, and that was before I'd been to Japan. Back then, I just remember thinking that the Japanese have a very different outlook on life from us Westerners, and after having lived there, it definitely reaffirms that thought (albeit in a good way).
If you're looking for something interesting and are open to something a little different from what you're used to, The Book of Heroes might be a good choice for you.
But - BUT - I'm all hanging out in the Borders a few months ago and in the young adult section I see this GORGEOUS cover. Seriously, like Alice who drank a special potion to make herself smaller or larger, I wished there was a potion that could thrust me into the cover of this book. Yeppers. I picked it up solely on cover appeal.
In the most concise terms possible, here's the dealio on the story: Yuriko hears tragic news. Her beloved big brother has slain two students at his school and is now missing. Yuriko cannot believe this is possible. She loves her brother. And so does everyone else. Yuriko visits her brother's room, trying to make sense of the events or find clues. And a clue she sure did find. A talking antiquated dictionary named Aju. This leads Yuriko into a whole other realm, a quest, her own personal hero journey to find answers.
Allrighty then. I finished this book yesterday and am sorta on the fence with it. Firstly, it's a translation and I have got to wonder if perhaps the parts that were slow and less riveting and more stilted had less to do with the story being poorly written and more to do with the translation not always being spot on. I don't read a lot of translated books, but understand that this does occur. There were times when I would read this book right before bed and after a couple of pages I was ready for sleep. Also, whole chapters would go by and I would worry that I would never finish the journey.
But because it was Japanese there were a lot of philosophical aspects about the book that I digged immensely. Mainly, they refer to the Hero as an original story that becomes powerful each time it is experienced. (In a weird way, think of Freddy K. from Nightmare on Elm Street - he as "nightmare" is only as powerful as you make him). Secondly, which I find to be very much an eastern thought, when Yuriko is learning about the Hero, it is explained to her that Hero is two sides of one coin. The good of the hero is accompanied with the bad. Nothing is pure. I LOVE this concept. And because essentially this whole novel embodies this concept it makes me really REALLY like this book. Plus, I am a huge supporter that we are all storytellers, telling our own story. (I study narrative therapy heavily in grad school as it made the most sense). Our creation of Self, that which we externalize and internalize creates our own identity. Miyabe touches on this as well.
The characters were pretty nifty as well. Yuriko, obviously being the main character and 'hero', is eleven. Miyabe does a sweet job keeping her right there at that tween age. One minute she wants to be the badass sister who saves the day while the next she is hyperventilating, throwing a tantrum, and sobbing. Sky and Aju are both Yuriko's "servants" throughout this journey; she is also accompanied by Ash. All three have distinctive voices and contribute to the energy of the story.
Overall, a worthwhile read I think. I just don't know if I'd put it in the young adult section of a bookstore.
Yuriko Morisaki, a fairly average girl in the fifth grade, was dozing off in science class when she receives terrible news: her older brother, who she adores, has gone missing after stabbing two of his classmates. Her family can hardly believe that Hiroki could be capable of such an act. They are desperate to find him and to understand what happened. Soon after Hiroki's disappearance, Yuriko stumbles across a magical book in his room, one that may be able to help her find her brother. Suddenly, Yuriko is no longer an ordinary girl as she is swept into a world of story and magic. It is revealed to Yuriko that her brother and her very reality are in danger. The responsibility of rescuing them has fallen to her. She's not without help and over time she gains some valuable allies, but Yuriko's journey will be a very challenging one.
For me, The Book of Heroes worked better as a sort of philosophical exercise rather than as a novel. I absolutely loved the world building. I found the universes that Miyabe created to be fascinating and intellectually stimulating. I enjoyed thinking about the worlds in The Book of Heroes and loved the importance placed on books and stories--stories that hold tremendous amounts of power and that can quite literally change the world and reality; a reality that in turn can alter and affect those stories; and the grave repercussions that this system creates as a result. The ideas and concepts that Miyabe was exploring in The Book of Heroes were thrilling. But I found actually reading The Book of Heroes to be somewhat of a slog. Yuriko's story felt terribly unfocused for much of the novel.
As often as The Book of Heroes frustrated me as a narrative (which was actually quite often), Miyabe pulls everything together beautifully in the end. In the beginning something just didn't quite feel right about how things were progressing in The Book of Heroes. Yuriko, too, seemed to be frustrated and aware of this. Eventually, all is revealed to both Yuriko and the novel's readers in the final chapter, appropriately titled "The Truth." It was this chapter and the epilogue that follows it that made all of my frustration with The Book of Heroes worth it. The ending is fairly open-ended, but I thought it was very appropriate and very satisfying. The Book of Heroes is more complex and layered than it might first appear; Miyabe mixes reality and fantasy, light and darkness, in a very compelling way.
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