Tag Archives: fantasy

In Review: Brave Story

Author: Miyuki Miyabe (Translator: Alexander O. Smith)
Year of publication: 2009

your brain on books rating: 3

Wataru Mitani was rather surprised to discover that the abandoned building down the street from his family’s apartment houses a gateway to another world called Vision.  And he’s not the only one who knows about it; Mitsuru Ashikawa, one of Wataru’s classmates, has not only seen the gateway but stepped through it and has been granted Traveler status so he can move freely throughout Vision.  Wataru and Mitsuru have something else in common, too.  Their families have been torn apart – Mitsuru’s by murder, and Wataru’s by an impending divorce.  When Mitsuru visits Wataru in the middle of the night and hands him a Traveler’s token, Wataru leaves the real world for Vision, and the two boys begin separate quests to the Tower of Destiny in the hope that the Goddess will change their fates.

The problem is, their own destinies are not the only things hanging in the balance.  The very different paths that Wataru and Mitsuru walk on their way to the Tower have serious consequences for the world in which they are Travelers, and Vision may not survive their stay.

Miyabe’s greatest success is the degree to which her characters are well-crafted.  Wataru is believable not just as a young boy in unfamiliar surroundings, but also as the Brave (literally, this is the category of Traveler into which he falls) he turns out to be.  He experiences nearly every emotion during his journey across Vision, and he bears them all with the amount of grace possible for a person of his maturity in increasingly challenging situations.  Wataru’s traveling companions complement him; they are the humor to his sadness, the certainty to his indecisiveness, the fear to his courage.  In contrast, Mitsuru’s cool indifference to the moral conflicts he faces places him at the opposite end of the spectrum: a testament to Miyabe’s range.

Unfortunately, Miyabe’s efforts to write a story that will (or should) endure fall flat once readers look past her characterizations.  Though the plot is interesting, it is disappointingly unoriginal.  Vision is a realm created and influenced by the imaginations of humans who live in the real world.  Wataru is an ordinary boy who accidentally happens upon Vision and subsequently embarks on a quest to reach a distant, sacred tower where a goddess lives.  He wears a pendant that identifies him as one of the Goddess’s chosen and protected Travelers.  At one point, he passes through a region known as the Swamp of Grief.

Sound familiar?

You’re right – it’s The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende.  Wataru even manages to find himself a nice dragon friend to fly him around sometimes.  Each of these uncanny similarities to Ende’s revered contribution to the children’s literary canon detracts further from Miyabe’s work, until there is little left to applaud that wasn’t already written by Ende thirty years prior.

Readers with a taste for adventure should certainly give Brave Story a try, but they should measure their expectations; this story doesn’t test the borders of the map.

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In Review: The Stolen Child

Author: Keith Donohue
Year of publication: 2007

your brain on books rating: 4

In 1949 a seven-year-old boy ran away from home, and a group of changelings watching from the nearby forest made sure that he didn’t find his way back.  One of the changelings assumed young Henry Day’s identity, while the human boy was transformed into a changeling and given the name Aniday.  Thirty years later, Henry Day and Aniday finally tell the story of how their lives unfolded since their switch, and how they struggled to come to terms with who – and what – they were and had become.

The Stolen Child is an interesting character study that delves deep into the emotions of its two protagonists, examining their pain resulting from the crimes they have suffered, and, in the changeling Henry Day’s case, the guilt from committing the same crime against another innocent in order to return to some semblance of the life that had been taken from him nearly a century before.  Donohue’s choice to have both protagonists recount their stories thirty years after they initially switched places is important to the overall tone of the work; because Henry Day and Aniday are both grown at this point in time, the novel takes on a mature, literary quality that would not have been possible if the beginning of Aniday’s narration came directly from his seven-year-old self.  Readers will quickly trust their narrators, as Henry Day and Aniday’s experiences are told in hindsight after plenty of time for reflection.

Still, the devil wants an advocate, and though Donohue’s decision to age the characters before beginning the novel makes both halves of the narration more cohesive, some readers might rather have experienced Aniday’s maturation first-hand as he comes to grips with the new life that has been forced upon him.  But, alas, that’s a book we don’t have, and the present work can easily stand on its own as is.

The novel’s structure greatly facilitates readers’ continued interest in the protagonists’ experiences. With each new chapter, the narration’s point of view switches from that of Henry Day to that of Aniday and back again.  Considering the fact that clear crimes were committed in the past to get the protagonists to where they are today, these switching viewpoints make it difficult for readers to decide whose side they’re supposed to be on, forcing them to question whether they should be taking sides at all.  This type of structure also keeps the story moving where the plot intensity is otherwise lacking; readers can’t tire with one protagonist because they never spend too long with him at once, and so the anticipation of the start of each chapter results in an inescapable excitement that propels the story forward.

By the novel’s conclusion, readers will feel extraordinarily close to both Henry Day and Aniday because not only will they know the protagonists’ fears and regrets, they will also know their small moments of triumph.  Donohue succeeds in engaging his readers with a tale of identity theft in its most legendary form.

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