Under the Leopard’s Mask
Reviewed by nolwenn961
From prolific writer Kaoru Kurimoto comes her most notable work, “The Guin Saga,” a work that is said to be the mother of light novels. As a forerunner to a kind of fiction that quickly gained popularity in Japan, I was excited about picking up this book and seeing what it had to offer.
“The Guin Saga Book One: The Leopard Mask” isn’t just a fantasy story. There’s another dimension to it, a sort of underlying mystery about who Guin is and how he came to have a leopard mask on him. This is something that’s addressed only occasionally in the first book, but I expect the themes of memory and identity to be dealt with in later volumes. The main focus is the twins of Parros and Guin’s encounter with them. The way that Guin looks out for the children is heroic as it’s supposed to be, and sometimes it borders on the fatherly.
Overall, not a lot happens in this first novel, but that’s as expected because this is just the first volume of a series that spans over a hundred volumes. Most of the action takes places in two scenes when the trio is in the Roodwood and when they are captured and taken to Stafolos Keep. So much of this novel is spent on exposition, resulting in lavish, sometimes tiring descriptions about the twins of Parros and their beauty. You might forget that Guin exists, remembering him occasionally only because the story is named after him. On the other hand, the descriptions are very vivid, making the scenes easy to picture to even the most unimaginative reader.
To my surprise, there are illustrations included in this novel, but you shouldn’t expect anything that looks like manga by today’s standards; this novel was originally published in 1979. Even the cover is atypical. The cover is a painting that looks realistic, serving as a further reminder that this novel is slightly different from the light novels that were later published. It would fit in more on a bookshelf among mainstream fantasy in America. There’s even a map.
“The Guin Saga” got me very excited and revived my interest in mainstream fantasy which had been previously squelched almost immediately after partially reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” I couldn’t help but root for Guin and everything he did which I found rather surprising considering that Guin himself is a hero, and I fancy myself as an aficionado of anti-heroes. The bottom line is, if you like Guin, then you’ll like this story. If you don’t like Guin, then maybe you’ll enjoy his antagonists more, but you probably won’t get much enjoyment out of this book. This is a heroic fantasy, and the good guys seem to always prevail at the end of the day.
One thing that I would very much have liked to see in this book is an afterword or a postscript, something that will place me the author’s mind. The last page of the novel succeeds in wrapping up the volume while at the same time sets us up to expect much more adventures for the characters in the coming volumes. However, like many light novels, a lot of the books will never reach English speaking audiences. With only five out of one hundred twenty-six volumes translated into English, “The Guin Saga” will probably remain as hidden as Guin’s face under the leopard mask.
Entry filed under: Reviews.