A Brave Man Takes On Brave Story: A Light Novel Book Review With Heft!
Brave Story is not for the faint of heart. By that I mean if you have been prescribed heart medication by a doctor and have been advised against heavy lifting, this book may not be for you at a whopping 818 pages. The good news is it’s a children’s book with heft, and for kids who want to demonstrate Herculean feats of reading, this book is for them. I’ve heard several reviews on Goodreads.com that have mixed reviews of this mammoth tome, you either love it or lump it, and I mean LITERALLY lump it, because this book is huge. It has been said that this book has a niche audience because of its sheer size, but fans of Final Fantasy games and other J-RPGs will appreciate a love letter to the epic quests of J-RPGs in book format.
The story starts out like this, Wataru is an elementary school kid whose family is rough to him and won’t let him take on adult responsibilities like a job so he can save up for the latest video game he wants. But there’s mysterious happenings, and kids are saying they have ghost photos from the abandoned building nearby in their neighbourhood. Throw in a mysterious exchange student, much local social commentary about the rebuilding of urban areas particularly after the Kobe earthquake, and you’ve got yourself a slow start which once passed will give you a rewarding read into the fantasy land of Vision.
Vision is a video game inspired world that is an extension of “our” world, filled by the imagination of human beings who become Travellers to this land. Wataru has problems though: his parents are on the rocks in their relationship and Akira is cheating on Wataru’s mother, but Wataru’s mother has issues of her own which I won’t spoil because of the fact that it’s too messed up to give away. And I think I need to remind you that this is a CHILDREN’S BOOK.
This is the most subversive children’s book I’ve read since The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay, one of Australia’s most beloved racists and erotic printmakers. For one thing one of the female characters is clearly a bit on the S&M side as a woman of the law, and her outburst after accidentally sitting on one of her adventuring party mates who is under a pile of rubble goes a little like “Lots of guys would love to be sat on by me!”. Stirring stuff indeed, in a children’s book. Harry Potter was challenging for its time, but American and maybe Australian readers (but less so for Australians) might find some elements a bit hard to take, culturally speaking. It’s a book for the open minded. It’s also a book for people without ADHD, but this reviewer who has both ASD and ADD mixed together finds that the combo cancels out lagging attention spans, so a book of this size is perfect for somebody like me who has a lot of time on their hands in the bloom of youth.
The world that Miyuki Miyabe crafts has its own life to it that really is done justice in a book of this size: every part of the world of Vision and the journey that Wataru undertakes is enriched with lavish descriptions, sight gags, and… RPG elements? Yes, Wataru really does “level up” in this novel, in his own way. The politics of the world are explored, the treatment of non-ankhas is a bit like District 9, the Highlanders as law-keeping forces serve as the noble Paladin class, and while some parts of the story’s moral is heavy handed, there are twinges of discomfort as Miyuki Miyabe perhaps critiques the history of her own country, particularly Japan’s wartime activities. You’ll know when she’s talking about that stuff when you see it.
There are many twists in this novel, stuff you won’t see coming. I hear that Miyuki Miyabe is a crime fiction writer usually, and the way she crafts scenes of killing and daring escapes is second to none. Once this book gets rolling and you’re in her hands, wandering through a magical land trying to find answers, not just mundane but spiritual ones, you’re hooked on this massive sweeping tale that really pushes fantasy into the modern era. It’s not so much the fantastical elements that make this fantasy, it is the crafting of a world that exists parallel to ours and the way the fate of both worlds relies on the sacrifices of the few who bear the burden of the task. The task being to save the world, it’s like any doorstopper fantasy novel like that, but this… this is doorstopper fantasy done right.
I’ll tell you why, Mrs. Lovett, tell you WHY: Miyuki Miyabe never dumps backstory to the various places visited until you actually visit the places and require those extra details. This is fantasy written by a crime novelist, and the role of the crime novelist is not to give anything away without some decent investigation. You’re never given all the answers at once, which makes the twists in this novel twist like a knife in your gut, and the surreal fantasy setting makes for some very sinister and disturbing imagery. The world of Vision is one to be lapped up slowly, not sped through like a bullet train. It’s clearly meant as a book for people who love the experience of reading, mixed with some very fitting fantasy genre and J=RPG oriented humour.
I finished reading this book last night, and I can tell you, you’ll feel like you’ve really accomplished something after you read the whole thing. The ending has a few hard to take moments, but I mean in the Midnight Cowboy sense of “Why am I crying over this? I don’t know!”.
* * * * *
Text Copyright © Jacob Martin 2009. All Rights Reserved.