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.
As we all know, light novels, like manga, aren’t exactly cheap. Some are the same price as manga, others cost more. If you’re an aficionado of any kind of translated media like anime, manga, and videogames, you know that the price can be higher than most of the domestic releases of similar media.
I don’t mind paying the eight to ten dollars for light novels every once in a while, especially if it’s for a light novel that I really love. It’s only after buying the third and fourth volume that you’ll begin to realize that this is going to be an expensive habit.
So what do you do about it? You cut your costs. You don’t have to stop buying light novels altogether, but there are ways that you can curve your spending and still enjoy all the light novels that you love.
For me, Google Books has been a big help in locating the light novels that I like and a few I’ve never even knew were published. In my library right now are more light novels than I ever expected to find. They may only be limited previews, but there are enough pages available for reading to help me decide if it’s a title that I want to purchase in the future. So far, I’ve found Hiroshi Ohnogi’s Rahxephon, Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Dark Wars: The Tale of Meiji Dracula, issue one of FAUST, and NisiOisin’s Zaregoto and XXXholic: Anotherholic. Google Books is supposed to continually add books to their library, so I’m interested in seeing what other titles will appear in the future.
I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of a preview. Previews serve as a way to help us decide if we want to buy the light novel or not, and they can keep you entertained if you just want to read a light novel without paying anything. Many publishers will post light novel previews online for you to read. The best previews are the ones that you can download and read at any time without having to return to the publisher’s site. The pdf versions of previews are surprisingly long. I’ve read light novel previews of “Haruhi,” “The Ballad of a Shinigami,” “The Guin Saga,” and many others.
Fan translations have always been a good way for anyone to read a light novel for free. A lot of the light novels that are translated are novels that may never make an official debut in America. Baka-Tsuki and Shoku Dan are just two places that I’ve been able to find some light novel translations. Be sure to give those a try. However, please keep in mind that fan translations often differ in quality. Do not mistake a poor translation for ‘bad writing’ on the author’s part. These translations serve primarily as a substitute for the lacking official translations. And we highly hope that if you enjoy a fan translation that you will attempt to order the Japanese copy or eventual official English translation to support the series. Fan translations are not an excuse to not pay money for the novel.
Just like any avid manga reader camped out in the manga section of the bookstore, you too can go to your favorite bookstore and read all of the light novels you want. The fast-paced writing style lends itself well to this kind of reading because you can usually finish a light novel in one sitting.
If you’re really hardcore about light novels, you can definitely find them online, scanned, and in their rawest form, untranslated Japanese. Even if you’re just semi-proficient with the language, you should still be able to enjoy some of your favorite titles in the raw. Run a search on your favorite titles and see if you can find what you’re looking for. Please keep in mind however that the above is technically by law illegal. You are reading scanned books. Please be sure to buy the novel off of the Japanese Amazon website or through a local Japanese book store or Market if you enjoy it. Use light novel Raws as a preview method only, and not as a way to get out of paying.
Have any more suggestions on how we can read light novels for free? Share them with us! Leave a comment below.