Musashi

My favorite painting by Musashi

My favorite painting by Musashi

It all started with Vagabond, a manga by Takehiko Inoue. It’s a fictionalized, historical account of one of the most famous samurai in Japanese history, a guy known as Musashi after the place he’s from. This manga is so beautifully illustrated, war and all, with each character clearly modeled on human faces (rather than stylized), and so much of the emotional side of the story told through expressions—just fantastic artwork. Inoue also took the time to draw entire pages of grass blades or bark texture, bringing the epic element in through the pictures. And the story is layered, with many characters, each practically leaping from the page with personality. I quickly read through volume 37, the most recent English translation, but I wanted to know more. Specifically, I wanted more words, as in a novel.

Inoue based his manga, which according to Wikipedia has sold more than 82 million copies worldwide, on a now classic novel by Eiji Yoshikawa called Musashi. Yoshikawa’s novel was originally serialized in the 30’s in Japanese newspapers. The English hardback, an abridged version of the story, clocks in at 970 pages of small print. I had found more words.

Musashi was a swordsman who lived from 1584 to 1645. Days before his death, he finished his own book on the Way of the warrior called the Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho). In the intro he provides a few biographical words, including that he killed his first samurai in a duel at the age of 13. Musashi traveled, building his skills and eventually developing the famed two-sworded fighting technique. The Book of Five Rings provides terse instructions on the Way, moving beyond fighting techniques and accentuated with interspersed reminders that points “must be understood deeply.” The version I read, translated by Ashikaga Yoshiharu, was incredibly slim, with beautiful artwork and only a few paragraphs of text per illustrated page. The book is a historical gem—holding myself back, I wrote out eight pages worth of notes from the Book of Five Rings. Despite writing a book on the topic, Musashi prefaced his work with a warning and advice: “There are no words to explain in detail this Way, but it can be understood intuitively. Study this book” (Musashi 58).

Yoshikawa clearly built his historical novel with the Book of Five Rings close at hand because Musashi’s laconic instructions were illustrated through fictionalized events, making Musashi the novel a sort of companion book to the Book of Five Rings in a very cool way. I was glad that I’d read the Book of Five Rings prior to the novel.

Musashi starts with the Battle of Sekigahara and two boys who’ve decided they’ll leave their village and instantly become famous samurai by participating in the fight. In Vagabond, Inoue’s field of corpses was incredibly evocative. The boys survive, and we begin to see their differing natures, with two boys from the same background taking very different paths. Yoshikawa used characterization to underscore the traditional theme that we cannot sway from our true natures, along with the medieval standby that the class we are born into also speaks for us, which is likely why Inoue chose to reveal one character as adopted in order to speak for his weakness. Inoue and Yoshikawa don’t always follow the plot or characterization in entirely the same way; however, while the differences are interesting, for the most part they seem to be holding true to the same undercurrents of meaning in the story. Inoue provides a more impactful character arc for the protagonist, with Musashi’s youthful arrogance very much highlighted, while Yoshikawa fills in historical blanks with increased opportunities for education, bringing Musashi more quickly to a higher level of awareness. Inoue spends more time with different swordsmen, sating the hunger many readers must have for samurai, but Yoshikawa allows for a closer look at the worlds of the female characters, both noble and ignoble. (Osugi even managed to stalk me in a dream one night.) The cast of characters is remarkably haunting.

Both stories follow multiple characters interweaving through battles and growth, idealizing the good samurai of yore as men capable of austere training and enlightenment while working through trial after trial. Yoshikawa’s novel builds up to the duel between Musashi and his adversary Kojiro. Prior to his battle, Musashi creates a painting for his host, thinking, “Men’s bodies fade away, but ink lives on. The image of his heart would continue to breathe after he himself was gone” (Yoshikawa 958). Likewise, Musashi the samurai has lived on through the ink of his paintings, the Book of Five Rings, and the various fictitious renditions of his life. Read the stories, and these characters will continue to breathe through you, as well. Highly recommended.

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Book Review: Nameless

Nameless: A Tale of Beauty and Madness by Lili St. Crow is a YA fairy tale reworking that drops Snow White into a fantasy setting of fae, blood-drinking mafiosi, and recovery from abuse. While a dark, teenage fairy tale with a mash-up of other tales may sound like something we’ve seen a lot of, St. Crow crafts a thought-provoking story that fairy tale and fantasy fans will be delighted to read. I know I enjoyed it.

Cami starts out as an abused and nameless child picked up off the street by the head of one of seven mysteriously powerful families. Initially barely able to speak, teenage Cami communicates with a notable stutter. She has no memory of her time before she was adopted except what comes via nightmares. Her mafiosa-vampire family vows to protect her, but their silence, rage, and occasional loss of control leaves their safety and reliability open to question. The story’s prince is a shady character who never gets much time in the limelight–this isn’t his story. Cami’s two best friends, clearly Cinderella and Red Riding Hood, are strongly supportive, but mostly absent from the tale as Cami feels alienated from them by the lack of knowledge she has of her own past and the crippling self-doubt that comes with it. She doesn’t feel worthy of the friends and family around her. When an opportunity arrives to learn something about herself, Cami pursues it even if it means dropping all vestiges of safety. The Wild Hunt ties into Snow White being hunted, and the role of the huntsman takes a fae twist. All in all, Nameless is a “Snow White” story about a wounded girl finding her own voice. Nameless is followed by Wayfarer and Kin, one book for the Cinderella character and the other for Red Riding Hood.

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Posted in Book Review, Fairy Tale Tagged , ,

Yato Shadow Study

Yato Kami

Yato Kami: First Try

I’ve been playing that work game in which you pretend that sleep and food are not really necessary and that coffee is a nutrient. I finally had a true day off. Day. Off. Feel the wonder of the words. So I snagged a Noragami screen shot in which the Yato god, in a flashback scene, is shown with his face almost entirely in shadow, with just a limn of backlighting. (Noragami is a wonderful manga and anime built around Shinto myth.) The fabulousness of the image is in the glowing eyes, which require a strong contrast of a dark color next to them. I wanted to create it in watercolor, which has a natural translucence and works most prettily in lighter shades–so, not so great for dark shadows. The gray of the screenshot wasn’t a good color choice for watercolor. For trial one, I chose burnt sienna for his shadowed face. It had the benefit of being a warm color to further contrast the cool of the eyes (cerulean and cyan). But mostly it just made him look as if he either had a darker skin tone or a dirty face.

Yato

The Yato God

This one suffered from a sloppy speed-drawing, but I was anxious to play with color. I kept a wider light limning, to reveal shadow rather than skin color. Payne’s grey definitely didn’t provide the color contrast with the eyes that I wanted, but the hair, skin, and clothes went together well and matched the background. The blood splatters on the face were better (brown madder, just like the others). I shaded the whites of the eyes with Naples yellow and Payne’s grey, which worked alright. The more clearly two-tone background seemed more interesting, but less like a possible real background. (The all reds background gave a better glowing war zone impression.) The kanji look like a little kid wrote them, but I clearly have no expertise there. Mostly, this study was no good.

Next effort I painted the face cadmium red. Total. Fail.

Yato

Yato Kami

This time, I pulled the image back some and went with olive green for the shadowed skin tone. I liked this one best. Still, the contrast isn’t enough for a really good eye glow. I could’ve laid on a few more layers of green, but I didn’t want to end up with a troll. I like the splotchy hair. In fact, the splotchy everywhere was pretty fun.

Do you have a favorite?

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Book Review: Trailer Park Fae

Trailer Park Fae by Lilith Saintcrow; Cover by Dan Dos Santos

Trailer Park Fae by Lilith Saintcrow; Cover by Dan Dos Santos

I really enjoyed Trailer Park Fae by Lilith Saintcrow. Due to the title and cover, I picked it up thinking it was a comedy. It is not. Instead, it’s a drama steeped in the faerie tradition. The prose is lush and poetic, perfectly matching the story. The characters reflect the fairies of literature with their dark trickery and tangled ambitions. The strongest literary flavors come from Yeats and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but folklore references are thick and no character is simple or straightforward.

Jeremiah Gallow lives in a trailer park and works on high-rise construction, but he’s not exactly human, and his past is full of secrets. When Robin Ragged, a fae woman who looks strikingly like his deceased human wife, appears with an Unseelie hunt on her tail, his separation from the intrigues of the two courts and the free fae all comes crashing down.

While the language is beautiful, the forces driving the various characters forward are not. The ugliness makes this fairy tale feel difficult and true. For those who love fae stories–don’t miss this! I’m happy to see that Trailer Park Fae is presented as book one of a new series, Gallow and Ragged.

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Gathering Feathers

beach

a beach strewn with evidence

Last night I dreamt that I was at the beach. Then a humming-bird-sized pegasus landed in my hand. I realized I was dreaming and felt so disappointed that I wasn’t really at the beach. The horse flew away, leaving feathers in its wake, and I carefully gathered the rainbow-colored feathers from the sand–each wispy vane rippling through the spectrum–because it would be a shame for even the tiniest one to be lost, especially since I wasn’t really at the beach.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Book Review: House Immortal

House Immortal by Devon Monk

House Immortal by Devon Monk

House Immortal is the first book of the newest series by Devon Monk. That was the extent of my knowledge as I began to read, so I had that fabulous experience of what-is-this? and I’ve-never-read-anything-like-this-before! House Immortal clearly doesn’t aim to fit neatly in a sub-genre box. Monk describes the story as “my: urban fantasy, near-future, Frankenstein farm girl, gently dystopic, steampunk-light, save-the-world story.” Yup. That pretty much sums it up.

House Immortal starts out with Tilly handling feral crocboars along with her farmhand Neds. I thought Neds was an odd name, but then we had Right Ned and Left Ned, and the realization that Neds was a man with two heads. (Thanks for the rhyme, Devon.) The farm is full of animals Tilly’s deceased father had stitched together, but the most unusual creature on the farm is Tilly herself, who is also stitched. When a stranger, Abraham Seventh, shows up telling Tilly she’s in danger and should leave with him, the action really gets rolling because Tilly isn’t accustomed to doing what other people tell her to do, and if she leaves the farm, odds are high that she will be viewed not as a human, but as a thing one can own or steal.

I really enjoyed this novel. The dialogue is tight and full of subtext. There’s a steady stream of action, humor, and romantic tension. The world felt very new, although towards the end there were some scenes regarding entertainment that reminded me of the showmanship of The Hunger Games. My only disappointment was that the book ended very abruptly without resolution. I strongly prefer individual books in a series to each have their own sort of closure. On the upside, book two, Infinity Bell, has already been released, so more of Tilly’s story is currently available.

Highly recommended.

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Book Review: Stone Cold

Stone Cold by Devon Monk; This cover makes no sense. Ignore the gun. Imagine some dark magic floating around or perhaps the aurora borealis playing across the whites of his eyes.

Stone Cold by Devon Monk; This cover makes no sense. Ignore the gun. Imagine some dark magic floating around or perhaps the aurora borealis playing across the whites of his eyes and then you’ll be on the right track.

Stone Cold is book two of Devon Monk’s A Broken Magic series, which, in turn, is a spin-off from her Allie Beckstrom series. If you haven’t read Hell Bent, book one, read that review instead.

Recapping from Hell Bent, Shamus wields Death magic and works best with Terric, who handles Life magic, yet both men generally wish to stay as far away from each other as possible. However, in Stone Cold when their nemesis Eli Collins appears, killing Shame and kidnapping Terric, not even death will keep them apart. It’s non-stop action from that point forward as Shame endeavors to not kill his friends, eliminate his enemies, and maybe just save the world.

What I like best about Stone Cold is how Shame is such an adorable asshole. Monk nailed that juxtaposition. Unlike Hell Bent, in which I had to struggle through various points of his assery and build my understanding of his situation, Stone Cold strikes an excellent balance from the start, making Shame an incredibly likable jerk (on paper, at least) throughout the entire story. Action fans will find no shortage of thrills, but characterization wins this book for me.

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Book Review: Honor’s Knight

 

Honor's Knight by Rachel Bach

Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach

Honor’s Knight is book two in Rachel Bach’s Paradox trilogy. Read about book one, Fortune’s Pawn, here. While Fortune’s Pawn had a great deal of armor love and focus on Devi’s job as a mercenary, leading some to categorize it as military sci-fi, Honor’s Knight clearly lands in good ol’ space opera.

Devi has had her memory erased regarding most of the final excitement in Fortune’s Pawn, and an aversion has been set in place for her love interest. Unbeknownst to her, it’s understood that if she remembers what has been erased, she’ll be eliminated. The romantic aspects of the story take a far back seat. The focus in Honor’s Knight is Devi figuring out what is going on in the universe, who the good guys are, and possibly maybe hatching a plot to fix things. Of course, Devi would also like to feel in control of her life and her mind. We get more magical science, lizard people, and ginormous clan ships. Military moral conflicts arise. Bach tosses out some deeper questions, such as whether the end truly justifies the means or whether ignorance can, indeed, be bliss. The various plot escalations are fun, and, despite being the middle book, Honor’s Knight does a better job of feeling wrapped up at the end than Fortune’s Pawn did. Overall, Honor’s Knight is action driven with conspiratorial boosts. Highly recommended!

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Book Review: Fortune’s Pawn

Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach; Cover design by Kirk Benshoff--Terrific cover, very evocative of the book

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach; Cover design by Kirk Benshoff–Terrific cover, very evocative 

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach surprised me. Devi is a mercenary with ambition. Her great passions are her high-tech armor and her lovingly named weapons. Having reached the highest pay-grade of the top armored company on Paradox, her home planet, she promptly resigns, aiming for a position amongst the super-elite king’s guard. In order to prove herself, she signs on with The Glorious Fool, assured that if she could stay alive during one year of security work on the Fool, the king’s guard would see her as a serious contender. But staying alive on the Fool is harder than expected.

Fortune’s Pawn delivers SF action, with lots of fight scenes including vamped up armor and alien creatures. Along with Devi determinedly kicking something’s ass, an underlying story of intrigue emerges. The Fool and the people on it aren’t what they seem, and Devi oscillates between not really caring and wanting to know more. As a reader, I appreciated the building layers; the book produced a more complicated story than I’d expected from the first chapter.

Devi is not subtle. She’s not a deep or calculated thinker. She appreciates large quantities of hard alcohol and uncomplicated flings. These are not the types of characteristics I generally admire. Yet, the more I read her story, the more I found I actually liked her. Devi unapologetically pursues what she wants. She also sticks closely to her Paradoxian honor. Towards the end of the book I found myself liking more and more her non-traditional attributes.

Some of the crew of the Fool includes the mysterious captain, his strangely silent and inactive daughter, an oversized bird that seems to exist primarily to bitch (although he is the 2nd in command), a lizard doctor of a species known to regularly eat humans, a mystical roommate, and a handsome cook, whom Devi immediately wants to get in her bed. Fortune’s Pawn packs in believable friendships and a growing romance. Book one ends rather abruptly, so if you find yourself liking it, then get your hands on the rest of the trilogy, Honor’s Knight and Heaven’s Queen. Rachel Bach also writes fantasy under the name Rachel Aaron.

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Vahine

Vahine, 9.5" x 8" graphite on bristol

Vahine, 9.5″ x 8″ graphite on bristol

I found some amazingly evocative photographs by Francois Nars collected in his book Tahiti: Faery Lands and I couldn’t wait to try and draw one. You should hunt down the photos–they’re great.

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Posted in Art Tagged