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Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: Voice Of The Mirror by John Paul Catton

Voice Of The Mirror is the second volume in the Sword, Mirror, Jewel trilogy. This time traveling adventure picks up shortly after the events of the first book. Here is the official synopsis from Excalibur Books: "Japanese-American teenager Reiko Bergman is hoping to get back to a normal life, after helping defeat the alien Kagetori in their attempt to steal one of the mysterious and unbelievably powerful Imperial Treasures of Japan.

Her hopes are dashed when the Nine Star Division, the branch of Japan’s police force that deals with otherwordly threats to the nation, inform Reiko she is involved in a Kagetori threat to sieze the second Imperial Treasure – the mystic mirror known as the Yata no Kagami. Not only that, Reiko learns of a secret two-hundred-year-old scroll relating the history of the mirror and its guardian; the half-Japanese warrior and shamaness known as … Reiko Bergman.

In a journey into the past to try to save the future, Reiko will experience mind-bending battles fighting the Kagetori alongside mythological creatures such as Tengu and Kitsune, but the strangest ally of all will be … herself.”

I really enjoyed the first volume and looked forward to this new entry. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. The book flips back and forth in time between Reiko Bergman in present day Tokyo and Reiko Furukawa of Edo-era Tokyo. Catton handled this quite well, making each chapter a separate point in time, and also keeping the same first-person POV in each chapter. Although both Reikos are the same person, each one has a distinct style of thinking and talking and this is reflected in the way Catton writes the chapters.

Even when the mirror characters from the two time periods meet near the end of the book, Catton deftly identifies each one and the reader is not left wondering which time-period version is talking. it could have been potentially confusing but I was able to keep track of everyone easily. Not a mean feat in a time-traveling story without strong visual cues such as those in movies.

The story is a little slow paced, mostly in Furukawa’s chapters. Things come together, however, near the end of the book and much of the earlier, slow-paced scenes make more sense. I would have liked to have seen more Ki usage from Reiko, since her and her friends basically became warriors at the end of Sword, perhaps a little more school life scenes as well. While Bergman is the main character, it feels a bit more like Furukawa’s book. I also wish Catton had described the established characters again; I had forgotten what they looked like.

The time travel and alternate worlds of the story are well done and interesting. Catton is also good at introducing bits of Japanese culture and mythology without slowing the story down or inserting too much of the author’s voice. The characters are well-crafted, especially a well-known Japanese artist (I don’t want to spoil the surprise) and the SF elements are great.

The trilogy so far feels very much like a manga or anime and is great at introducing Japanese culture to beginners. If you enjoyed the first book, this one is worth a read. It ups the stakes (and character count) and I wonder how the author will pull all these seemingly disparate elements together in the final book.

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