Set in Japan, it follows Harueme (a dying, unmarried noblewomen) as she prepares to leave the Emperor’s court to go into seclusion for her last days. While her attendant Shigeko continues with preparations, Harueme begins writing a story of a young cat who sets out on an adventure to the other side of the empire. This is a dual narrative; firstly following Harueme, and secondly following a cat turned warrior woman Kagaya-hime. As a cat she becomes taleless (you’ll get the spelling if you’ve read it) when a fire decimates the Imperial city and kills her family in the process. She no longer has her Fudoki (self,home, soul…) and so a small cat sets out on an extraordinary journey.
This is fantasy like I have never read before! It is such a unique book based on Japanese myth. I would really say that it is a mixture of historical fiction and fantasy, as we learn alot about 12th century Japan through the eyes of Harueme, but obviously there are elements of fantasy. It is such a seamless melding of the two genres, and it is very clear that the author did her research very well. The story is authentic, engaging and so enjoyable to read. The characters are just wonderful. Harueme is kind of heart-breaking. Shigeko is an amazing, strong secondary character who’s loyalty to Harueme is absolutely amazing – their subtle friendship is beautiful. Kagaya-hime is such an interesting character to read about. It is no wonder that Harueme created Kagaya-hime as a cat, due to their independent nature a cat is a perfect representation of what Harueme craves. Kagaya-hime is a strong, independent warrior woman who can fend for herself and even beat men at their own game. Things that Harueme was never able to do, because of the confines of her birth and the Emperor’s court – she mentions a few times that she is rarely out of earshot of her attendants. She is under constant scrutiny, and so she uses her cat turned warrior woman as a way to escape her confinement.
The writing is a joy to read. I was immediately drawn in with the writing and engaged with the plot – it usually takes me a little while to get drawn in by a new author, but with this I was engaged at the very start of the book. It has a slow, meditative pacing which very much suits the plot and the soft, lyrical writing style makes it seem like you are reading an authentic Japanese myth. It is beautifully written. The shifts between perspective is done extremely well, and I cannot say that I prefered one narrative over the other. Each storyline is engaging, and I enjoyed both of them equally. Overall I absolutely loved this book and would definitely recommend checking it out. It only has about 80 reviews on Goodreads, so more people need to read it! If you are interested in Japanese history, culture or myth, than I think that you will really enjoy this. Quick shoutout to Marisa (littlespider9 youtube channel and blog) for getting this amazing book on my radar. I am very excited to read more of her work.