In a place like no other, on an island in the shape of a tear drop, two sisters are born into a family of the oracle. Kamikuu, with creamy skin and almond eyes, is admired far and wide; Namima, small but headstrong, learns to live in her sister’s shadow.
On her sixth birthday, Kamikuu is presented with a feast of sea-serpent egg soup, sashimi and salted fish, and a string of pure pearls. Kamikuu has been chosen as the next Oracle, while Namima is shocked to discover she must serve the goddess of darkness.
So begins an adventure that will take Namima from her first experience of love to the darkness of the underworld. But what happens when she returns to the island for revenge?
~ Synopsis taken from goodreads
This book is part of an over-arching series called The Canongate Myths series. This is loosely termed a series, but each book can be read on its own and apart from the theme (retelling of ancient myths), the books have very little in common among each other.
This is the only book I have read in the Canongate Myths series, so I can’t really compare it’s quality to the other books.
What I can say though is for a Japanese myth retelling, this book is surprising light, easy to read and follow, and very approachable.
The basic story is about the conflict between Izanaki (the god of creation), and Izanami (the goddess of death). Their story is told through the eyes of Namima – a human girl who lives a very short and tragic life before she dies and lands up in Izanami’s palace in the underworld. As she serves Izanami, we learn through her the story of Izanami and Izanaki.
The book starts off with a running jump right into the thick of Namima’s story. These sections are very interesting. The life she leads on a remote island off the coast of Yamato (Japan) is disturbing and intriguing at the same time. The setting is sometime in the distant past, so there is no modern technology. It’s in fact a very primitive tribal culture that rules on that island. A very strict hierarchy prevails on the island and everyone has to tow the rules or suffer brutal punishment.
Namima, unfortunately steps beyond her boundaries and pays a terrible price for it. Her story and Izanami’s story then starts to mingle and we see the similarities and the differences between their story arcs.
Thoughts on this book:
This book starts off strong, really strong. I loved this book right up to the middle. Namima’s narrative is delightful and heartbreaking, and her story goes through a touching and surprising turn of events. Using Namima’s character, Kirino created a wonderful backdrop to a tragic story about the treatment of women and the overall unfairness of life.
Then the story switches focus to the conflict between Izanaki and Izanami and practically grinds to a halt.
You know what happens when one character is so beautifully written that even when the focus of the book is on someone else, there is this character who always sticks in the mind and makes her presence felt, and the book has to become all about her? Well, that’s the way with Namima. She’s awesome but she comes in the way of the actual main character Izanami (at least I think so).
When Izanami’s story comes into prominence, I felt a faint irritation, I really wanted to get back to Namima and maybe that’s why this book wasn’t a complete success for me.
That said, The Goddess Chronicle is still a very nice story, and the tale is a new insight into death, life and the delicate balance that exist between the two details of life. If you love or are curious about Japanese mythology, then this story is right up your alley.
Ending this review on a couple of minor spoilers. Don’t read if you haven’t read the book…
Warning: Minor spoilers ahead
- The differences between Namima and Izanami are the real standouts for me. For a goddess, Izanami seems remarkably spiteful and petty. Sure, what happened to her is terrible. But she sits and stews over it for thousands of years and wreaks vengeance on innocent people in her rage. She could easily have learnt a lesson or two from Namima who faces a far worse situation with much more grace and acceptance.
- Another aspect that I am ambivalent about is the feminist slant of the book. I adore books that tell stories from a woman’s perspective, but in this one, the feminist aspect felt a little off. I can’t really point a finger at exactly which point I stopped sympathizing with Izanami and actually felt that Izanaki’s plight was far worse. Actually, my problem is I abhor whiners and Izanami is an A class whiner :(. I did feel for Namima, and I liked her character and story arc all the way through.
And thanks to Penguin Random House for facilitating my Japanese literature reading challenge by giving me a copy of this book to read and review.