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By T. E. Waters, member

Nov 6, 2010: I loved this story (not least because I adore snakes, but ahem). I loved it so much, in fact, that I zipped through the entire thing in one night—which is saying something, considering the length—and feel strongly enough about it to leave my first review here.

That said, I very nearly did not get past the first episode.

But let’s start with what I liked first.

  • The authenticity. Character, setting, voice—the entire story is immersed in cultural authenticity that is conveyed in a natural, organic manner. Which is a feat not many English language writers ever manage to pull off. Both the modern aspects as well as the traditional Shinto elements are rendered believably. It was, in fact, that sense of realism in the scenes depicting the heroine’s daily life that first caught my attention and convinced me to read on, rather than the hint of supernatural.

  • The characters. Tying into my point above—Akiko is a very well-realized and culturally grounded heroine. She is indeed a very flawed individual, but never unsympathetic, and I found the character arc she undergoes quite stunning while never losing its believability. All the characters in the cast, in fact, come across as living, breathing humans who are products of their culture and yet never shallow stereotypes. I enjoyed in particular the quiet ambiguity of both the various human antagonists as well as the nonhuman elements.

I love also that this is very much a story about women. A very colorful cast of women, I might add! It is really the women who drive the rather unusual plot, in which there are no grand villains to be toppled and no epic battles between good and evil (though there are certainly epic showdowns).

  • The descriptive prose. The passages describing the spiritual/metaphorical decay and pollution are filled with visceral imagery that is genuinely creepy and disgusting; there are also passages that are heartachingly beautiful, and sometimes even downright thrilling.

The story did have its flaws though, mostly in terms of pacing. In particular, I feel it could have benefited from a lot of condensing and tightening in some places. I’m not someone who minds slower-paced stories, but some passages did seem to me a bit repetitive or dragged out without necessarily adding to the atmosphere, as I suspect they were intended to. Some of this may have been an unfortunate effect of the serial format though, especially coming to this as someone discovering the story almost a year after all the parts have been posted.

For example, as mentioned, I very nearly gave up on reading after skimming through the first episode. It was well written, but I was bored. (I actually closed the tab before changing my mind about an hour later and deciding to give it another chance, to maybe skim a bit further and see if the story picked up a bit, because the prose possessed a sort of quiet confidence to it—it was clear and succinct as opposed to convoluted and purple, which always makes me more favorably inclined towards a story.) The exact point I really started paying attention was the installment entitled "Akiko at Work" in the second episode. Not the most exciting scene, perhaps, but that was the point I first started getting a better sense of Akiko as a character. And that gave me an emotional connection to latch onto.

The other thing is not exactly a flaw, per se: the main plot and most of the primary subplots are resolved in a very satisfying manner, but there were a few minor threads that were left dangling very conspicuously, even with the epilogue. Some I minded less than others. I didn’t mind the continuing ambiguity regarding motive and causality, as the story for me isn’t the kind that necessarily requires that kind of in depth explanation. I was a bit more bothered by two or three minor characters who seemed to drop in and out of the story and whose implied issues did not feel entirely resolved—one of them in particular seemed only tenuously connected to the main plot—but again, it’s not something I would consider a flaw. I can see where there is potential for a sequel, in other words, but the tale stands perfectly well on its own.

Ultimately, I do highly recommend this story. It’s a lovely gem of a tale, and I’m glad I stuck with it despite my initial doubts, because it was definitely more than worth it.

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