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How strait the sunless road

By Snuggle Squiggle, author of Endless Stars

Feb 25, 2019: If my review of Fuji were one word, it might be “straightford” or “eager”. No one likes to have their writing called “simple”, but one of the first things you notice about Fuji is that is doesn’t easily get bogged down or distracted. It knows what it wants to convey, and it gets right to it.

This isn’t necessarily a good thing, or a bad thing. Fuji seems to value the destination over the journey, but there are roses I wouldn’t mind stopping to smell where Fuji insistently pushes on.

Fuji is a action fantasy serial following one Kowereta Kenshi in a world inspired by Japan and Japanese mythos. The world is quite intriguing — without getting too deep into the weeds, there’s a conflict between the sun god and some demon creatures, and by the time the story kicks off, there’s no day anymore, the world locked in eternal twilight.

It’s a coal mine of a premise, but to the author’s credit or detriment, he doesn’t dig too deeply into the consequences of it. There is worldbuilding (it’s fantasy), but it hardly distracts from the plot or characters.

So how do those aspects hold up? The plot is lackluster. While it proceeds logically and hardly a chapter goes by without some development, at few or no points are you truly struck surprised by the developments. Kenshi’s motivation is weak and reactive for the first stretch of the story (though at the time of this writing, this has just changed; time will tell how it develops).

More crucially, stakes are not worrying. There are times in the story where you can be guinuinely concerned about how things will turn out for Kenshi, but it’s rarely strong and commonly absent. Fuji has the usual air of protagonist invulnerability, but misses the usual remedies — at the start of the story, there is little to nothing Kenshi cares about, and no one he has to lose in any sense.

However, it’s again worth stressing that the latest chapter (XIV) this is looking to change: Kenshi has a new sense of purpose, and has gained many allies he cares for.

Which calls up a discussion of theme, and it may put paid to my plot critique. I mentioned the literals, but what Fuji is really about is the story of a man disgraced and defeated regaining a sense of purpose and honor. It’s a theme that echoes in the story — Kenshi’s own musings on honor, a secondary antagonist who rants about his higher purpose, a naïve foil character who lacks Kenshi’s cynicisms, and of course, an influence character who condemns Kenshi on exactly these lines.

Really, when you look at Fuji through a thematic lens, the asserted plot “flaws” look almost designed — of course Kenshi lacks motivation, of course he has no one to care about — that’s the point of the story. Is it all a matter of taste?

Perhaps. I’m a firm believer in stylistic compensation. Hemmingway wrote stripped-down prose with little variation in diction or complexity, and that was good because it compensated in other, subtler ways, like with repetition or subtext. If you’re going to write a story with a plot that’s not quite viscerally engrossing, you compensate and sustain interest in other ways.

And Fuji does not wholly fail at this; Kenshi himself remains an enigma from beginning up till this latest update, and that curiosity, coupled with the interest of the setting and other characters, will keep you reading as the plot comes to its own.

What of those other characters, though? On the whole, they have yet to grow beyond familiar archetypes, but aren’t offensively generic. The side characters have appreciable chemistry with Kenshi, and really, those interactions are half of what keeps me reading Fuji.

But that’s tempered by the dialogue, which invites comparison the amateurness of fanfiction. Not that Fuji dialogue is that bad, but there is the same poor grasp of diction or voice that similarly gives it a subtle, awkward feeling. The characters all have a the same somewhat informal, almost stilted tone, even when it chafes against the impression of the character. Everyone sounds the same.

I’ve gone this far without mentioning the prose, but it belongs in the same breath as the dialogue. The prose like a half-unpolish stone glittering with hints of gems. It’s quite readable, but the occasional typo or strange usage remains for readers to trip on. Not enough to resist immersion though, and nothing a proofreader couldn’t solve.

Aside from the typos, the prose is largely plain with the odd bit of poetic flair or subtly beautiful line. I hesitate to call it good, but it’s above average.

Which, I think, is the story in itself. Not yet good but still above average, and certainly a good first serial.

Would I recommend people read it? Yes. Try out a few chapters (they’re short things), and see if anything speaks to you. It’s not yet a must read, but there’s always room for someone doing something a little different.

Fuji has a promising future ahead of it, and it’s worth settling in for the ride.

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