As a disclaimer, I did not finish this book. I got about halfway through and then had to stop. What I am going to be talking about is the quality of the story that I read and especially the writing style. If there is a great climax, then wonderful! Also, if you like this story, more power to you. Personally, I did not find the story to be engaging or well written. But if you liked it, feel free to just skip this post.
Souji, by Moriah Jane.
The age of samurai is coming to a close.
As the emperor claims his new capital in Edo and brings his imperialists with him, the terminally ill Okita Souji must flee his home to seek solace from his elder sister, Kin. But as his health continues to decline and the reality that his way of life, the way of the samurai, has been lost forever settles in, Souji struggles to grasp meaning and purpose for the remainder of his frail existence.
Is there a life beyond the sword for Souji and if there is, can he lay down his katana forever?
First off, may I applaud this author on such a great, great back cover blurb. I mean wow. It sounds so interesting! I actually bought this book just because of the blurb. Souji sounded exactly like my cup of tea. This, right here, is a perfect example of good marketing.
A friend of mine posted the cover reveal, I read the blurb and thought it interesting, so I wasted no time in buying the book. I even skipped my usual read a review and the ‘Look Inside’ bit on Amazon. Marketing people, it pays off.
This book had so much potential, and it fell so, so flat.
First off, the book is written in third person present tense. An unusual choice. I have nothing against it. It can be done, and done well, but you have to be a pretty good writer to pull it off.
Unfortunately, this author could not pull it off. Many times over I was startled by the tense and completely pulled out of the story because I was convinced that she had switched tenses on me. Which is worse than doing one tense badly. I am glad she didn’t switch tenses! The tense felt unnatural to the story. I am saying this as a reader who doesn’t like being pulled out a story, and as a writer. It felt like the wrong tense for the book, especially since quite a bit of it was so introspective. I think it would have worked better if the book had been in the more traditional third person past tense.
I do not want to be told what the character is feeling. Please, please do not tell me that he is confused, or mad, or happy. Phrases like ‘he felt confused’, make me wince. Show me a wrinkled brow, or a clenched cup; that speaks volumes beyond simple words. The author did stay away from telling when describing the setting, good for her, but didn’t either know or care about staying away from it when discussing a persons emotions.
On to the characters themselves. I was actually very excited for the character of Souji. I hoped that he would be a complicated character dealing with life changing things. And he was dying, not something you see in fiction every day! (at least, not something I see every day)
Once again, he has potential, but the actual character fell flat in my opinion. Souji rarely even thinks about the fact that he doesn’t have long to live. There is not much struggle in his soul about the fact that really, his side is losing the war. A few bits here and there about how sad he feels does not cut it. If a samurai is who he has always been, and always wanted to be, the struggle to accept what is going on would take up every fiber of his being.
The struggle would make for some great inner tension as he starts to get to know the villagers. In fact, what if the lie he has to tell makes him feel terrible, like he is betraying who he is? Instead, it felt like a convenient plot device to create extra tension.
Also, I really have no idea what he wants. What is Souji’s goals in life? I know, I know, everything has changed on him and maybe he doesn’t have goals right now. So what were his goals before he got sick? What did he want more than anything? I am half way through the book and I still don’t know what his motivations are. Perhaps it comes later, but I do think motivations are something you should be able to pick up on pretty early on. Motivations endear characters to us more than anything else does. It pays to have them show up in the first chapter.
The other characters aren’t much better. While I appreciated the fact that the doctor lady doesn’t hate samurai, less drama later, I did not appreciate how perfect she is. Being a chatter box does not count as a character flaw, especially since it just endears her to Souji even more. All people have flaws, therefore all characters should have flaws.
Souji’s sister and her husband also came across as flat to me, though his sister was a bit better out of the two. They were interesting, and I think they could have been much more interesting, but they did not live up to what could have been. Personally, I did not think having his brother in law dislike samurai make him any more interesting. It just made him seem cliche. When he came on the scene I was like, ‘big surprise, he dislikes Souji’. I also really dislike that side plot, so it may be a ‘me not you’ thing.
Last thing and then I will go. The world is unclear. I know Souji’s side was losing, but I still don’t know why. The book does not explain overly much (if at all) why people like the emperor over the shogun. And what was Souji’s role in the war? There is one flashback scene, and it doesn’t tell me much. I would have loved more explanation about what is going on, and less tiny details about him looking off in the sunset or rubbing a mint leaf. Being halfway through the book and your reader still being confused about important things is a bad sign.
Honestly, I think this little book could have been very interesting. There was so much potential for interest and complexity. However, the writing of the book did not live up to my expectations. The characters could have used more work, as well as the writing itself. There were a couple sweet scenes, like Souji playing hide and seek with the kids, but for the most part I was disappointed. Maybe someday I will finish the book, but I don’t know.