Hey! I am one of today’s stops on my friend Stephanie’s blog tour! Yay!
I signed up to write a review of the first two books in the Nogiku series, Removed and Released, and I’m going to–but it’s not going to be a very traditional review. Here’s the thing: I’ve read these books at least 2.5 times each, through various incarnations. I can’t really write a proper review. But I can tell you what I love about them.
Stephanie can build a world like almost no one else.
In any genre, but especially dystopic future-sci-fi-samurai-I don’t even know what-fiction, world is as important as any character in the book. The world is a character in these books. This short excerpt is very nicely representative of the incredible skill with which big ideas are related in simple, quick brush strokes:
Nishikyō itself is mostly devoid of charm and uniqueness, except for a few temples and theaters, but each building’s owner takes care to set their place apart from the blandness around it. It’s not surprising I would have walked past this place had Jiro not led me directly here. Its exterior is austere, simple.
Inside, they must have knocked out all of the existing structure and rebuilt it entirely from the floor up. The walls are papered a lovely shade of cream and lit softly from above. Real wood supports and beams are shellacked a deep, dark coffee brown. I place my hand on one, and it’s warm and organic. Nothing like the cool and precise composite material we use around the city to mimic the real thing.
The genkan has an area of cubbies for shoes and sets of washed slippers for guests. It’s cool in here as I thought it would be, but comfortable. Okiyas call private contractors to bring in more cooling units so the geisha can entertain in their silk kimono and not overheat. It’s something they can easily afford in this business.
A doorway opens off to the right and a young woman dressed in a lovely pink and green kimono comes out to greet us.
“Irasshaimase, Itō-sama! You’re expected. I hope you’re well.”
“I am, Shichi-san, and you?”
“I am well, thank you.”
“Shichi-san, this is another family guest, Sanaa.” He gestures to me, and I stand absolutely still. I’ve never been to an okiya and am not sure how polite or formal I’m supposed to be. When Jiro sees my frozen state, he puts his hand on the small of my back. He probably thinks this is going to have a calming effect on me, but now I’m fluttery instead.
Oops, a little romance sneaked in there. Oh yeah, these books are dead sexy. By the way.
Sexy-looking, too. Stephanie designed and did the layout for the books herself. The chapter headings are so gorgeous you will swoon.
She employs one of my favorite literary tricks, making her books semi-bilingual by introducing Japanese words and phrases in context (italicizing the first use) and then using them without further explanation throughout. A glossary is included at the end of the book, but the language is incorporated so well that you probably won’t need to reference it more than once or twice.
Steph’s writing background and training was in screenplays, and if you’ve read any screenplays (I’ve, uh, read a lot) you can tell in the way her plots unfold. She knows what she’s doing!
The stories unfold slowly in places, and the narrator, Sanaa, is difficult for me to relate to; she is frank and direct about her emotions, the writing walking the line of showing and telling, so that I sometimes feel a bit, er, removed from her. That said, while I don’t relate to her I am a bit in love with her, and all the other characters (especially Mark Sakai).
Warning: reading these books will make you desperately crave Japanese food and/or culture. Like wow.
Information about the books, along with Stephanie’s bio and a giveaway, below the cut.