When searching for a new Japanese novel to read, I decided to peruse through the Fantasy section of Booklive (one of my favorite E-book sites) to see what was available. A few of the books looked pretty cheesy, but one of the book’s title and cover art intrigued me: “Witch of the Library” (図書館の魔女) by Daisuke Takada (高田 大介). This was the first of a 4-book series, which normally I try avoid because of how long it takes me to read novels in Japanese, but I decided to try out the sample chapter on Booklive anyway.
Though the sample chapter left me with mixed feelings, it intrigued me enough to decide to go ahead and purchase the book and see how the story would continue. Roughly 5 weeks later, I finished reading the novel.
The story begins with a simple boy from a mountain village preparing to go on a journey to a far off place. The details as to why he is going are vague, but there is a good indication he may never return. We don’t know that much about him initially, except that he is very meticulous, strong, and has worked as a laborer doing things like working with charcoal kilns.
As typical with my reviews, I’m not going to give away much of the story away, but I don’t think it’s any secret that the “Witch of the Library” will be a major part of what unfolds.
The most interesting, and at the same time frustrating thing about this book was how much my interest waxed and waned greatly throughout it. There were parts that I though were so awesome, I found myself reading them out loud and even thinking about memorizing them–really though provoking and unique, written about from an angle I’ve not seen many writers attempt. On the other hand, some parts bore me to sleep, and my reading pace slowed as it my legs were stuck in some type of quagmire.
Speaking generally, there are a few key topics: books, sign language, politics, and civil engineering. Yes, I said civil engineering. I’ll let you guess which parts I enjoyed and which I didn’t (:
Besides the fact that I happened to be into certain topics, I feel that some of the plot twists were quite unexpected, to the extent that you were wondering if the author changed his mind midway through the book. However, since it’s a 4-book series, he has sufficient time to tie up the loose threads by the last installment (which was out this year, by the way). Having said that, I would have liked him to make the book stand a little better on it’s own (resolve some mysteries by the end), even though it’s part of a series.
In contrast to the mysterious plot twists, there is one thing that is pretty consistent about this book–the Japanese is very difficult, in terms of words you’ve never heard, and Kanji you never seen. While I still do not consider myself an expert in Japanese literature, I decided to do some research on how Japanese people felt about this book, and you can see my post here about it. The bottom line is that even some Japanese people have said this book has difficult words, and in one of the comments on the post I just referred to a Japanese person says that this book has some of the most difficult vocabulary of books he has seen published this century. Besides the words themselves, the grammatical style of this book is also quite advanced, tending to long sentences and very long paragraphs.
So, I can only recommend this book for very advanced readers, or people like me who have a sadistic streak of reading difficult Japanese books. Here is a short list of a few relatively difficult words (or Kanji) in the first view pages: 鼻緒, 蠟燭, 樫,一劃,按配,収斂,炭焼き窯,背負子,鍛冶屋,大八車,逞しい,懇願. Some of these have furigana reading hints, but many do not. If you do attempt to read this book, I’d recommend not trying to memorize the readings for each and every word, since that would take a long, long time. Just go for general understanding of what is going on.
Although the Japanese level is generally pretty difficult all the way through (except a few of the conversations), depending on your areas of expertise you may find things slower or faster going in certain areas. For me, the combination of difficult words and description-heavy style made me feel like many of the scenes were playing in slow motion, or “bullet time” if you may. If the scene is good, then all the better to savor it’s every moment. But if it’s not…
Despite my frustration with the story, I still have some interest in continuing onto the second book. However because of the difficult Japanese I think I will take a break, at least for now. If some of the mysteries laid out in the first book develop nicely and connect with various story points, it could become a great series overall.
I’m really glad I read this book, not just because of the good parts, but because I wanted more exposure to what Japanese “hard fantasy” is like. This is really the first book I’ve read in this genre, and both the language and story is very different from more popular literature authors like Murakami Haruki.
Around 80% through this book I suddenly had the realization that this book has many similarities to The Lord of The Rings series, including a description-heavy style and parts that sounds like a history book. Depending on your tastes, this may be a blessing or a curse.
As with most books I read these days, I was considering translating a small part of this book into English. If you might be interested in reading this, please like this post.
Update: I translated the first chapter of this into English here.