Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe: B

Book description:
Young Wataru Mitani’s life is a mess. His father has abandoned him, and his mother has been hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Desperately he searches for some way to change his life—a way to alter his fate.

To achieve his goal, he must navigate the magical world of Vision, a land filled with creatures both fierce and friendly. And to complicate matters, he must outwit a merciless rival from the real world.

Wataru’s ultimate destination is the Tower of Destiny where a goddess of fate awaits. Only when he has finished his journey and collected five elusive gemstones will he possess the Demon’s Bane—the key that will unlock the future.

Charity, bravery, faith, grace, and the power of darkness and light: these are the provinces of each gemstone. Brought together, they have the immeasurable power to bring Wataru’s family back together again.

It took me ages to finish Brave Story. Sure, it’s quite long, but the real issue is the occasionally aimless nature of the story. Ostensibly, this is the tale of a boy who ventures into a fantastic land to change his destiny. This venturing doesn’t occur until page 226. Before that we get the rambling tale of Wataru’s family and how his dad wants a divorce because he’s fallen in love with another woman. It’s not irrelevant stuff, but it’s told in a rather disorganized fashion. Editing would’ve helped a great deal.

Once Wataru enters Vision, the story picks up a bit, but it never fully escapes its meandering ways. The fantasy elements are interesting, and I’m always fond of political struggles in fantasy novels, but the characters are pretty flat. They can all be summed up in one or two words. There’s Kee Keema, a big lizardy guy, who’s friendly and devout. Meena, the cat-girl, who’s friendly and agile. Kutz, the Highlander (kind of a cop), who’s tough and buxom. They really never develop beyond these roles.

There are also some loose ends. At the beginning of the story, Wataru and his mom keep receiving phone calls where nobody speaks. I’m guessing the “other woman” is the culprit, but the mystery is never resolved. Another time, Wataru is given a task by someone, goes off to perform it, does something bad instead, and doesn’t return to the town. Wouldn’t that person wonder where he’d gone, go to check on him, find out what he’d done, and issue some kind of search?

Lastly, the book has some kind of strange soporific power, as I dozed off while reading it on at least five separate occasions.

For all these faults, though, it really isn’t bad. It’s kind of like a shounen anime, where some of the episodes are rather pointless filler, but it eventually pays off with something cool. I’m just not sure I’d recommend for someone else to slog through 816 pages for that sort of experience.

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