Time and Again 1-3 by JiUn Yun: A-

It’s China during the Tang Dynasty. Exorcist Baek-On Ju travels with his bodyguard, Ho-Yeon Won, dealing with ghosts, crafting talismans for his customers, and advising on various mysterious phenomena. The series is primarily episodic but is nonetheless affecting, owing to the quality of the stories and the painful memories that unite Baek-On and Ho-Yeon in self-incriminating suffering.

Many of the stories are based on folk tales, and Yun’s useful end notes are careful to note their origins, if applicable. Most are dark and full of surprising, sinister twists that make them exciting to read, even if the protagonists of the series are largely absent. Sometimes, too, we are able to care about these guest characters a great deal in even a short amount of time—the best example is the final chapter in volume one, in which a guard valiantly defends the concubine he has come to love, sight unseen, against an invading horde.

I initially wondered whether Baek-On, who is seen consulting with a governor’s minion on ways to “get rid” of concubines, was somehow responsible for the outcome of that story, but in later volumes, his obsession with karma and his conviction that he will have to pay for certain of his actions in his next life leads me to believe that he would never want to add to his karmic burden in this way. Karma plays a large role in this series, not just for Baek-On, but for his customers, who are urged to consider how their present actions will affect them in their next life or who are doomed to repeat a tragic cycle of events because they are not willing to listen to his advice.

Baek-On’s refusal to forget tragic events for which he feels responsible is the reason Ho-Yeon, a skilled warrior weary of killing people, feels comfortable with him. At this point, it’s unclear exactly what happened, but it appears that Ho-Yeon left his younger sister unprotected and that, while he was away, she was killed. He wanted to die too, that day, but forces himself to keep living, never forgiving himself for what happened. No longer willing to fight the living, he instead fights spiritual foes at Baek-On’s side.

Both characters are complex—Baek-On enjoys playing the lighthearted fool, though his moments of desperate emotion expose the lie, and Ho-Yeon seems to be the quiet, thoughtful one but has endured more dark times than one would suppose—and their relationship is quite fascinating. Even though Ho-Yeon would seem to be in an employee’s role, it’s clear that Baek-On likes and needs him a great deal. The real depth of their friendship is not apparent in volume one, but by the third volume it’s been fleshed out quite nicely.

There are a few things that bug me about the series. It seems that Yun was still fine-tuning some ideas after the first few chapters were written, which causes some inconsistencies down the line. In volume three, for example, Baek-On will not allow a ghost to have her revenge. This is a little odd because, in the very first chapter, that’s exactly what he does, and takes his client’s money for arranging the situation, to boot. Does abetting a ghostly murder not damage one’s karma? Too, many of the female characters in the book look incredibly similar, and the position of Ho-Yeon’s neck and face in a color illustration in volume two seems anatomically impossible.

Sometimes with an episodic series, I continue to read it because I like the characters. I certainly do like these characters and want to read more about them, but Time and Again is a welcome rarity in which the stories themselves are also a major draw. I’m sad that I have to wait until November for volume four!

Time and Again is published in English by Yen Press; three volumes have been released so far. The series is complete in Korea with a total of six volumes.

Review copies for volumes one and three provided by the publisher.

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  1. […] Time and Again has gotten quite a bit of attention this past week, beginning with the recent Off the Shelf column, in which Michelle Smith and I discuss the series’ first volume. Michelle later makes good on her promise to review volumes 1-3 at Soliloquy in Blue. […]

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