+1 to Joy is a way that I can share things that I really enjoy, a way of counting blessings in my life. This week, we are going to talk about a new book series I’ve been obsessed with over the past few weeks: the Yamada Monogatari series.
I grew up in a household where reading was something we all did, and my mother introduced me to fantasy novels at a pretty young age. By the time I was eight years old, I was gorging myself on Dragonlance, R.A. Salvatore’s Companions of the Hall, J.R.R. Tolkien, and just about anything else that was of the fantasy genre.
It wasn’t until much later in life I began to branch out, moving to fantasy’s slightly more realistic brother: Sci-Fi. I didn’t have much interest in realistic books, and still don’t to this day; I prefer my entertainment to be of the fantastical variety.
One of the podcasts I listen to is LeVar Burton Reads, and if that name sounds familiar to all you 30 somethings out there, it is because he was a Geordi Laforge on Star Trek. More importantly, he was the face of Reading Rainbow, a show that would encourage kids to read by sharing new children’s books every episode.
LeVar Burton Reads is essentially that, but more geared towards the adults that fondly remember Reading Rainbow. Each episode Mr. Burton presents a short story he loves, and reads it aloud to his subscribers. They run the gamut, though most lean towards Sci-Fi, and most of them are pretty good.
In the third episode, he read a short story by Richard Parks called Empty Places. It is a story of a skilled thief that is sent on a difficult mission by a wizard, one that is not at all what it might seem. I fell in love with the piece but constantly forgot to look further into the author of the short story. Recently, I finally remembered to search Amazon for his work, and I ran into the Yamada Monogatari series, also by Richard Parks.
I must confess, I love a lot of Japanese culture. Perhaps that makes me a bit of weeaboo, but I’ve always adored anime, video games, and more importantly the history of Japan. Of course, this began with the childish idea of what ninjas and samurai were, but it progressed as I aged into a full-blown obsession. It is one of my fondest wishes to one day visit Japan, and see that wonderful blend of futuristic technology and ancient tradition that seems to reside there.
So having what appeared to be a samurai on the cover–with amazing cover art I might add–intrigued me immediately. I didn’t even bother to read the synopsis past the general idea, something I almost never do; instead I just did a one-click buy and dove in. It wasn’t what I was expecting AT ALL, and yet it was so much more than I had imagined.
My understanding was basically that this was a series about a samurai fighting the Yokai and demons that make up Japanese lore. However, I soon came to find out I was mistaken, as the main character resides in Heian-era Japan, which was what is considered the Golden Age of Japan, before the rise of the Shogun and thus the samurai.
Instead, I found a series of books about a man named Yamada no Goji, a minor nobleman whose family has been disgraced. He is often called upon to solve issues of a supernatural nature, so he often plies his knowledge and detective skills to solve various hauntings and other such issues.
To break it down to its essentials for you: Goji is essentially an ancient Japanese Sherlock Holmes who happens to carry a sword, his Doctor Watson is a wayward monk named Kenji, and they travel the land solving supernatural mysteries.
Interested yet? Good, you should be.
I had somehow never read any sort of ancient Japanese folklore or stories before, and so this series was a breath of fresh air for me. It was so different from what I typically read that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it, and I consumed them with a veracity that is not common for me when it comes to books. The style that Mr. Parks employs is extremely evocative, without droning on about every detail. He sets scenes with remarkable ease, and his characters are so well embodied that you feel as if you personally know them by the time the stories are through. What is more impressive is the way he weaves these characters into historical events that did take place, while giving them new fantastical undertones thanks to the more supernatural angles.
It helps that the subject matter is so interesting because Japanese folklore is filled with so many ghosts, demons, and spirits that it is always thrilling to discover what manner of haunt the next mystery will be. The first book, Yamada Monogatari Demon Hunter, is a collection of short stories; each one connected by an overarching theme, but able to be enjoyed by themselves independently. Moon Viewing at Shijo Bridge is a particular favorite of mine, which condenses all of the most wonderful things about Park’s fiction as he weaves together mysteries expertly, with large reveals that would put Sherlock novels to the test.
If you’ve never read these books I highly recommend looking into them and then to go hunt down the rest of Richard Park’s bibliography. I’m currently working my way through his breadth of work, and though I feel Yamada Monogatari is a standout, I’ve been very happy with most everything I’ve read.
There you have it, one of the things that have made me happy. Any books you love, or discovered authors you would like to share that bring you happiness? Please share in the comments below, and if you would just like to discuss the books, I’m more than happy to get into them with you.
Have a great day!