A belated review for Tarō by Blue Spruell as part of the Loves Book Tour. I’ve always been interested in anything to do with Japan, and I love their folktales so I leapt at the chance to read this one.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Lost in the mists of Mount Fuji . . . but no one can escape destiny. . . .
Orphaned by a rival warlord and bewitched by a ghost, young Tarō must reclaim his birthright and find his destiny as the legendary boy samurai and hero of Japan.
Accompanied by Tanuki, his shape-shifting badger sidekick, Tarō embarks on a quest of self-discovery and revenge, falls for Kamehime, the teenage samurai daughter of a powerful warlord, and ultimately becomes embroiled in the political struggle for the imperial throne. Along the way, Tarō and his allies face fearsome yōkai, the ghosts, goblins, and ghouls of Japanese folklore.
Firstly I have to say that Tarō is a beautiful book to look at, from the colour combination on the cover to the layout and of course the wonderful, enchanting illustrations by Miyu Outlaw that are found throughout the book. The art captured the story and spirit of the setting perfectly, and more than once I found myself flicking back through to just appreciate the art. To the surprise of no one, I’m sure, I also loved that this book had a map and that it was done very much in a folktale style – it really is a very well put together book, that stayed true to that whimsical feel of a folktale.
This same attention to detail and cohesiveness is found throughout the entire book. The author has clearly done a lot of research, and there is a wonderfully detailed glossary at the back to make this book and tale accessible to people not familiar with Japanese or Japan, as well as a small number of footnotes. Just that level of commitment is fantastic, and you have to appreciate it. I did find myself a little distracted by the use of italics for words that are then referenced in the glossary, but I think that is more personal preference than anything and it was a good way of highlighting those aspects.
Spruell also does an excellent job of taking that research and dedication to detail, and paring it down, so that it bleeds through in the setting, character and story itself without overwhelming the tale that was being woven. The descriptions especially when it came to capturing the world and making it more than words on a page were beautiful, and it was so easy to imagine that you were there in the tale. Another element that really shone through was the fantastical elements, and really this was such a magical story – or that should be three stories, as Tarō weaves together three separate tales into a cohesive whole, and it works so well because of the approach that Spruell has taken and those fantastical elements.
The characters are well imagined, and Tarō makes for an interesting main character, although my heart was stolen by his companion Tanuki. Aside from our main characters, it would have been nice to spend more time with them and to witness their growth – personal and in terms of relationship, but at the same time, it could be said that Tarō was holding true to the essence of folktales because such things are often fleeting in those kinds of tales. Still, they felt as vivid as the world around them, and Spruell does an excellent job of investing you in Tarō’s tale.
There really is a lot to love about this book, and really the only thing that gives me pause was some of the writing. Not the pacing, because although it’s a little slow towards the start, it soon picked up and found its own rhythm, which as with so many things in Tarō fed into that folktale feel. But, there were a few places where it felt a little clunky, and there were some phrases that just pulled me out of the story completely. However, this was for the most part balanced by the evocation of the setting, era and feel of everything else that the author poured into this story, and it really was a delight to read. Tarō is really a love story to Japanese folklore, and I am glad that I picked it up and I think that anyone with an interest in Japan or folklore will enjoy this book.