Kij Johnson


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

March 26, 2005

hen I saw Fudoki in the library, I had to read it - I have now read all the nominees for the 2004 World Fantasy award (see the list: World Fantasy Awards). So, I have completed something! Of the nominated books, Veniss Underground and The Etched City are excellent, clearly the two best fantasy books of 2004. I am surprised Veniss Underground didn't win. The Light Age is interesting, but a slow read. The winner of the award, Tooth and Claw, is simply awful. This book, Fudoki, is not awful, but it is not terribly interesting either. I give it two stars, meaning you can skip it without missing anything.

Fudoki is the story of cat in medevial Japan. An earthquake strikes, which causes a fire. All the other cats in her "fudoki" (clan) perish in the fire, the surviving cat has no one to share her stories. This loneliness causes the cat to wander off down the Tokadio road, where the road god will aid her with magic, and then the road god transforms the cat into a woman warrior with the name of Kagaya-hime. Kagaya-hime finds herself joining in with a band of woman (and their guards) returning to their estate. The men of the estate are plotting war against the Abe - and the cat warrior will join them.

Only half of the book is the tale of this changling cat woman. The other half of the book is about an elderly, dying woman who is the aunt of the Japanese emperor. This woman reminisces about events from her life. Unfortunately, these events do not add up to a tale, they are just random highlights from the woman's life. Further disappointment: the woman spends more time on her past than on the tale of the cat-woman as the story progresses. So rather than building suspense as the big battle nears, the story meanders off into digressions about events from long past. And a final flaw: the old woman repeatedly tells us that she has invented this tale of the cat-woman, that it is just a fiction she is writing in her notebooks. How can a reader willingly suspend disbelief when the author keeps reminding you that it is just pretend? The result is an rather bland story. The battle against the Abe is unexciting, the fate of Kagaya-hime is not stirring. If this book had gone on much longer, I probably would not have finished, but rather set it aside to look for more interesting reading material. A disappointment, this is not recommended.