Tag Archives: A Song of Ice and Fire

The Re-Reading Project: Dragon Sword and Wind Child

In her dream, Saya was always six years old. Long fingers of flame rose up against the darkness, lighting the sky above. Fire blazed spiteful and triumphant above what she had once thought most secure–her home, that safe, warm refuge that she was so sure would always be there. The glowing hearth; the single room in which her family lived permeated with the smells of cooking and familiar people; her own wooden bowl; her mother’s soft, plump lap covered in rough-woven cloth–all were consumed by the flames. The child Saya had somehow managed to find her way to the marsh at the edge of the village, but with no one there to lead her by the hand, she could go no farther. Crouched in a clump of dying reeds, she trembled with terror, choking down the hard lump of fear in her throat, unable even to cry.

I’m not sure how old I was when I first read Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara. I know it was before I started keeping my reading record at age 13, because the first time this book appears on the record is in 2004 when I re-read it while staying with my parents, at age 22. While I don’t know how old I was when I first read it, I do know that I discovered this book at the Cobb County Public Library, at what is now the main branch, what was at the time the massive new building that replaced my beloved little library in the town square where the children’s books were housed in an attic alcove you had to climb several staircases to get to. Judging by the comments on Goodreads and also on Tales of Magatama, a fan blog, my experience with Dragon Sword and Wind Child is not unique. Many of the comments reference chancing upon the book at the library as a child, as I did.

The original cover is striking and I imagine that it’s what first drew my attention, all those years ago. Translated into English by Cathy Hirano, the book is a retelling of a Japanese creation myth, a story that centers around fifteen year old Saya. While it contains a lot of the familiar tropes and imagery common to mythic tales, it was a mythology completely foreign to me. Though it’s told in the relatively flat tone also common to mythology, it resonated personally with me. The familiar comforted me and the foreign thrilled me. A lot of it would’ve sailed over my head on my first reading, but I always remembered it as a favorite book.

dragon sword and wind childFor many years, copies of the English translation were almost impossible to find, selling for over $100 online. When I wanted to re-read it ten years ago, I discovered that the Cobb County library still had the same copy I read as a child. In 2007, it was released in a new paperback edition with new cover art. While I think the new cover is beautiful, it doesn’t really strike me as relevant to the story as the original.

new dragon sword and wind childThe book never felt open-ended to me, so I was surprised to learn that it was the first in a trilogy, Tales of the Magatama or The Jade Trilogy. The English version of the second book was released in 2011 as Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince, but I haven’t read it yet. I’m curious, but reluctant, too. So far, the third book hasn’t been published in English and I think this is part of what makes me hesitate to read the second book.

By chance, I was visiting my parents at the beginning of February, when I planned to re-read Dragon Sword and Wind Child, so even though I own a copy of the reprint, I decided to check out the original from the Cobb County library and compare them side by side. Unfortunately, I learned that the book had been officially discarded from the library system. Because I’ve been volunteering with my local library, dealing with discards for the book sales, I can understand why this happened, why it was probably necessary, and yet I have to say I was emotional about it regardless. It probably happened shortly after the 2007 reprint. The original hardcover was no longer as valuable and probably had suffered a significant amount of wear over the years. Probably the new cover appeals to today’s children and teenagers more because it looks very manga-like.

Unable to compare the two copies, I dove into my copy of the reprint, which nicely contains an Afterward written by Ogiwara in 2005. It was a weird experience, something like recovering memories after amnesia, I imagine. As I read, I would remember characters and elements of the story right as or right before they were revealed. As an adult, I felt impatience with Saya that I probably didn’t feel as a child. She’s very passive, in fact it’s an integral part of her character: it’s her job to “still” the dragon sword. She’s surrounded by people who know more about the eternal battle between the Light and the Darkness than she does and she constantly looks to them for answers and protection. I had to remind myself that this is true of most children—they have less information than the others around them, they look to others for guidance and they have to make mistakes in order to learn.

One thing that I very much enjoyed about the story, and I’m sure this drew me as a child too, is that the standard Western tropes are often reversed. If there is a “bad guy,” it’s the side of Light, not Darkness (though the Western standard of male = sun and female = moon analogy is present here). Princess Teruhi is the more fierce of the two twin children of the God of Light. Her brother, Prince Tsukishiro, is the more conciliatory of them. There is a hint of the maiden-mother-crone triumvirate at work in the story and (SPOILER!) they all die.

Someone with an expertise in Japanese mythology and literature, as well as world mythology, could probably write a book about Dragon Sword and Wind Child’s place within Japanese literature and the larger mythological canon. I’d love for there to be an annotated edition of the trilogy for Western readers one day – that would be simply incredible. In the meantime, what I know is that Dragon Sword and Wind Child, being the complex and beautiful book that it is, finding me when it did, helped influence my love of fantasy and myth. It’s a big reason why I love books that unite fantasy and mythology, books like George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, The Neverending Story, Kai Meyer’s books, Ronlyn Domingue’s Keeper of Tales trilogy and at least one book I’ll re-read later this year. Dragon Sword and Wind Child remains a beloved book from my childhood.

1 Comment

Filed under books, literature, pop culture, The Re-Reading Project, what I'm reading

2013 Q1 Reading Report

Another year, another batch of books. Already, 2013’s reading has been spectacular.

January

Long After Midnight At the Nino Bien, Brian Winter – This one was recommended to me by a tango friend last year. I struggled to get interested in it for the first section or so, but once I did, it was a really quick read, amusing and informative. It’s the story of Winter’s time in Buenos Aires, learning tango and getting enmeshed in community there, and has a lot of political and tango music history. Sadly, I just heard through my own tango community that the Nino Bien may have closed recently.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green – I’ve loved John Green since I read An Abundance of Katherines in 2007. I’ll admit I was a bit put off by the grim subject matter of this book, but I knew it would be lovely in his hands. And it was. He writes about misfits so wonderfully and it makes sense that he’s so embraced in a world of Glee and It Gets Better because he’s been a voice telling teens to let their freak flags fly for a long time. I was already adult-ish when I first read him and I still appreciated the message. Anyways, this is one of those books that sticks with you long after you read it and you find yourself recalling it at odd, perfect moments.

Visions of Sugar Plums and Eleven on Top, Janet Evanovich – These books do not stick with you after you read them. I’d be hard pressed to tell you any specific thoughts about them a few hours after I finish them, but they are entertaining and distracting as you read. Evanovich has created a fun character, which is no mean feat, but the rest is fluff.

The Lost Heir, E.G. Foley – I won a signed copy of one of Gaelen Foley’s books, so I asked her to send me this one, a middle readers book she wrote with her husband. I already had a copy, which I gave to a friend’s son and we read the book together, talking frequently about the characters and the story. It was a really fun experience and we both loved the characters and the twists the story took. It’s a steampunk adventure in Victorian England, complete with magic and fantasy creatures and demented villains. Fans of the Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson Peter books will love this series, which continues with Jake and the Giant.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn – I mostly picked this one up out of curiosity, to see what all the hype was about and then I was just sucked breathlessly under the surface of the story and I didn’t come up again till I was done. I’ve rarely read such a brave, smart book that messed with my head as much. Maybe never. It was a phenomenal exercise in perspective and psychology.

February

A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin – Okay, okay, I’m sure you’re tired of me reading books because I like their t.v./movie counterparts, but it’s not something that’s gonna stop anytime soon. Friends of mine have been telling me to read these books for more than a decade, but I just never thought I’d get into them. Same with the HBO show. I must’ve checked the first season out from the library three times before I finally watched it. But then I was obsessed with seeing every minute of the second season, counting down to the third and reading all the books. Talk about an exercise in perspective. Epic is the only word and it hardly seems enough. I read the first book in about a week and would’ve read it faster if I hadn’t had to sleep or work.

I Saw You…Comics Inspired by Real Life Missed Connections, ed. Julia Wertz – This book has comic artists illustrating selected missed connections ads. I saw through a Goodreads update that a friend was reading it and was intrigued. It’s a mixed bag. Some of them are very poignant and well-executed and some are less so, but the book is definitely worth checking out.

Twelve Sharp and Plum Lovin’, Janet Evanovich – I think I’m only reading these books at this point because I hate leaving stories unfinished. I like to know what happens. Plus, I had a loan request for the next Song of Ice and Fire book and then ordered it online and it was taking forever for me to get a copy, for some reason. Had to read something.

A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin – Finally! I got my hands on this book. One of the things that most impresses me about the series is how well-developed the characters are, how thrilling it is to see the story from so many varied and contradictory perspectives. Everyone’s a villain and everyone’s a hero. The political intrigue and maneuvering is absolutely incredible. This one took me only about a week to consume as well.

March

Girl Land, Caitlin Flanagan – This is a hard book to define. A treatise (with an agenda) on the nebulous period of time between girlhood and womanhood, with research about proms and diaries of old, as well as pop culture references (but none past 1980), and a bit of a memoir aspect as Flanagan relates her own experiences. The book was fascinating, though I thought it was less successful when Flanagan started preaching to parents of modern girls at the end, making some good points, but very deluded about modern social communication and how to help girls kids interact with it. Also, she blithely says she’s the mother of boys and doesn’t have to worry about much of the danger she’s outlined, missing the significant point that parents have as much to teach boys about Girl Land, this period of female development she’s defined, as they do girls. Boys need to learn the lessons of respect for others and critical thought as much as girls do. What will change if we teach half our population something that we neglect to teach the other half? This is the same basic point Caitlin Moran missed when she defined ‘feminist’ in How to Be a Woman and left out men in her definition. Still, I’ve referenced both books constantly in conversation since I’ve read them. Here’s one review that says a lot of what I think better.

A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin – One of my friends, a huge GRRM fan, called this the “WTF?” book when I told her I’d started it and that is pretty much the best summary I can imagine. This book is wild and everything you assume will happen doesn’t and things you’d never imagine happening do. This is also the book that the current HBO season is based on, so I’m excited about what’s to come, while dreading a bunch of it as well.

The Devil in Her Way, Bill Loehfelm – My review of this one will be forthcoming, is out in 225 Magazine. Meanwhile, you can buy a copy and get the author to sign it at Garden District Book Shop April 30th, at Maple Street Book Shop May 14th and at Octavia Books May 21st.

This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz – Junot’s brilliant. These stories were quick little literary snacks, evocative and powerful and weird. But they ring true, as everything I’ve ever read by him does, and they feel so personal you have to call him “Junot,” as if you know him, like you’ve just had a really long conversation with him.

Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys – I read a bunch of write-ups about this one, especially in Entertainment Weekly, and despite the glowing review, I was thinking it was going to seriously suck. There’s a something about seedy historical New Orleans that intrigues people, so much so that it becomes almost fetishized. But I was pre-judging the book based on two things: the author doesn’t live in New Orleans and the title refers to the city as “the Easy.” The book, in reality, is wonderful. I love that it’s a YA title, but talks frankly about sex and crime in its historical setting. I’m not promoting gratuitous sex and violence in any medium or setting, but I absolutely appreciated that the book doesn’t condescend to its readers or cater to the group of YA-censors who do condescend to teen readers. Sepetys had a story to tell and she told it. Pretty freaking well.

Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel – A member of my writing group recommended Bechdel’s Fun Home, which is called a tragicomic and blew my mind when I read it last year. So, I was completely on board when I heard she had a new book out, this one a comic drama about her mother and psychotherapy. On paper, Bechdel and I have completely different biographies, yet I felt like she had already written my memoir. If that makes sense. Or, at least, she’d already done the psychology research for my memoir. But perhaps that’s the power of her narrative ability, matched with her visual artist instincts. Her books make you live in them until they are your stories, too.

Requiem, Lauren Oliver – This is the last book in the Delirium series, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating. Or is it the last book? It really didn’t feel like it. I liked that the book alternated between perspectives, between Lena and Hana, and I liked that we got a bit of Alex’s perspective in a separate short story. But. But, the story did not feel complete when the book was finished. I ran out of text, but I still had so many questions. I don’t need everything resolved and I didn’t even necessarily [SPOILER! STOP! SPOILER!] need the romance to be resolved cleanly, but Oliver has built this world and has given us no idea where it’s going after she stops writing about it. We need another book.

So I know my reviews aren’t strictly reviews in the traditional sense. They’re random thoughts about why I decide to read books and what I think of them after I’ve read them. Sometimes, I’m grumpy when I write them and maybe a bit rude (sorry, Janet Evanovich and Iris Johansen) and sometimes I’m still a little euphoric and obsessed (too many examples to name one). But, I think they say something about the person reading them, where I’m at at a given time or moment and the world around me as I’m reading. I hope you find that interesting. I love talking books, so feel free to share your thoughts too, even–especially–if you disagree with me. I find that interesting.

2 Comments

Filed under books, Quarterly Reading Report, what I'm reading