Thursday, March 5, 2009
Obviously, I.J. Parker really cares about her subject. Island of Exiles is a meticulously researched and carefully crafted mystery novel set in 11th century Japan.
The Island of Exiles is a penal colony. The government sends a minor official, Sugawara Akitada, to solve the murder of the Second Prince, a disgraced noble who was once in line for the throne.
Even the style of the book itself seems to reflect something of the culture. For the first half it is a leisurely story where Akitada solves a minor crime. He catches someone who is thieving from an institution much like a government-run pawn shop which people use to get their crop-planting money.
Then when the book picks up, and pick up it does, it is filled with fighting, blood and gore. The society itself is saturated with violence wrapped in tradition. Society's careful rules define where people stand and how they are to act.
Even the geographical and physical descriptions give you the feeling that the author has been there. As a writer, I found myself thinking, "I wish I could write with the detail and craft I.J. Parker does." Then, of course, it occurred to me that I'm not I.J. Parker. I'm Joe Barone and Joe Barone brings himself, not I.J. Parker, to the things he writes.
The most striking thing about Island of Exiles was its underlying view of systemic evil. There's a character who thinks that if he kills someone by his own hand, he will suffer. But if he sets his armies off on people, if they kill hundreds, he has no moral culpability. The same goes for the people in his mines. If he abuses them and they die, he is still held harmless.
In one striking scene, he sits atop a hill on his beautiful white horse (at least I remember white) and watches his army try to gut the good guys. One way Akitada brings the man to justice is that Akitada forces him to fight for himself.
This is a different kind of book than I usually read. I picked it up because I've read some of the author's blogging.
I enjoyed the book with its intricate detail. The Second Prince and his male lover incorporated physical love into their religious worship. As a minister, that seemed truthful to me. Some things bridge religions and cultures.
The workings of the government pawn shop, the intrigue and jockeying for power, the way the people were so intertwined--all those things interested me. And the story's ending was a complete surprise.
I will read more I.J. Parker. She won't be my standard fare. Her books will be among the books I choose when I want to read something very different.
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