Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones

This review was originally posted on my other blog, The Children's War, but since I have just reread the new paperback edition, I thought I would share it here as well.

After his father suddenly dies, Evan Griffin, 16, discovers that he had been reading a book written by a Japanese soldier named Isamu Ōshiro, who found himself stranded on a small island in the Pacific during World War II. The book is a memoir of his life on the island, which he called Kokoro-Jima, and is addressed to his new bride, Hisako back in Saipan. But Evan also discovers a letter to his dad from a man named Leonardo Kraft that seems to connect his estranged grandfather, Griff, a career Marine, to the events that are in the book.

Curious, Evan begins to read Ōshiro's memoir one night when he gets a phone call from his grandfather that he will be at the house for a little while - arriving a week earlier than Evan had expected him. But why? Clearly, it has something to do with Ōshiro's story. But what?

Isamu's story, framed by Evan's story, is riveting. He describes his arrival on Kokorro Jima, what he does to survive despite being severely injured, but he also writes about something else. There are ghostly children on the island who hover close by him, and who Isamu calls his ghostly family. Soon, however, he begins to notice that there are also zombie-like ghoulish creatures, which he calls jikininki and who feed off the dead.

It is the jikininki who lead Isamu to a crashed cargo plane and the two dean pilots. Isamu realizes there is a missing person, the navigator, and eventually he find Derwood Kraft on the beach, seriously injured and who seems to have his own ghost family of children. But along with this gaijin (foreigner), Isamu also discovers Tengu, a monstrous black creature about to attack the American.

That pretty much sets the stage for this incredibly well-written, well-developed, wonderfully crafted novel. At the heart of the story is the mystery of what happened to Isamu and why this is connected to Evan's grandfather. But Tim Wynne-Jones keeps the mystery going without even a hint of what happens until the very end, and getting there is never dull or boring.

As far as I'm concerned, The Emperor of Any Place is definitely top-drawer fantasy, and yes, it is also very graphically detailed. The novel switches between the present and past seamlessly, and Wynne-Jones throws in some seemingly unimportant scenes that only serve to deliciously increase the mood and tension. I'm not much of a zombie fan, but I was totally drawn to this novel and hated to put it down when I had to do something else.

But there is something else that Wynne-Jones wants us to take away beside a great story and that is how tenuously connected the lines between war and peace, friends and enemies, love and hate are and how they impact past to present, generation to generation. As Griff explains to Evan, "[war] ends and then it starts again, and the end of one war inevitably grows out of the war that came before it."

The Emperor of Any Place is one of those novels that took me totally by surprise when I read it and, I have to confess, that reading this novel again was just as pleasurable as the first time.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Candlewick Press

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