Tsuioku no Karasu: Abe Chisato

I have had this book sitting on my shelf for months now just so I could enjoy the anticipation of eventually reading it. My fingers would hover over it at length when I was selecting something new to read before moving on to pull something else from the shelf. I was dying to read it, but I also couldn’t bear to read it. Because if I read it, it would be over and then I would have no new Yatagarasu stories to look forward to. Yes, I am the kind of person whose reading speed slows to a crawl when I am nearing the end of a beloved book. I just can’t bear for it to end. I know I can always re-read all my true loves, but there is really nothing like your very first read of an incredible book, and that experience must be savoured. 

But the temptation of a new volume in the second series set in Abe’s fantastical world of Heain era crow people was too great to resist. Especially after the time jump and wild happenings (slavery!) of the first volume in this second series. In the last volume, Abe basically ripped apart Yamauchi, the world she spent six volumes building up. I needed to know how Yukiya became such a total jerk! And what happened to Masuho no Susuki! (Yes, she is my favourite, and yes, I would gladly read a spin-off series about her.)

Abe goes back to her roots in a lot of ways with this book. First is the time jump. Rather than picking up where she left off in Rakuen, she takes us all the way back to a few years after the monkey war after Nazukihiko has been officially crowned emperor and is trying to hold off the inevitable destruction of Yamauchi. He and his crew, led by staunch Yukiya, work tirelessly for the good of the people of the land (or so they tell themselves), even as they try to reconcile themselves to the fact that their world exists inside another, impossibly larger world. With only a daughter from his strong and foxy empress, Hamayu, there is a bit of a succession crisis, which nicely mirrors that of modern-day Japan. There’s nothing that says a girl can’t be emperor, but it’s never been done before and none of the noble families are particularly keen to try it out. 

We get to see what exactly happened in those intervening decades between Tamayorihime, the last book in the first series, and Rakuen. And this is the second place where Abe goes way back to the first book in the whole series with a straight-up murder mystery and serious imperial intrigue. While there has been court drama and mysterious machinations in the all of the books, it hasn’t been the focus since the first book, Karasu ni Hitoe wa Niawanai. But Abe makes up for lost murder mystery time by giving us the most doozy of all murder mysteries. I cried! And read for many pages in disbelief, convinced that it was all a trick, that the murdered would return through some clever connivance. But no, I had to grieve along with the characters as they tried to figure out who could’ve done such a terrible thing. And of course, the stakes are so very high because Yamauchi could cease to exist at literally any moment, thanks to the fact that it is a world imagined by a dying god. 

The final callback to the first book in the series is the heel turn of a beloved character. I don’t want to ruin this or any earlier books in the series by revealing plot twists, so I won’t say who or how, but there is villainy afoot! And conspiracies upon conspiracies! Seriously, this one goes so deep. Just page after page of reveal and betrayal! Some of my faves take serious hits, and the Yamauchi that I have known and loved is completely upended. By the end of the book, you totally understand why everyone is the way they are in Rakuen and also why things very much have to change. 

Abe of course sets the stage for that change in the final pages of this book, hinting at a revolution to come. And I am one hundred percent ready for the crows to rise up and throw off the shackles of their oppressors!

I was struck again, reading this volume, by how evocative Abe’s use of language is, her constant appeal to all of the reader’s senses to immerse us in the world she’s created. Her writing is so sensual: the feel of rain on tired bodies, the scent of flowers blooming in season, the slight bitter bite of warm saké. It’s just so good and perfect and all-encompassing. Clearly, I am extremely biased, but her writing is both very accessible and entirely her own style, which is a hard feat to pull off. 

Obviously, I am deeply invested in this series, given that this is the eighth book (not counting side stories) and I have loved all of them. But I’m still impressed with how Abe manages to constantly approach this world she has invented from new angles and give her readers reasons to care about the fates of its inhabitants. I feel like she could extend this series out to a hundred books and still give me new ideas and fresh ways to see this world. I’m only sad that I will have to wait for the next of those books. (My constant complaint!)

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