Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

ICO: Castle in the Mist (2008)

Author:  Miyuki Miyabe  |  Translator:  Alexander O. Smith  |  Page Count: 370

'Whatever it was that dripped from the cage, it was blacker than pitch,
the colour of melted shadow.'

The story as presented in the ICO video game (2001) was purposefully vague.  It encouraged players to speculate about the backstory of the characters.  The act of filling in the blanks created a more personal experience, making us not just the protagonist but also the teller, the narrator of the story as it was being lived in real time.  Reading someone else's version of those events is interesting but when put into context it's simply fan-fiction.  Regardless, remember not to judge it for being different to your own interpretation.  If it all it did was recreate what was in your head then there’d be little point in reading it.

I was wholly ignorant of Miyuki Miyabe's reputation in Japan.  She has a huge catalogue of titles available.  Castle in the Mist is her seventh novel to be translated into English.  In all honesty I thought it was a first novel, period.  The stiffness of the dialogue and the formulaic spoon-feeding of conventions that make the majority of fantasy novels so bland is adhered to from the very first page.  The stiffness may in part be explained by it being a translation—there’s a definite lack of love and flair inherent in that aspect—so I can’t say with any certainty if a poetic sensibility is inherently absent from the work or just missing from the English language version.  I'm not able to read Japanese.

Things pick up a little when the story delves into Yorda’s past.  The author is more comfortable and thus more successful exploring things from a female perspective, which makes sense, but even then the story never dares to break away from a safety zone or a trite, established way of genre thinking.  It’s a typical fantasy about a Princess in a castle, a cruel, overbearing guardian that stifles her, and a male saviour with selflessness and innocence in his arsenal.

Kudos to the publisher, Haikasoru, for being brave and taking a chance on it.  The game didn't sell in huge numbers in the West so I can't imagine the target audience for the novel was projected as groundbreaking, but even so, they didn't opt for cheap paper to cut costs.  It's a beautifully presented book.

1½ misshapen shades out of 5

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