Guest Review by Melanie

Buy Link: The Ronin And The Fox
Author: Cornelia Grey
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Length: Novella

Rating: 3.75 stars

Following a dispute with his lord, samurai Hajime left his master’s realm to become ronin, a masterless samurai. As he journeys through one village, the innkeeper begs him to stay and help drive away a kitsune, or fox spirit, that is bedeviling the village. Lacking destination or purpose to his life, Hajime agrees to help. A seductive encounter with Katsura, a gorgeous young man in his room at the inn, leaves Hajime reeling and drained. Imagine Hajime’s surprise when upon capturing the kitsune, it turns out that the fox spirit is the same young man who seduced him that first night at the inn.

Being captured is the least of Katsura’s troubles. The pearl containing his soul has been stolen by an unscrupulous healer who has forced him to do his bidding. It is the yamabushi, or religious healer, not Katsura who is the real cause of the village’s problems.

Hajime feels sorry for the kitsune and is honorbound to help Katsura retrieve his soul and save the village from further harm. But their partnership is not without obstacles, including former samarai, spells, encounters with water spirits, and issues of trust. Will they obtain the pearl and save the village and Katsura? Or will the kitsune’s own nature bring disaster upon them both?

I will state right from the start that I liked the characters of Hajime and Katsura. Hajime is a person who, having achieved his goal of being a samurai, finds himself a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. He’s kind, a man of honor who doesn’t do well with authority and just wants to help people. Definitely not samurai material. Katsura is a long-lived kitsune but still retains his impulsiveness and folly of youth. It is due to his own stupidity and gluttony that his pearl was stolen. How can you not love a spirit who is his own worst enemy? They are the best part of this story.

I wish the author had taken her story and placed it in modern Japan. I would have loved to see how Katsura dealt with today’s Japan. Instead she set it in Shogun era Japan and this is where I found most of my problems with this novel.

First, the dialog and the phrasing.  Grey tries for dialog as it might have been spoken in feudal Japan, such as using the titles of “samurai dono” when the innkeeper is speaking to Hajime. This is an old form of “sir” not used today. But then the book also includes phrases such as “he was in his early twenties, “”I could have timed that better,”or Katsura saying being a fox spirit “has got to have it’s perks,” which bring the story to a jarring halt and dispel any idea that these are men/beings of antiquity. Further references to Katsura’s “alien gold eyes,””stroke of genius,””where on Earth,” and “throw his life away” left me reading in disbelief.  These words and phrases are modern and mostly Western in origin rather than feudal Japanese.

The author also tells us repeatedly that Katsura is wearing an orange yukata but never informs the reader that it is a summer kimono. Most people are aware of what a kimono looks like and had she used that term instead, it would have clarified what he was wearing. Yet, later on, Grey tells us that the healer is wearing “his tokin—a small black hat tied just above his forehead” showing a lack of continuity.

The Samurai era started about 646 C.E.and ends in 1868 with the Meiji Restoration. Japan was an isolationist society with layer upon layer of rules and rituals that governed society and its castes. Samurai followed a code of conduct called “bushido” which translates to the way of the warrior. It is honor, courage, and freedom from the fear of death. Yet, Hajime says he was “trying to be honorable and kind, as the bushido instructed”and that he “didn’t want to throw his life away.” *Shakes head* Well, no, bushido doesn’t instruct that.  In fact, bushido even demanded that sepukko or ritual death be committed in certain situations. So actually, yes, do throw that life away, bushido demands it.

Writing historical fiction, even one that has fantasy overtones, can be tricky, as mistakes with dialog, dates and culture are easily pinpointed and distract from the story. Grey had a wonderful novel here and she buried it under poor word choices, unintentionally funny dialog, and uneven editing. And that is such a shame. Hajime and Katsura deserve much better.

Cover. The cover is lush and portrays a scene in the book beautifully. I wish the book worked as well for me.