Rating: 3 stars
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Tensen is a Shingami, a death god charged with collecting the souls of the fallen. He is ancient, powerful, cunning, and wise, and yet he finds himself ensnared by a demonic rafeet and trapped into a statue where he may watch as as an ornament in the manor the demon’s puppets inhabit. Nearly two decades pass in which, three times, he has asked for help from wandering Yuvine, mortals who, using their magic, hunt down and eradicate evil. And three times, he has been refused.
With no hope and less trust, Tensen cannot help but ask a fourth and final time as yet another Yuvine comes slipping through the woods. This time, however, his demand for help is answered.
Rakurai has been lead to this place in the forest where tortured animals hang from trees, where the air is thick with the miasma of pain and suffering. He expected to find a demon; he did not expect to find a god. Everyone knows no god is to be trusted. Their deals are always snares for the unwary. They are powerful and capricious, prone to whims, and bound by no human feelings of morality or honor. Even so, Rakurai can’t just stand there and do nothing.
What began as a hunt to kill a single demon ends up being a quest to redeem the Yuvine themselves from the petty corruptions of powerful men, dark magic, and the death of everything Rakurai thought he knew.
This is a story drawing heavily on Japanese mythology and culture for its world building, which gives the story a pleasantly non-western feel to its fantasy elements. And, indeed, the world building is the primary focus, with the various Yuvine clans, the manners and methods Rakurai uses to teach his son, and the politics of the various clan leaders. However, the development of the characters is somewhat less focused.
Tensen is a collector of souls. No matter who they are or how they died, he takes them all to his garden where he will tend them until they are ready for the next step in their journey. However, owing to the sudden increase in demonic attacks, Tensen has been taking up larger and larger collections of souls, which leaves him unable to defend himself. It’s part of why he got caught as a statue for eighteen years. Tensen will not — will never — sacrifice the souls in his charge; he will never fail them, even if it costs him. It’s why he needs Rakurai’s help. Too much of his power has been spent on the safety of the human souls he carries.
Rakurai is a pure and noble Yuvine who loved his wife, loves his son, and obeys the tenets of the Yuvine clan he serves. When he’s told, outright, to murder a woman for his clan leader, he refuses. Thinking no more of it, he’s quite surprised when assassins are sent after him. And he continues to be surprised by the attempts on his life. He’s also surprised by his sudden — almost instant — reaction to Tensen. Less than an hour into meeting the god, Rakurai’s already planing to seduce him in a nearby hot springs.
And that’s part of my problem with this book. The characters feel like old friends who enjoy fucking rather than two people who have just met. They don’t question the connection between them or why, with all the people these two ancient beings have met — Tensen is immortal and as old as death itself, Rakurai is around 500 years old — they’ve never felt such a deep, true, magical, and wonderful connection to anyone else. It’s not lust, it’s not a spark of liking or even rivalry. It’s love, true and steadfast love without any of the buildup.
I also had a hard time telling their voices apart, or, really, any of the characters. The sex scenes felt abrupt and out of place, and the plot went from drifty and sleepy to “aaah, so much blood!” with barely a paragraph between them. Personally, I can’t quite recommend this book. While I enjoyed the Asian mythological aspects and culture, I don’t think those small touches were enough to hold this book together.