AUTHOR: Nigel Sellars
PUBLISHER: Hydra Publications
APPROXIMATE LENGTH: 459 pages
Recommended for fans of Asian lore (especially Japanophiles) and epic high fantasies.
Although Ukishima is not a Western-style epic, it contains many of the same elements: an honorable hero, a land in peril, a powerful villain aligned with dark forces. Ukishima draws much of its inspiration from Japanese lore, and with its descriptions of the culture, has a touch of historical fiction.
This book takes the time to set up its rich and detailed world. It alternates between fast-paced battles and slower scenes depicting the world it takes place in. When the action does pick up, Sellars in relentless, throwing the hero into fight after fight against all kinds of adversaries, scarcely allowing him to take a breath before pitting him against another evil.
Third person limited. Ukishima is told from the point of view of Minamoto Ichiro and depicts his internal thoughts and ruminations as we follow him on his journey.
Plagued by cancer, Japanese pilot Minamoto Ichiro chooses to give his life for his country in a World War II kamikaze mission. Right before he goes down, the Japanese god of war, Hachiman, transports him to another dimension and tells him that he is needed. In a parallel world, one man’s demonic dealings threatens to spread evil through all realities and tear apart the fabric of the universe. Hachiman wants Ichiro to be the hero who will stop this evil and save not only that world, but all the others as well.
Ichiro accepts the mission and is transported to this parallel Japan—Nihon—in which magic roams free and Westerners have not yet arrived. Here, he is a samurai, a general of the young Emperor, and wielder of the legendary sword Kusinagi. With the help of a female ninja and a naïve young monk, Ichiro sets out to destroy the wicked Lord Taira, the man in league with the dark forces.
As a character, Ichiro is the epitome of honor, a man who gives up all sense of self to do his duty and right the world’s wrongs. Intelligent and contemplative, he’s the type of hero we all respect. He is both a deadly force of battle and a kindly mentor, a wise leader and a student of ancient teachings. He’s not perfect, of course, but the moments in which he seems to falter make his victories all the more triumphant. The other characters, unfortunately, are not as developed and often seem like the orchestral backing to Ichiro’s solo performance. He is an interesting protagonist to read about, and so it’s easy to forget about the others.
Ukishima is written in a rather old-fashioned style, bringing to mind the tone of ancient epic poems. Metaphors abound and Japanese terms are used freely, accompanied by brief definitions. At times these devices feel a little heavy-handed, but generally they add to the book’s atmosphere. Since the story is told from Ichiro’s point of view, the exoticism of this world is treated as the familiar, creating a wholly immersive reading experience. Through his rich writing, Sellars transports his readers to Nihon and takes them through palaces, towns, and monasteries, opening up every aspect of the world and inviting them to explore. He intertwines real elements from Japanese culture and monsters from their lore with his own vivid imagination, creating a world that is to Japan what Middle Earth is to Northwestern Europe.
One aspect of Ukishima that stands out is the exploration of the male and the female, or rather, the blend of the two. Hachiman tells Ichiro, “Male and female minds are within you, and you understand both their natures. You love both men and women with all your heart, yet you can hate them as passionately.” Ichiro admits in one scene that he was in love with his mentor and married the mentor’s daughter to be closer to him. The young monk accompanying Ichiro is clearly in love with him and resents the female ninja for her relationship with him. Toward the end, we are introduced to a spirit that is both male and female united, both mentally and physically. Ichiro’s acceptance of this dichotomy translates to a willingness to embrace both sides of other things as well. As Hachiman says, he is the perfect choice for this quest because he willingly accepted death, but still fights for life.
It’s elements like these that make Ukishima transcend its genre. In addition to being an epic adventure with lots of evil monsters to fight, it’s also a meditation on what it means to be a hero and an exploration of a faraway culture. Between the thrill of seeing Ichiro take down demonic beasts and undead warriors, we are shown a fascinating mythological world and different ways of thinking. All in all, it’s a unique and exciting read.
THE NITPICKY STUFF
This book would have benefited from a proofreader, but in spite of the errors, the meaning is always clear.
There are a handful of sex scenes in this book. The language is clean (no swear words). This book contains many violent battle scenes, some of which can be a bit gruesome.
After the author biography at the end, there is a glossary of Japanese terms, which may prove useful as several objects in the book are referred to by their Japanese names.
Nigel Sellars lives in Newport News, Virginia, where he is an associate professor of history at Christopher Newport University. He holds a doctorate in American history from the University of Oklahoma as well as degrees in psychology and journalism. In addition to Ukishima, he is also the author of a young adult novel, Chris and the Vampire (2010) and several short stories.
RELATED: An Interview with Nigel Sellars