A dead girl walks the streets. She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago. And when a strange boy bearing stranger tattoos moves into the neighborhood so, she discovers, does something else. And soon both will be drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan. Because the boy has a terrifying secret – one that would just kill to get out.
Based on the original Japanese folk story of that inspired The Ring, this haunting version of Okiku’s afterlife, spent as a onryuu, is chilling in that you can see the depravity of the world from her eyes. A creature of vengeance, she evokes a bit of Jigoku Shoujo in that she was also a child when she was murdered, a soul so twisted by the violence of her death, that avenging other children who were murdered becomes her way of spending eternity. It is pretty gruesome, the manner in which she stalks and kills her targets, especially as she glimpses or indicates their crimes.
While going about her regular avenging duties, she finds Tarquin, a Japanese-American kid, who is himself a walking time bomb. When he is almost about to become a victim – the kind she avenges after death, she steps in to protect him from his demon. While it might seem from the blurb that these are the two main characters, also indicating a possible relationship developing, in reality, there is a third important character, Callie, who is Tark’s cousin and the person who Okiku sort of forms an uneasy bond with. While I also thought Sandra, the kid who could see spirits and sense their turmoil, would also have more to contribute, the story shifts to Japan, where we get the mythology behind it, and the showdown that changes Okiku’s purpose.
Okiku is naturally a very interesting character. Seemingly unconcerned with humans at the start of the book, she grows to be protective of Callie and Tark, firstly because she wanted to protect Tark as a kid, but afterwards because she realizes she can do much more than just hunt down child murderers. The writing, while vivid, is not as captivating as a true horror story should be – it was gruesome but not scary gruesome. (or maybe things like this don’t affect me anymore?) While the actual setting in Japan seemed quite realistic, the speech patterns of the mikos there reflected more Western speech than true Japanese speech, with some Japanese words being replaced – for instance, God help us with Kamis help us. Besides that, I liked the description of the rituals, the traditions and the overall mythology behind the story. Definitely worth a read!
Received a free galley from Sourcebooks Fire via Netgalley; this does not influence my opinions or review.