Book Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus

12 Mar

Supernatural clients, or supernatural opposition, or just looking for supernaturally powerful objects are the worst for Owl. There are supernatural entities hiding in the shadows of the world, and an archaeologist-turned-treasure-hunter who has crossed the dreaded IAA not only knows there are vampires and worse lurking around, she has no outside protection from them. Owl avoids supernatural entanglements in her treasure hunting and thievery whenever she can. She leaves that to her online roleplaying character to deal with. Of course, given that she is living on the run in a Winnebago, even that small pleasure is difficult for her to indulge in.

When a Dragon offers Owl a deal to get herself out of trouble with a French clan of vampires who are following her around the globe, desperate times call for desperate measures. However, the globe-trotting Owl is going tOwl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charisho have to deal with much more than a Dragon, or vampires, if she wants to find the object stolen millennia ago from the Dragon. This Dragon has a long grudge against thieves, true, something that Owl should keep in mind in working for Mr. Kurosawa as he sits in the middle of his titular casino, The Japanese Circus.

And just what *really* is the supernatural object that the Dragon wants back, anyway? And what is it for? And can even Owl’s cat Captain, attuned to hunting vampires, help her get out of this mess?

Owl and the Japanese Circus is the debut urban fantasy novel of Kristi Charish.

Owl’s story does mirror a modern day supernatural Indiana Jones. Or perhaps Indy’s rival Belloq, since Owl is an out and out thief, rather than getting objects to be put in a museum. The story is told in a snarky, chatty first person, giving us a deep view into Owl’s head and personality. And Owl is quite a character and a lens to see the world around. While this does necessarily limit us as readers, I was charmed by Owl’s personality and point of view. She’s extremely human, sometimes makes some boneheaded mistakes, and becomes a character to root for. Even through all that, however, the author makes it clear that she IS a working thief and not an altruist. The text balances all that very well indeed. In addition, Owl has a good character arc,  and is markedly changed by the experiences, as well as her past informing her present.

The secondary characters in the novel shine as well. From her employer and his staff − and it takes a special breed to work with a Dragon − to those that Owl tangles with, friends, former colleagues, and those she meets are all well drawn and interesting. Some of them have supernatural secrets, and not so much secrets, of their own as well. This plays very well with Owl’s major character trait of disliking supernatural entanglements wonderfully. I particularly liked Oricho, the bound servant of the Dragon. In many ways, he is as fully complicated and fleshed out as Owl is, with secrets, plans and goals of his own.

Those aforementioned supernatural elements, in their feel, do remind me somewhat of a World of Darkness sort of universe. There are a variety of supernatural creatures (although not quite as crowded as a World of Darkness universe). And while some of the names of the creatures are familiar, some of the aspects of the supernatural creatures have an interesting basis in rigor in terms of their abilities and what they can and cannot do.  The IAA, the International Archaeology Association who has a mess of dealings with the supernatural, and is intent on keeping it from the public, is a nice academic variant on the usual government and quasi government (e.g. Men in Black) associations and organizations which sometimes take that role in other urban fantasy stories.

Owl’s story is a light and fun read, and a sequel is already in the works. Although it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Owl survives her ordeals, I am looking forward to how Owl handles her rather changed circumstances and deals with being an employee rather than an independent operator.

You can learn more about Owl and the Japanese Circus, Kristi Charish, and her work in her Skiffy and Fanty podcast interview with Shaun and me.

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