Summary: "ISLAND OF THE OGRES", A REVIEW BY ULTRA MAGNUM
Comment: "Island of the Ogres", is a fictional novel by Lensey Namioka. Namioka was born in Beijing, China. Namioka attended Radcliffe College and University of California, Berkley. She now resides in Seattle, Washington. This novel, which was published in 1989, takes place in 16th century Japan. Namioka, in the jacket of the novel, claims that she wrote this novel for herself. Namioka says, "I wrote the kind of story I enjoy reading myself. Maybe I write these books because I never really grew up."
"Island of the Ogres" is a clear, well thought out, easy to read, good vs. evil story. However, it has many twists and turns along the way. The novel has everything in it to make it an enjoyable entertaining story to read. The novel is a story of legendary heroes, grotesque villians, and a love story. However, more than anything else, "Island of the Ogres", is a detective story. Throughout the entire novel we a constantly shown things and given clues as to what is "really" going on, on the island. Things that seemed rather unimportant and useless when they were first mentioned. However, at the end of the novel , those clues are clearly defined as the mystery of the island unravels. And then the reader realizes that those items were not trivial, they were key elements to the story that were well placed by Namioka.
The story begins with the Hero of the novel, Itoh Kajiro, on his way from mainland Japan to a small island, (the island has no name, it is simply called "the island"), a short distance away. Kajiro is a Ronin, an unemployed Samurai. Kajiro has been unemployed for so long his abilities and reflexes as a warrior have become slow, and he has taken up being an alcoholic as a hobby. However, for the first time in a long time he has found work. He is hired by the Chamberlain to the ruling family, on a short term basis, to go to the island and investigate the loyality of the Garrison Commander on the island. This is a secret mission and Kajiro is not allowed to divulge his true intentions of going to the island to anybody.
When Kajiro arrives on the island he is greeted by a viscious animal running at him. Kajiro pulls out his sword to defend himself against the animal. However, a girl of 17 comes out of nowhere and kicks Kajiro is the shins. She is yelling and screaming at him, he then realizes why, it is not a viscious animal at all but here pet, a very large strong housecat. The cat is named Raiko, after a famous 10th century warrior. Soon there is a great storm. Kajiro, the girl and the boatman that brought him to the island quickly seek shelter in the home of a friendly, local fisherman. The fisherman introduces himself to the boatman and to Kajiro. Then, due to a mistaken identity the boatman introduces Kajiro an Konishi Zenta, a legendary Samurai. Kajiro knowing that he is on a secret mission, decides to use the identity of Zenta to his advantage and plays along. The fisherman tells Kajiro, now using the name Zenta, the story of the ogres that are terrorizing the island. He tells Kajiro that there have been reports of missing dogs and chickens, all of which are said to have been taken by ogres.
Shortly there after there is a knock at the door. It is Gorobei, a high ranking officer on the island. He attempts to take the Kajiro and the boatman into immediate custody. The young girl steps out to confront the guards taking her, now friends, into custody. The girl is then identified as Lady Yuri, sister-in-law of the Garrison commander. Gorobei explains that all visitors must report immediately Garrison Mansion for questioning before they are allowed to remain on the island. He goes on to say that the former Daimyo, old lord and provincial ruler, has been exiled to the island by his son, the new Daimyo. Therefore in the interest of security all visitors must check into the Garrison for questioning.
Kajiro and the boatman go to the Garrison Mansion. They meet the island Commander, and his wife, Lady Sada. When Kajiro is introduced as Zenta, Lady Sada laughs at first, but then accepts him as Zenta. Due to their previous conversation in the fishermans' house Yuri tells her brother-in-law and sister that Zenta came to the island to stop the ogres that have been plauging the island for the past few weeks. Kajiro uses this cover story as a way of accomplishing his mission of observing the garrison commander and as a way to help the people at the same time. It is a chance for him to feel like a real Saurai again.
This was the setup for the rest of the novel. The remaing part of the story consists of Kajiro and lady Yuri building their relationship with each other. A plot to free and restore the former Daimyo to power. The secret of the mysterious guest of Lady Sada. The mystery behind the ogres. And what happens when the real Zenta is introduced.
I really enjoyed every aspect of this novel. This would be a great story for a small child to have read to them or for an adult just interested in a good book. The book keeps you guessing as to what is going on and makes you interested in the welfare of the characters. All and all, "Island of the Ogres" is one of the most entertaining books I have read in a long time.
Summary: Stunning - fresh, rarely explored feudal Japan setting
Comment: This is Lensey Namioka's first novel, and I think she's done anoutstanding job. The story is about a ronin, or unemployed samurai,sent to spy on the governor of an island. He finds himself caught in a case of mistaken identity - the locals believe him to be a samurai of legendary status - while discovering something very eerie going on nightly near an Abbey by the shore. A wilful girl, dangerous samurais, stealthy traitors, fat cats, and of course ogres also turn up in this enchantingly spun tale. I'd compare this book to a decadent chocolate - sweet, dense, and delightfully, ever-so-slightly dark. There's also a properly chilling element to it. All in all, it's a wonderfully original book, with many plot twists and complex character relations. Spectacular!