Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published books from unknown debut authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday and Thursday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.
Today’s entry is meatier than my own gams after the holidays. The Wyvern and the Wolf: A Tale of the Twelve Foot Ninja by Nicholas Snelling is over fifteen hundred pages long. I’d rather share a cross-town express with a freestyle jazz band than drag my eyeballs across that many pages, so we will be doing this a little differently. I’m going to read a random page from each chapter, and let you know what I imagine is happening in the story. I don’t think it will be too much of a spoiler, because I don’t expect to know what’s going on most of the time. Here goes.
There’s been some sort of calamity that ended the civilization we know and replaced it with random Japanese words. Some Mad Max villains show up, but they’re ronin samurai, and impose upon the peaceful villagers for supplies, entertainment, and passage through the blasted wastes. Then things get worse somehow, presumably to kick start the plot. What happens I don’t know and will probably never know, since that was on another page. But the title of the chapter is “The Rift,” so I’m going to assume there is a Doctor Who-style rip in space-time in the middle of someone’s outhouse. Some lady covered in burns is getting scratched in the face by skeletons because a daimyo did something, or somebody stole her children, I couldn’t tell you without actually reading the book as intended, which again, subway car, freestyle jazz. Next we pick up with brothers Keiichi and Kiyoshi, their father the daimyo Jensu, and some general named Hidetado who has a steampunk eyeball. We know it’s steampunk because it has cogs for some reason, and its description includes the word concertina as a verb. All we’re missing is something coruscating and emitting a hiss of vapor from a compressor. A citadel in the fertile south spits out fancy ladies, including one named Nayina, who is hot and I guess married to the daimyo. Like Jensu, Nayina is another name that kind of sounds like Japanese but isn’t, so the sword I carry at all times to detect the presence of Jay Kristoff is starting to glow blue. The calamity (which I have since learned destroyed the moon) also caused a spaceship to fall near our main characters’ home, with the result that salvaging ancient technology is a major industry there. Nayina is killed in front of Keiichi and Kiyoshi by a cohort of ninja, but Kiyoshi is so impressive in battle that he is taken under the ninjissimo’s wing. This is some sort of Tattooine double-sun moment where the hero courageously makes his way to the second act, and the narrative starts to branch out more.
“Weeks passed. Then months. The old man continued to sit in the tree. Eat, sleep, piss, and shit in the tree.”
Another major story line follows a mysterious creature who carries a girl through a desert or forest or both. It tries to find shelter to protect the girl from various dangers, including wyverns, giant soap bubbles, and rabbit liver pâté . At one point he saves her from a giant hostile toad. The girl, it turns out, has a murdered brother, and the tragedy of his death caused a fatal conga line in which every other member of her family died from grieving the previous one. She gets used to her companion, naming him Treeman. After a brief meokbang where she describes his eating habits in nauseating detail, she gets off on watching a bunch of wolves tear a deer apart, so keep an eye on that one.
Kiyoshi is adopted by the ronin ninja that attacked his home, and lives in a boreal fortress that absolutely is not Winterfell for ninjas. When he’s not lamenting the death of his entire family, Kiyoshi gets along pretty well with his ninja lord surrogate dad, step-brother Noboru, and teacher Aeschylus (not that Aeschylus). He hears a story about a legendary ninja named Zuso, who is totally dead now (for real), then starts his training under a “ninjess,” which I assume on another page involved jumping around on bamboo poles. Meanwhile Noboru hurts animals and talks like a psychopath, so I guess keep an eye on that one too.
It turns out, Hidetado is alive! But he has been captured by (and partially assimilates into) some hyenamen, led by the cannibal Skaarlog. I was just starting to get the hang of the story when these guys came along. Some nomads called B’eyoodin are here as well, and we know two things about them. They are super into little boy butts, like “dip my hard drive in acid when I die” into it. Also, they are causing worrying amounts of gentrification at Winterfell. These ersatz-Arabs are in turn keeping an eye on Psyeethe-Psyoone, a priest and mathemajician with no lips or eyelids (thank God those Ps are silent, I guess) who licks things to learn about them. He finds an ancient manuscript that predicts the future. That’s all I have for you about that; I am so sorry. All of this happens under the watchful gaze of the Shogun, who follows the age-old tradition of wanton abuse of random underlings to let the reader know they are evil. I’ll stop there, but rest assured all these plot thread collide in some way later on.
“Poise and balance. Breath and exhalation. Strike, parry, and counterstrike. There is a poem in there somewhere, he thought, and made a mental note to compose something properly later.”
The narrative in The Wyvern and the Wolf jumps back and forth without the slightest apology, as if it expects me to read every page and understand what’s going on. But if that’s your thing, I did get the impression that the plot has lots of fun twists and turns, and if you’re some sick weeaboo who gets off on authentic Japanese terminology, but only for swords, then this is your bag. I actually didn’t hate it, and that’s saying a lot for me; I’m such a shriveled raisin of misery that I once managed to dislike a pizza. But this one has character development, setups and payoffs, all that good stuff. At this point I’m impressed when a book concedes to separate each person’s words into their own paragraph during dialogue, but even if my standards were higher I think The Wyvern and the Wolf would feel pretty polished for a self-published debut novel. It’s a steep ten dollars on Kindle, but for once I don’t think that’s too awful, since someone is going to appreciate its length and style even at that price.
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