Eight Million Gods ~ Wen Spencer

  • Title: Eight Million Gods
  • Author: Wen Spencer
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  First entry in a new urban fantasy saga by the creator of the popular Tinker contemporary fantasy/SF series. A young American expat writer in Japan suffering from OCD tries to figure out if she’s crazy or not while solving a murder that may be part of a war among Japanese deities. A contemporary fantasy of mystery and death as American expats battle Japanese gods and monsters to retrieve an ancient artifact that can destroy the world.

Review:  As always, this Wen Spencer’s novel is based on a unique concept and masterfully executed. A fast moving, exotic escapade, the story takes place in Japan, where the heroine is hurtling like a random Brownian particle between Japanese deities, huge shopping malls, mysterious agents of the paranormal branch of the CIA, and her own imagination.

Nikki Delany is a twenty-year-old horror writer with OCD, which manifests as hypergraphia – an overpowering urge to write. To escape her domineering, super-rich mother, who wants to lock her daughter in a mental institution, Nikki flees America to Japan. She is writing a horror novel involving lots of dead people, a horde of menacing shape-shifters, and one or two scheming gods. Her fans clamor on her website, whenever she posts a new blood-curdling snippet from her novel. Her mother doesn’t know where Nikki is, so life seems good, if one disregards a massive culture shock, until Nikki collides with the terrible realization: what she writes might not be dark fantasy.

It might all be true. All those gods and shape-shifting raccoons in business suits might really exist, and the corpses in her story suddenly become real dead people, mentioned on the evening news. Afraid that she is loosing her marbles, Nikki got enmeshed in a vengeful goddess’s plans as well as a police investigation.

Running for her life, she shuttles from one Japanese city to another, becomes possessed by a noble spirit, residing in a magical sword, and falls in love with an enigmatic half-blood Leo, who might or might not be in her mother’s employ. Or is he a local shape-shifter? Or an FBI agent? And by the way, Nikki is also trying to prevent an apocalypse – in her novel as well as in real life. Unfortunately, her fictional heroes are as ungovernable as the personages of Japanese mythology.

Have I puzzled you yet? That’s how this novel feels – a puzzle in a good, intriguing way, where every little piece sparkles with color and the author’s inventiveness. I usually don’t like reading about characters with mental problems, but Nikki caught my sympathy and held it from the first chapter to the last. Even though she constantly doubts herself, doesn’t like guns, and doesn’t do martial arts, unless her spiritual sword takes control of her body, she is definitely a heroine.

She is kind and absolutely loyal to her friends. Her courage is amazing, especially considering that since she was eight years old, she has been perpetually battling both her mother and a battalion of shrinks. I’d like to have a friend like her, someone for whom a betrayal is an impossibility, while a god making ceramic pots is an unquestionable reality.

Nikki represents a rare archetype in the fantasy genre – an artist. Her words literally change the world. In an oblique way, every writer affects life around him, even though the changes might not be as drastic as in Nikki’s case.

The novel feels a little bit like a spoofy caper, with subtle humor and a slightly surreal tone, but its pace is furious, its conflict deep, and its heroine’s insecurities keep you glued to the pages. The other characters are less alive though; I would give all of them about 2.5 dimensions; most of them are practically interchangeable. Fortunately, they don’t spoil the joy of reading this book.

The only objection I have is the profusion of Japanese words and names in the text. They are all spelled with Latin letters, all italicized, and all perplexing. Instead of adding to the book’s already strong ethnic flavor, they stop the story. The author included a glossary in the end of the book, but if I had to look up words several times a page, the process would become irritating fast. So I didn’t. I scanned the Japanese words without understanding them and inferred their meaning from the normal English vocabulary surrounding them.

Otherwise, this novel is an engaging and original tale with a fascinating protagonist. Recommended for fantasy lovers.