It’s very important that you know that we receive for review well over a hundred titles a month here at Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog, and that an increasing number of number of those titles are digital copies which mean they end on Infinite Library, my iPad, where they reside until I look at them. And my rule, which is very firm, that a novel must interest me enough by the end of the first chapter or I won’t read it.
There’s horror, science fiction of all sorts from steampunk to space opera, fantasy ranging sword and sorcery and of course, to lots of urban fantasy. Unfortunately most of the urban fantasy is fairly boring following the usual tropes with nothing interesting to recommend it.
Not so with Wen Spencer’s Eight Million Gods, which the good folks at Baen Books publicity sent along when I requested it, based on the short note in an email they sent about forthcoming books. And it really is good enough that I kept reading long after I got to the end of the first chapter.
Nikki, now resident in Japan, has an odd problem — she has a compulsion to write. Not random scribblings but Story (Yes, I capitalized that intentionally for reasons you shall see in a bit) in a serious manner — characters, their histories, and how they interact with each other. Indeed, she writes Story so well that she sold one such set of writings and is now a published horror writer. Now Nikki is considered by her mother, a powerful U.S. Senator, to be quite insane which is why she keeps getting her daughter committed. But using the income from that first novel, Nikki has escaped to Osaka, Japan where she’s writing her second novel while hiding from her mother.
But then things get seriously weird as Nikki’s still developing second novel merges with reality (well, at least a reality) in a rather disturbing manner, as she’s sketched out a murder that actually happened down to including the grisly method of the victim’s demise and even what crimes the murder victim committed before his death. This naturally, as she’s posted her Story to the ‘Net, brings her to the attention of the police.
Got that? Either she’s a talented precog or she’s shaping reality with her Story. Either way, a lot of very nasty folk get involved, some who are straight out of myth, some who are apparently gods. Worse yet, one of her characters has rescued her from those who are trying kill her. Oh, did I mention she finds herself aiding a young god who lives within a sword? Pretty soon, Nikki’s almost convinced her mother was right. (Her mother’s quite wrong.) Circumstances soon convince her that she’s sane and, damn, her mother’s wrong. (Evil Mother is on her trail again.) So is she creating reality? Or is something else happening? I’m not saying.
It’s a wonderfully weird novel that shows clearly that Spencer loves Japanese culture, both the older traditions and the newer popular culture, as it is full of details from the food and drink Nikki consumes when her need to be writing comes upon her to the loving descriptions of architectural details of the various temples Nikki encounters. Though I called it an urban fantasy when I started this review, it really isn’t even though much of it takes places in the dense urban areas of present-day Japan, so call it a very well-done contemporary fantasy.
I’ll certainly go back and read her earlier fiction to see if it’s as good as this is. I suspect it will be.
(Baen Books, 2013)