Kitsune-Tsuki – Laura Baugh

Kitsune-Tsuki - Laura VanArendonk Baugh

I won this novella through LibraryThing's Member Giveaways, and since I had just read Yamada Monogatari it seemed like a natural next read.

In keeping with my confusion over what "Monogatari" meant, I expected "Tsuki" to mean "story" or something along those lines. But it doesn't. It's not a literary term at all, at least according to my limited search: it means "punch" or "thrust". Perhaps it refers to the twist in the tale, which ought to come as a shock equivalent to a kendo attack. Because there certainly was a twist. Of sorts.

ETA: My mistake; my reading for content is sometimes lacking, and I apparently missed it, but the author assures me it's explained. Apologies!

As the synopsis says, Tsurugu no Kiyomori is a sort of magic-using private eye, hired to protect a warlord's new bride from a kitsune (often malicious fox spirit) they believe is near, and threatening. Kitsune can and often do take human shape in order to work mischief (and worse), and it could be anyone – or no one. And – again, as the synopsis says – a PI in ancient Japan doesn't have the leeway a classic American gumshoe would, since a mistaken accusation against, say, the bride herself could end in very ugly, very painful, possibly very fatal results.

Tsurugu is partnered – against his will – with a warrior named Shishio Hitoshi, who makes up in grit and determination what he lacks in magic. They become a good team, until they aren't any longer, and that's the problem I had with this story. I'll come back to that. It was well done, with several factors that made it both a very good and a very bad followup to Yamada Monogatari - there were surprising similarities (which is why it was both good and bad). I'm not in any way suggesting anything hinky about either book – just surprise at a superficial resemblance. This is a quick tale (wouldn't it be fun to write stories about kitsune in sets of three? Three tales? Geddit??) which encompasses a pair of mysterious twins, a dog hunt (which was, I felt, an unnecessarily ugly scene, but at least it was not graphic or detailed), and a beautiful bride who may not be what she is supposed to be.

The twist in the tail tale was very much a surprise, and so was effective in that way – but it was so very close to the end of the novella that I think I was still thinking "What … just happened here?" when I hit the last sentence. With the fast pace of the story, it felt like flying along on a bobsled, hitting a wall, and continuing to fly along without the benefit of the sled for a while until I came to a spinning stop several yards away. (This would be one of those rare times I wish I knew where to find a gif that would illustrate that better.) Once I stopped blinking in surprise, I think I was just unhappy about the whole thing. It was clever – I just didn't like it.

But, to end this at least on a positive note, I do love kitsune. I love that the fox-as-trickster trope is as strong in Japan as it (or its close cousin Coyote) is in Native American lore. I love that the creatures can be malice personified or merely mischievous, can fall in love with human and be willing to kill anyone else. They're a fascinating class of being, and it's fun to see them as much as I have lately.


And they have three tails – how cool is that?