Summary: Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.
Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.
Thoughts: I do have to admire a book where the main character is an archaeology student turned “treasure hunter,” getting wrapped up in a supernatural plot which, as it turns out, is way more commonly found in archaeology than one might at first think. Add to this the fact that the main character is a rather socially awkward woman who enjoys a good MMORPG and has a loyal pet cat, and you have a good combination for a character that can win me over with little effort.
Fortunately, Owl wasn’t one of those Bella-esque women who supposedly are so socially awkward and self-declared as unattractive but still manage to get together with the hottest guy around. Neither was she one of those super-hot women that every guy flocks to because she’s just that awesome. Charish managed to walk that fine line that keeps a female character from become someone who readers just roll their eyes over, managed to keep her strong and interesting and relatively unique. I liked that. She’s smart, she’s a bit of a gaming geek, she prefers her own company for various reasons, and I can relate to that. Her works involves as much research as it does crawling around old tombs, and I like that too. One major drawback to her character, though, is that she manages to pull off some truly exceptional physical feats without much sign of a training regimen. The most practice she seems to get at keeping her body in good enough shape to dodge charging nagas and escape hordes of vampires is when those things are actually happening. I suppose it’s implied that she exercises between scenes, but really, when Corona beers get a mention about every 20 pages and how she stays in shape is just supposed to be assumed, there’s a bit of an oversight when you’re dealing with a dungeon-raiding adventurer.
The story itself is actually quite an interesting one, full of twists and turns that keep you guessing as the story progresses. Owl is hired by Mr. Kurosawa to find and return an artifact, one which he will pay handsomely for and one that Owl eventually learns isn’t so much an artifact as a large-scale weapon. She faces opposition from an old colleague-turned-vampire and her vampire minions, as well as a leak from within Mr. Kurosawa’s organization, all attempting to stop her from accomplishing her task and hopefully killing Owl in the process. There are a lot of mysteries to be solves, some large, some small, but all of them designed to keep you turning pages. And I have to say, as someone who isn’t typically that fond of urban fantasy, I think Owl and the Japanese Circus manages this quite well.
It’s not a perfect text, though, and I’m not sure how much of that has to do with the fact that I read an eARC and how much the book was simply in need of another pass from an editor. And someone with a decent grasp on Japanese. Or hell, even someone with just my level of understanding of Japanese, because I spotted exactly one name that didn’t have problems with it. First off, an outdated transliteration system was being used through most of the book, turning names that should have been, by modern conventions, Shoko and Kitsu. The book listed them as Syoko and Kitu. The jury’s out on Lady Siyu, who may not have actually been meant to have her name in Japanese, though if she was, it should have been Shiyu. Then there’s the matter of randomly transposed vowels, turning the Shibuya district of Tokyo into Shiyuba, and giving Oricho his name. I suspect that Oricho (and at one point, Ochiro; see what I meant about needing another pass, even for things like typos?) was actually meant to be Orochi, since there was a small line early on about both him and Mr. Kurosawa (whose first name is Ryu) having dragon-themed names. I only hope that these errors were present in the ARC only and won’t be found in the final print run of the book, because while they may escape the notice of a good number of readers, anyone with an interest in and knowledge about Japan will read this and cringe.
Ultimately, I think this book is a good fluff piece. Entertaining without making you work too hard for the story, engaging without needing to look beyond the surface of what’s being told to you. It’s got action, it’s got some cultural and historical interest, and it’s got the fun premise of using an antiquities thief as a main character. Even with the problems I had, I still found it to be a fun read. It has some interesting takes on bits and pieces of various mythologies, snappy dialogue, and a cast of interesting characters, most of whom aren’t human. I liked it pretty well, and I suspect those who are fans of the urban fantasy genre will appreciate it all the more. Especially if errors in language don’t bother them the way they bother me.
It’s good enough for me to be curious about a sequel, anyway.
(Received for review from the publisher.)