The Iaido Journal  Mar 2003EJMAS Tips Jar

Book Review: Tales of the Hermit Volumes 1 & 2. 
by Oscar Ratti & Adele Westbrook, Via Media Publications.

Vol 1. ISBN 1-893765-01-6, 168 pages / 8-1/2" x 11" / 228 illustrations / Hardbound US$29.95
Vol 2. ISBN 1-893765-03-2, 192 pages / 8.5" x 11" /  Hardbound / 231 illustrations US$29.95

Reviewed by Ken Morgan
 Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook have taken it upon themselves at this time to step into the fascinating and enlightening genre of historical fiction. It is a genre that allows the reader to be transported back in time and feel and feed on the experiences of historical figures, whether real or imagined.

I have not read their prior works, Secrets of the Samurai or Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere, so I can not comment on their historical accuracy. However from what I can gather these are both learned people, who, I feel enjoy writing about their chosen subject matter.

Historically, (from a fictional point of view), I saw little to challenge. Both books are accurate in the terminology of both the time and culture. Weapons, armour, castles, geography, martial arts schools, World and local events, all are as they should be in an historical fiction novel of this time.

As I have said, I can find nothing to challenge historically from both these novels. However as an avid reader of fiction, (historical when possible, otherwise fantasy), I found both these books offering little in entertainment value.

The premise of the first book begins with a Western Monk named Pere Dominic, living amongst a community of a remote mountain people, called the “ Residents”. The residents provide a refuge for Pere Dominic when the authorities begin persecuting Westerners. While recovering from various physical and mental strains, Pere Dominic is allowed to explore the community which has given him refuge. In so doing and with the blessing of the inhabitants, he discovers various scrolls containing stories of the world outside the mountain.

From this point Pere Dominic reads four stories, The Castle in the Rain and The Judge, in volume 1, Yamabushi and Homecoming, in volume 2. I will not go into any details regarding the subject of these stories, as one can go to any good comic store and purchase similar stories, with far superior artwork, at a fraction of the cost. ( Hard cover version of volume 2 is $45.95, CDN, A good high quality comic book, underground or otherwise is under $10.) The authors try using the very tired adage of showing an outsider, a Westerner, trying to interact and come to terms with abstract Eastern thoughts, including the supernatural, the soul, and the role of honour in Eastern society. Conflict among different cultures is almost always entertaining. A twenty-first century individual going back in time, humans meeting other species in space, westerners going to the east for the first time, or even country folk coming to the city. However in these books the whole premise is a waste of time. There is no development of the concept, so it just exists as filler. Why bother at all?

I personally feel that the Pere Dominic character is completely unnecessary to the entire structure of the stories, and in fact detracts severely from the whole work. The character makes an over-written comic book go from being boring to unbearably cumbersome.

Unfortunately, Pere Dominic is a weak character, as are all the characters littered throughout both books. When there is any character development at all, it is shallow and needless. If you have chosen to write literature, develop your characters, your plot and your setting. If you want a comic book, don’t play with any development, leave it alone, the development will come naturally through your stories.

Hopefully with some good editing and critical reflection on the part of the authors, future books will develop into more than an overpriced, shoddy comic book.

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TIJ Mar 2003