Book Reviews of Fudoki

Fudoki
Fudoki
Author: Kij Johnson
ISBN-13: 9780765303905
ISBN-10: 0765303906
Publication Date: 10/1/2003
Pages: 320
Rating:
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 6

3.9 stars, based on 6 ratings
Publisher: Tor Books
Book Type: Hardcover
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

4 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

reviewed Fudoki on + 185 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
First, I have to say, that jacket description is riddled with so many small inaccuracies about this story that I was tempted not to include it. They aren't fundamentally important inaccuracies -- though it is very important to realize that the "she" referred to at the start of the second paragraph is Kagaya-hime, not the "aging empress" who isn't an empress at all -- but it bugs me now that I've read the story to see how wrong it is. Ah well, moving on.

This is a wonderful book, sure to appeal to fans of Patricia McKillip and Catherynne Valente, though it's more accessible than either of their work. It's very much rooted in the myths of Japan, and while I don't know a ton about the time period, nothing of what I do know was contradicted by what Johnson wrote, so I am assuming that she captured the era (Heian-era Japan I believe) with some degree of accuracy. Like in McKillip and Valente's work, this is not fantasy that lovingly details a set of rules for its magic system; it is fantasy where there are gods and there are humans and there are animals and the lines between these things are not sharp at all, where anything can happen and no one is much surprised when anything does. Logic plays a role, but it's dream logic, and the worst error to commit is in assuming that any other being's motivations match our own.

But what made this book brilliant (and caused it to be nominated for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award) is the way in which it is fundamentally a womens' fantasy. The fudoki of the cats is entirely female; there is no place for males, and none of the fudoki cares to even know the names of the toms that fathered their kittens. Harueme (this would be the aging noblewoman narrating Kagaya-hime's tale, half-sister to the former Emperor Shirakawa) also lives in an almost entirely female world, where women have husbands and lovers but their days are spent hidden from male sight (and even the seductions take place with an eye to maintaining the illusion that no man can see their faces). Harueme loved her half-brother, and reminisces about her soldier-lover Domei, but the most important relationship she has is with her attendant, Shigeko. The novel even acknowledges that women menstruate -- I'm pretty sure I can count on one hand the SF/F novels that do that -- and there are elaborate (historically-based, I assume) codes of conduct built around that simple fact of life. It's a novel about women's issues: family and home and place in a society when all of those things are rigidly proscribed.

It works on a pure fantasy level too, with the cat-transformed-into-a-human element and the presence of the kami (which are a whole class of gods, not the name of a specific god as the jacket implies) and even a small war of revenge that leads to a seige; and I'm pretty sure it works as historical fiction, though as I've said I don't know very much about the time period so I can't attest to its accuracy. But it will linger in my memory because it shows a slice of life fantasy novels too often forget, not with any particular message, but just because these are stories that rarely get told. I wish there were more novels like this.
reviewed Fudoki on + 185 more book reviews
This is a wonderful book, sure to appeal to fans of Patricia McKillip and Catherynne Valente, though it's more accessible than either of their work. It's very much rooted in the myths of Japan, and while I don't know a ton about the time period, nothing of what I do know was contradicted by what Johnson wrote, so I am assuming that she captured the era (Heian-era Japan I believe) with some degree of accuracy. Like in McKillip and Valente's work, this is not fantasy that lovingly details a set of rules for its magic system; it is fantasy where there are gods and there are humans and there are animals and the lines between these things are not sharp at all, where anything can happen and no one is much surprised when anything does. Logic plays a role, but it's dream logic, and the worst error to commit is in assuming that any other being's motivations match our own.

But what made this book brilliant (and caused it to be nominated for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award) is the way in which it is fundamentally a womens' fantasy. The fudoki of the cats is entirely female; there is no place for males, and none of the fudoki cares to even know the names of the toms that fathered their kittens. Harueme (this would be the aging noblewoman narrating Kagaya-hime's tale, half-sister to the former Emperor Shirakawa) also lives in an almost entirely female world, where women have husbands and lovers but their days are spent hidden from male sight (and even the seductions take place with an eye to maintaining the illusion that no man can see their faces). Harueme loved her half-brother, and reminisces about her soldier-lover Domei, but the most important relationship she has is with her attendant, Shigeko. The novel even acknowledges that women menstruate -- I'm pretty sure I can count on one hand the SF/F novels that do that -- and there are elaborate (historically-based, I assume) codes of conduct built around that simple fact of life. It's a novel about women's issues: family and home and place in a society when all of those things are rigidly proscribed.

It works on a pure fantasy level too, with the cat-transformed-into-a-human element and the presence of the kami and even a small war of revenge that leads to a seige; and I'm pretty sure it works as historical fiction, though as I've said I don't know very much about the time period so I can't attest to its accuracy. But it will linger in my memory because it shows a slice of life fantasy novels too often forget, not with any particular message, but just because these are stories that rarely get told. I wish there were more novels like this.
reviewed Fudoki on + 522 more book reviews
Japanese fantasy based on historical facts
reviewed Fudoki on + 897 more book reviews
One of the reviews I read stated: "Fudoki is simply lovely." I can't help but agree. I fell in love with the work of this author when I read The Fox Woman. Both are such wonderful stories that help the reader peek into Japanese culture. This one has the story teller as a princess, Harueme, whose life is curtailed by who she is, health and old age. She becomes obsessed with telling a story about a cat who becomes a woman. It is her last accomplishment before she dies.

Fudoki is "self and soul and home and shrine, all in one to a cat" described by another reader. When the cat is caught in a fire sparked by an earthquake she loses her family and her identity. As she wonders through the city she finds herself moving, always moving, looking for a place to belong. As she travels she hears the Japanese gods talking, sometimes to her and sometimes just chattering.

When she finds herself as a woman she becomes a warrior with the instincts and skills of her former form. She fights, kills without remorse, and has sex with another warrior. She wants a normal cat life with kittens and a place of her own. At last she can tell the warriors with whom she fights about her real identity. The story is weaves back and forth between the life of the princess and the cat known as Kagaya-hime. It's beautiful and well written.