April 16, 2015

Random Acts… ‘Empire of Night’ features intrigue and spirits with a cultural twist

Posted in Books, Diversity, Spirituality at 1:29 am by dinaheng

When it comes to exploring the spirit world with characters that have substance and a cultural twist, there’s no turning away.

Fantasy author Kelley Armstrong has written a compelling middle novel in her Age of Legends trilogy that fans of Young Adult fiction will love. “Empire of Night” ($17.99, HARPER) follows the journey of twin sisters Moria and Ashyn, the Keeper and Seeker of Edgewood, as they strive to rescue children held captive by Alvar Kitsune, a warlord who aims to take the emperor’s throne in a game of political subterfuge and lies.Dinah Eng

Aiding the sisters are Prince Tyrus, the emperor’s bastard son and Ronan, a principled thief. We also meet Diago and Tova, the girls’ guardian beasts who take the forms of a huge wildcat and hound; Guin, a resurrected spirit in a teenage girl’s body, and Gavril, the son of Alvar Kitsune, who may or may not be an ally.

The novel has an Asian feel, but unlike books that are steeped in cultural references and stilted dialogue, “Empire of the Night” has seamlessly woven universal personalities into a fantasy world that is both familiar and foreign.

By giving the characters more Western-sounding first names and using English terminology, Armstrong makes it less obvious that the world of this trilogy is based on another culture.

“The impetus for the story is Japan’s Sea of Trees, which naturally made me consider Japan for the world basis,” says Armstrong, who lives in rural Ontario. “I’ve always loved the samurai period, particularly at the end of the classical period, where the emperor is at his peak power, but the shoguns are beginning to rise up.

“That’s the era loosely reflected here. However, because it’s high fantasy, it wouldn’t make sense to use Japanese terminology for anything except the clan names, and that allowed me to show how universal the characters could be.”

"Empire of Night" by Kelley Armstrong.  Photo courtesy of HARPER.

“Empire of Night” by Kelley Armstrong. Photo courtesy of HARPER.

The Sea of Trees is, in actuality, Japan’s Aokigahara forest. The dense wood, in the shadow of Mount Fuji, is thought by Japanese spiritualists to be permeated by the spirits of those who have committed suicide there. The forest is known as being the world’s second most popular place to commit suicide (the first being the Golden Gate Bridge), and about 70 corpses a year are found there annually.

Paranormal activity has been reported in the area, and while suicide is not a topic explored in “Empire of the Night,” there are plenty of references to spirits and ghosts.

Armstrong says anything about the afterlife fascinates, and terrifies, us because it’s the next big step.

“Ghosts are one possibility for that ‘what if’ we don’t move on, but remain in this world, yet are not truly part of this world,” she notes. “Most cultures have some variation on the concept of those who stay behind. As for me, I’ve never had any kind of encounter, despite purposely visiting places that are, supposedly, very haunted!”

I’ve never seen any apparitions, either, but have felt their presence at funerals and in other places. I believe that life is ever-present and ever evolving, and that the energy of our spirits never ceases to exist. What probably scares most of us more than the hereafter, though, is creating the lives we want in the here and now.

Like all of us, Armstrong’s heroines — Moria and Ashyn – must come to terms with the roles they were born into, while figuring out how to create the lives they wish to lead.

The identical twins, the author says, “represent two of the most common ‘types’ we see in fantasy-fiction — the butt-kicking girl and the quiet, intellectual one; the warrior and the princess.”

While each are strong young women, it will no doubt take both to save the children of Edgewood, and the empire they live in. “Empire of Night” is a novel that could stand alone in this trilogy, but like all good stories, it will leave you wanting more.