Owl and the Japanese Circus (The Adventures of Owl #1)
by Kristi Charish
Genre: Adult urban fantasy
Publisher: Pocket Star Books/Simon & Schuster
Release date: January 13 2015
Source: eARC from publisher via NetGalley
The nitty-gritty: A rip-roaring adventure story, an audacious heroine with a knack for getting into trouble, a little romance, and lots of supernatural creatures to keep things interesting.
“Have you learned your lesson yet, Ms. Hiboux?” The pressure decreased on my chest and I gasped in sweet air.
Mr. Kurosawa stood below me, flashing his black tiger teeth and waiting for an answer.
The smart answer was yes, but I think by now we’ve established my character flaws.
“Fuck you,” I said.
I requested Owl and the Japanese Circus after reading some glowing reviews, and I’m so happy I did. What a fun story, and a great introduction to a sometimes off-putting but ultimately likeable main character. This is one hell of an action tale, filled with a large and colorful cast of characters, some human but most supernatural in origin. At the center of it all is Owl, a talented antiquities thief with a penchant for Corona beer and online video games. The story is told in first person from Owl’s point of view, which means the reader gets to be in the head of one of the most unique female characters I’ve come across in quite some time. The story is set on several continents, which makes the story even more exciting. Charish takes your typical supernatural creatures—vampires, dragons, and more—and gives them new twists, which to me made the story much more than just another urban fantasy.
The story gets complicated, as more and more characters join the fray, but the simplified version is this: Owl has recently procured an artifact for a Japanese gentleman named Mr. Kurosawa, who runs a Las Vegas casino called The Japanese Circus. But Mr. Kurosawa isn’t happy. Something is missing from the “egg” Owl stole for him, and Mr. Kurosawa wants her to find it. Owl cuts a deal with him that she will indeed find the missing scroll that is supposed to be inside the egg, if he will protect her from a group of murderous vampires she calls the “Paris boys.”
Owl immediately sets off for Tokyo to ask her friend Nadya for help, and that’s where her troubles begin. From that point on, it’s a race to find the scroll before one of the many supernatural denizens, who are also after the scroll, kill her first. Also helping Owl is Rynn, a hottie who Owl has a dubious romantic history with, as well as her trusty Egyptian Mau cat named Captain, who can smell a vampire a mile away. But Owl’s mission seems nearly impossible, as vampires, skin walkers, and other dangerous beasties do everything they can to stop Owl and her friends before they can find the scroll.
The pace of this story was practically non-stop. Owl reminded me of a female Indiana Jones (and many other bloggers have said the same thing), a woman with sometimes unbelievable physical skills who is well versed in ancient artifacts and makes her living stealing them for wealthy collectors. She’s on the run through most of the story, as she seems to have pissed off many people in her line of work, who all seem to be after her for one reason or another. I loved the cosmopolitan feel of the story, as Owl travels from Las Vegas to Tokyo to Bali and back, and always with her cat Captain in tow. Some of the most exciting scenes were those that took place in Bali, in the underground catacombs where Owl is searching for the scroll. Charish’s attention to detail made these scenes feel authentic, and even though I knew she was adding her own supernatural elements to the details, I could easily imagine Owl running through dark tunnels, trying to escape vampires and snake monsters!
And speaking of Owl…I have to admit her personality grated on me for most of the book, and I often found her very difficult to like. She swears like a sailor, drinks Corona beer like it’s the last drink on the planet, and always seems to be pissed at someone. Owl is one of those people who leaps first and asks questions later, which lands her in a whole heap of trouble. It didn’t surprise me that over half the characters in this book are trying to kill her. She has a hard time trusting anyone, especially her sort-of love interest Rynn, and she never knows when to keep her mouth shut. And yet, there was something about her that I did end up liking, despite her flaws. She was definitely unique, and I honestly can’t wait to see what kind of trouble she gets into next.
In her spare time (and it was hard to believe she even had any!), Owl is a dedicated gamer who is deeply entrenched in an online game called World Quest. She regularly takes breaks from her real life to become Byzantine Thief, her online avatar, where she and another player named Carpe Diem search for treasure and try to avoid magical curses. I loved this story-line, and after some revealing information at the end of the book, I’m looking forward to her relationship with Carpe in the next installment.
I do have a few small quibbles, but nothing major enough to ruin the story for me. First, I had a hard time visualizing the “egg” and the scrolls that were supposed to fit inside it. I couldn’t imagine how a scroll could fit inside an egg, and so unfortunately, every time it was mentioned it pulled me out of the story while I puzzled the logistics of it. Also, some of the writing felt a bit unpolished, and several awkward sentences jumped out at me, but these could easily be attributed to Owl’s “rough around the edges” personality, since she’s telling the story.
Overall, Owl and the Japanese Circus was a blast to read. If you like your characters snarky and sarcastic, you’re going to love Owl. I’ll definitely be looking forward to reading the sequel, Owl and the City of Angels!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Quote above was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.
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