Review: Over the Mountain of the Moon by Reiko Morgan

Tetsuya, a young male courtesan, is living a life of relative safety until an unknown samurai called Jin arrives on his doorstep, bringing passion and death. Awakened to the strange paths of destiny, Tetsuya chooses to leave the only place he has ever known to follow a samurai who is on a quest for vengeance. Their heels dogged at every turn by paid assassins, Tetsuya and Jin learn to trust each other as they discover hidden truths which may get them killed before their love has a chance to redeem them both.

Review by Sal Davis

The cover of this book is absolutely stunning, even in the black and white version I saw. It’s even better in colour. Deana C. Jamroz has done Reiko Morgan proud, illustrating a key scene in the book in a powerful and tasteful manner.

The character illustrated is Tetsuya, a male prostitute at the top of his profession. Beautiful and androgynous, he is a talented musician as well as being top class in the sack, and has reached the stage where he can pick and choose amongst the clients at the inn where he is employed, though not always wisely. He has a comfortable place to live, enough to eat, good friends amongst the other workers at the inn and in the town. But all that is turned upside down when he intervenes to save a young girl from a wandering soldier and is, in turn rescued by a samurai called Jin.

A day or two later Jin is imperilled and Tetsuya is able to return the favour, thus beginning a relationship that takes Tetsuya from everything he knows and setting them both on a long hard road to adventure and danger. Jin, naturally, is not what he seems, and Tetsuya is far more than the pretty boy for hire that he appears to be at the beginning of the book. That they are destined to be together is established almost immediately, and that their love for each other is unwavering is one of the main themes of the story. Most of the conflict is external, gleaned from plots concerning political manouvring and vengeance.

I know nothing – nothing at all – about early feudal Japan. I haven’t even read Shogun by James Clavell. So from an historical point of view I have no idea how accurate or inaccurate is the author’s depiction of the period. This is a bit of a pity because, as I read, I frequently found myself feeling that I was missing very important points. At other times I laughed at what I assumed to be irony, then wondered if it was supposed to be funny. I found Tetsuya’s girliness and helplessness irritating. That Jin had to spend so much time carrying him around and looking after him when they were in very real danger annoyed me rather than impressing me with his devotion. In short – I just don’t think I understand the tropes of this genre of novel. I have the feeling it’s edging into yaoi territory and the rules that I am used to with western style plotting no longer apply. I also had some problems with the style. There’s a lot of telling rather than showing. In fact I had to go back and check that the first couple of pages of the book were actually part of the story because they read far more like a prologue to give unfamiliar readers some background than a novel. Production values were good, but there are some awkwardly used words, and some very clunky phrasing here and there that the editor should have picked up on.

I honestly tried to like it but it was just too different right from the beginning for me to be able to get into the story. I think that if a reader is a fan of manga or anime they’ll probably have a whale of a time with it but for me – sorry, no, it’s not on the read again pile

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5 Responses

  1. You clearly should have some idea of the culture and history before you “review” a novel on this website supposedly for “historicals.” This is a wonderful, romantic story filled with hope and redemption. For the time and culture, the characters are completely believable, as is the plot and setting. Tetsuya is not “totally helpless” and in fact saves Jin’s life as much as Jin comes to his aid. Both characters change over the course of the story, coming to grips with their past and each willing to sacrifice to prove their love for each other.

    The use of language and color is extremely cultural in this story, as is the symbolism of long hair and snow. Tetsuya has a deep faith and inner strength and his love is completely unconditional. He leaves behind all the safety he has ever known to go with Jin, the man who has become everything. Along the way they learn to rely on each other during the unfolding drama of betrayal and vengeance. Japanese ideals and sense of honor are very different than those of the west and this story fits perfectly. Each character is constrained by their station in life, by their internalized sense of honor and class, by the violence of society. The relationship between Tetsuya and Kagara is particularly nice. Historically, even married Shoguns sometimes had male “lovers,” often remaining together for years, so the ending is a perfect fit.

    I agree, you might have to have some feeling for Japan to get the nuances (there are plenty of them) but overall, this is a great adventure and a beautifully written, classic romance. The author clearly knows her culture. The cover art is beautiful and depicts Tetsuya at his most desperate and bravest moment. I highly recommend it.

    • We appreciate your loyalty to the book, but reviews are subjective, that’s rather the point. Not all books work for everyone–if another of the group had reviewed it it may have received a better or worse mark. Just because you see the characters one way, does not mean everyone else will see them in that way.

  2. I think this is more than just a cultural issue; this is a very different kind of book than what’s currently in the historical m/m romance genre, and not just because the setting is different. I don’t see any parallels with graphic novels (hate yaoi, in fact). Rather, this is more like an old fashioned Gothic Romance (with a capital ‘G’ and a capital ‘R’) that has a positively Shakespearean body count. I agree with the reviewer’s observation about the somewhat anachronistic use of modern language, but I didn’t have the same issues with the story at all. I got quite sucked into the story, and found the last third or so of the book a real emotional roller-coaster as it swung between a happily-ever-after ending and a true Shakespearean tragedy. On the whole, despite the flaws, this book engaged me emotionally a lot more than any book has recently.

    It’s just a matter of taste, I guess.

  3. I am truly shocked that this “reviewer” would give this novel two stars. I give it 5+. Not only is it beautifully written, it is a TRUE romance in every sense of the word. I fell in love with these characters and lived and breathed every heart-rending emotion with them.

    The reviewer clearly doesn’t understand that in feudal Japan, commoners were not allowed to carry swords or even attempt to defend themselves from superiors yet Tetsuya risks his life on more than one occasion in order to help Jin. Male courtesans would have looked and behaved like females. (I think plenty of modern gay males do that also) Both characters change as they meet their destiny head-on. It was a glorious ride! I will definitely be reading more from this author.

  4. Yeah, as Erastes says, reviews are subjective. On reflection, I think the case here is that the story didn’t click with the reviewer. That happens, even with authors we know and love (I’ve got one of Erastes’ books partially read on my nightstand because I just wasn’t feeling it.) But, rather than leave it at that, I think the reviewer went out of their way to find flaws in the story that aren’t really there. Not that the story and the writing are perfect; as I’ve already said, there are some flaws in the language, but the work is far less flawed than the review suggests.

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