Foreword Reviews


Legendary Boy Hero of Japan

Clarion Rating: 4 out of 5

Tarō is an enchanting coming-of-age fantasy novel that’s steeped in Japanese culture and history.

In Blue Spruell’s elegant fantasy novel Tarō, Japanese folklore and historical figures meet as a young samurai grows up and fights evil.

Tarō grows up in the fifteenth century, during the unification of feudal Japan. He begins the book as a precocious youngster who’s captivated by his mother’s fairy tales about witches who eat children. But when Lord Monkey, the manipulative advisor to the boy emperor, launches a horrific attack, it thrusts Tarō into the thick of a magical, dangerous world that’s filled with talking animals and threatening beings; he retains no memory of his past life.

Living in a cave with Yama Uba, an evil witch whom he believes is his mother, Tarō befriends Tanuki, a gluttonous raccoon-dog, discovers his own incredible physical strength, and fends off the attacks of Lord Monkey and his minions. He undergoes training with Lord Tokugawa and his talented samurai daughter, Kamehime; both aim to help Tarō evolve from a brute fighter to a noble samurai. Only in going through this evolution, and remembering his past, can Tarō defeat evil Lord Monkey, who still terrorizes him and all of Japan.

Among the cast, Yama Uba is described in chilling detail, vacillating between a ghostly blue woman and a hideous, beady-eyed monster. Though she feasts on humans, she spares Tarō, who has become somewhat of a surrogate son to her. The complexity of characters like Yama Uba gives the story depth; elsewhere, though, Tarō’s drunk and overindulgent sidekick, Tanuki, is always eating, and is a tiresome, vulgar presence in the otherwise wholesome tale.

Evocative language is employed to describe the book’s locations; here, Mount Fuji is “wreathed in ragged snow clouds slithering like dragons.” However, the book’s lengthy explanations, and convoluted wordplay in conversations, are less immersive. But the book is intelligent when it comes to meshing history with folklore, and mixing fantasy elements with references to real historical events. Its witches and ogres interact with figures like Lord Tokugawa, Lord Hashiba, and Lord Oda; and the folktales upon which Tarō’s story is based were inspired by a historical samurai, Takeda. Footnotes give further insights about the facts that inspired the story.

Japanese traditions, including tea ceremonies and wabi sabi, the aesthetic of the fleeting and flawed, are depicted in sensory detail, making the book all the more rich and compelling. Its joyous illustrations of Tarō’s adventures enhance its mythic tone.

Tarō is an enchanting coming-of-age fantasy novel that’s steeped in Japanese culture and history.

Reviewed by Paige Van De Winkle

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the publisher will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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