by Matthew Reeves

Some writers are talented, some writers are addictive, some writers are renowned, and some writers manage to compile all these things and more into a neatly wrapped package that sells incredibly well. I say “some” because, well, let’s face it, these types of authors are few and far between. If you want to shrink the list even smaller, try listing authors that managed to do all of the above with their publishing debut.

When I picked up Zaregoto, I knew very little about its author NisiOisin. I had only read a short work of his in a literary anthology once, and though not my cup of tea, his writing had proven captivating regardless. When I discovered that the American publisher Del Rey had brought out a mystery novel of his, I was very interested. Having read and loved the Japanese mystery novel GOSICK, I had high hopes that yet another young adult author from Japan could possibly breathe more life into an admittedly fading genre of the YA market.

The story of Zaregoto is told from the viewpoint of Ii-chan, a nineteen year old college student accompanying one of his friends, Kunagisa Tomo, a recognized computer genius, as she travels to Wet Crow’s Feather Island to meet the rich and exiled daughter of the powerful Akagami Foundation. She, like a number of other specially gifted people from Japan, has received an invitation to come to the private island estate of Akagami Iria. Apparently, the exiled princess is bored and she wants to gather the brightest minds the country has to offer to spend time with her. Though Ii-chan wasn’t invited, Kunagisa brings him along with her to the island anyway. There they discover a host of other talented individuals that all but perfectly match the definition of a “genius”. In fact, with so many of these geniuses walking around that range in skills from cooking, painting, computers and even fortune telling, it begins to make Ii-chan feel a bit overwhelmed intellectually. He seems to be the only ‘average’ individual around.

But then the unthinkable occurs. One of the guests is found dead after an earthquake – beheaded. With everyone a suspect, there’s no knowing for sure who they can trust. As one murder follows another, Ii-chan discovers he just might have what it takes to figure out the truth – that is of course, if he isn’t the next one to die.

Zaregoto is a thrilling, edge of your seat, logic bending tale of murder and the human psyche. Filled with a unique and varied cast of characters, excellent narration and abounding plot twists even long after the mystery has been solved, it is without a doubt a phenomenal read.

From beginning till end, this is a book that keeps you guessing at every page. Readers won’t need much time to realize that NisiOisin has a literary style all his own. Whether it be the strange name choices (even by Japanese standards), or the narrative structure, this is a story that is both spellbinding and challenging. Though the book is obviously targeting the YA demographic, it is anything but “easy reading.” NisiOisin’s writing requires the full attention of his readers. Every conversation and every detail could be a clue or point for character growth.

Zaregoto takes a slower more methodical approach to the genre in the tradition of many of the classics. The mystery is gradually built one layer at a time and even the smallest of details is given adequate measure to be noticed. One of NisiOisin’s greatest assets is his ability to write as much as he does and still make every word count.

When it comes to a mystery novel, the ending can and usually is considered by many to be the most pivotal point of the work. It’s whether you discover if the author has what it takes to tie everything together in a way you never could see coming or fails miserably. Thankfully, I’m glad to report that Zaregoto not only succeeds in creating a shocking finale for the novel, but also in touching on the smaller more easily overlooked aspects of the plot that dealt with individual characters.

As with any piece of literature that is translated into another language, the adaptation quality can vary greatly; ranging from amazing to terrible. Through my reading I could find no noticeable faults with either the work or its adaptation. For the most part, this is a spectacular translation by Del Rey, especially when considering how challenging a writer such as NisiOisin must have proven to be.

In conclusion, some writers are talented, some writers are addictive, some writers are renowned, and some writers manage to compile all these things and more into a neatly wrapped package that sells incredibly well. If you haven’t guessed by now, NisiOisin is just such an author. Not only was Zaregoto his publishing debut, it proved to be the first in a long series of books that would mark his still successful literary career in Japan. Now that his works are being slowly brought into the English market, one can only hope that more people will take the time to discover his unique sense of storytelling.

Matthew Reeves is an aspiring novelist living in California. You can usually find him lost in thought on a walk or writing on Twitter as @MattReeves17.

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