Kieli: The Dead Sleep in the Wilderness by Yukako Kabei

by Matt Reeves

A good book can be magical. It can take you to places you never dreamed of, introduce you to characters you’ve never met before and capture your imagination so steadily you’d never depart from it. A good book can do just that. On that note though, not all books are good and some manage to find a middle ground that is less than welcoming.

When I came across Kieli, an original Japanese Young Adult novel recently brought over by Yen Press, I was instantly intrigued by it’s apparent mix of science fiction and subtle theology. With nothing to lose, and as is much the case with books, much to gain, I picked myself up a copy and began to delve into the mass of pages.

Kieli is the somewhat complicated tale of a girl, an undead soldier, a haunted radio and God. Set far in the future after humanity has left Earth to colonize a new planet for their home, the story centers on a young girl named Kieli who lives under the jurisdiction of the Church. What makes this girl so special however are two secrets she keeps. One is the fact that she has come to the realization that God is not to be found in the ruling religion, a realization for which her family taught her well to hide at an early age. The second is that she can see the ghosts of individuals who have refused to pass on. Attending a boarding school along with her roommate, the spirit of a classmate who died a number of years back, she lives a somewhat mundane life, that is until she meets Harvey. Then things get a bit complicated. Why? Well, Harvey is an Undying, an immortal soldier bred for war and now wanted dead by the Church. To be blunt, he’s a fugitive. To complicate matters further, he’s on a mission to put to rest the trapped soul of a corporal which currently resides in an old radio. Seeing this as a chance to see the world that lays beyond her sights, she joins the two much to the soldiers dismay and and boards a train. But with the authorities searching high and low for the emotionally distant man, danger lurks in the wilderness.

Mixing science fiction, paranormal fantasy and dashes of religion, Kieli attempts to be both entertaining and thought provoking. Written as a contest entry, it was Yukako Kabei’s debut novel, written, according to his afterward, as he heard the sounds of the passing trains outside. Well written prose and pleasant artwork compliment this compelling tale of life, loss, and friendship.

To be blunt, it’s really quite good, especially on the writing front. However, there’s just one problem.

The pacing.

Almost the entire book moves at the speed of a snail with virtually nothing plot heavy happening until the final act. Instead, readers are subjected to a series of stops during their journey that occur each chapter. These read off much like small short stories and usually revolve around a ghost which Kieli can see. While this sounds like a fine premise to fill pages with, the problem readers soon discover is that these encounters, most notably one found in the middle of the story, are almost virtually useless to the plot as a whole and to the ghosts themselves.

Truly, this is one of the biggest faults this novel sports, far above any other. Because of this slow and needless pacing that makes up most of the story, readers find themselves nearly begging the author to make something happen. When that something finally does, it is far too fleeting and brief.

The fact is, Kieli is a debut novel in the worst sort of way. It shows a large amount of talent and potential for the new author, but also tons of room for growth.

Many readers will in all likelihood find themselves torn within over how they feel about this story. On the one hand, the ending is dramatic and leaves you wanting more, but on the other, the story is slow and readers will be left wondering whether it’s worth proceeding.

To conclude, Kieli is a book series that might possibly grow into something spectacular. As the author improves his rough yet talented writing skills and polishes the direction of his plot, he may yet surprise readers. But regardless of whether people will be persuaded to continue the series after this first volume, I believe that everyone towards the end of this book will find themselves in the same position as Kieli; reflecting on their lives and the ones in it.

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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