For my GoodReads group (Japanese Novel & Light Novel), we recently read Kieli Volume 1: The Dead Sleep in the Wilderness by Yukako Kabei. This is an #OwnVoices supernatural, fantasy Japanese light novel series with steampunk elements. Never before in my life have I read a light novel that was so breathtakingly astonishing in its execution, which also had an introductory volume as sweeping as this one.
The story is about a young girl named, Kieli, who has the ability to see ghosts. In fact, her roommate happens to be a ghost of another young girl who died at the boarding school that they both reside at. One day, while on holiday, Kieli meets a young man named Harvey, who has a small radio dangling from around his neck on a string that is inhabited by the spirit of a dead soldier. Their confrontation ends up intertwining them together in ways they couldn’t begin to fathom.
My initial thought upon reading the first five to ten pages, “Holy shit, this is written so spectacularly!” One of the issues that I occasionally have with light novels is the light-hearted prose they contain, whether the contents is serious or comical. The writing always feels very amateurish with fragmented sentences, awkward dialogues, misinterpreted settings, and unusual translations (which oft times is severely incorrect or oversimplified). Yet with Kieli, the prose is positively captivating. We have complete, fully constructed sentences. Detailed expression of environments and social interactions our little protagonist has. Vivid imagery of important parts of the world’s lore such as a massive war and the powerful role that Church plays in the political constructs of how everything functions. There were many occasions where I had forgotten that I was reading a light novel, not a full-blown narrative.
The characters are all an array of fascinating creatures. Kieli is a teenager, but her loneliness combined with her unique abilities makes her sensationally sensitive in regards to empathy. Watching her reach and out feel compassion or sadness for otherwise forgotten remnants of the dead, pulls at your heartstrings. The little radio soldier, known only as Corporal, is sharp and salty. His clever wit and occasional, hurtful doses of reality are great ways to keep the characters rooted to their situations, as well as helps them to face feelings and inner demons they’d otherwise leave hidden. Harvey is the most-intriguing character. His past is immensely ambiguous for the first half of the novel, which just makes him more interesting. However, very quickly we learn of how terribly flawed he is and how emotionally intense his burdens are. There are also physiological aspects to Harvey that blew me away, further inciting my addiction to the story, but I can’t discuss those without giving away major spoilers.
Each chapter of the novel is set-up a bit like an episode of an anime. Our characters have an overarching quest that they are working outwards, but along the way they encounter some unusual people who cause them to question everything they know, or thought they knew. So many of these people are ghosts with heart-breaking tales of their own. Yet when it’s time to move on, there’s a bittersweet satisfaction left in the wake. I became so emotionally and mentally invested in everything that Kieli and Harvey were doing and striving towards. I also may have developed a tiny bit of a crush on Corporal. ♥
Finally, I like the world that they reside in. It sounds like they were brought to their current planet from another position out in the blankets of space by a more advanced civilisation. Everyone worships at Church, but the questions of God’s existence silently stews in many folks’ minds, however discussing such notions are abhorrently blasphemes. We have soldiers who prowl the streets in search for former participants of a great war. These hunted groups of people seem to have answers to questions other people don’t want, or can’t, ask. There’s also a bit of a steampunk quality to the universe, but I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling. All I can say is that it involves a unique and special resource that the planet is now severely limited on, since people have reaped it away.
Every single one of the things I’ve mentioned above are all what made Kieli an immersive and unputdownable book. I have the next two or three volumes, and I’m extremely eager to pick them up! If you like fantasy and supernatural narratives that are wonderfully written, definitely check out Kieli Volume 1: The Dead Sleep in the Wilderness. There is a companion manga series of the same name, that consists of 2-volumes and covers the first instalment of the LN series.
5 hot chocolates outta 5!