The Night Parade was first published in 2016 and is Kathryn Tanquary’s debut novel. It’s a middle grade fantasy which draws its inspiration from Japanese mythology. The story stands alone quite nicely and at the time of writing there is no indication that it is intended to be part of a longer series.
Saki Yamamoto wants nothing more to spend her summer break hanging out with her friends in Tokyo. Unfortunately, her family have other plans. Bundling her and her brother Jun into the car, they set off to visit her Grandmother in the country. For Saki, there really is nothing worse. Her Grandmother’s village doesn’t even have proper cell phone reception. Yet this is the least of Saki’s problems. Her Grandmother is also very traditional and while they’re staying with her, they will be expected to take part in the Obon Festival.
Saki has no time at all for silly traditions and cuts corners wherever possible. Keeping on top of the Tokyo gossip and impressing the local popular kids are far more important to her than honouring her dead relatives. However, when the other children dare Saki to disrespect her family shrine, things go horribly wrong. A death curse is unleashed at latches on to Saki, sentencing her to die by the end of the festival.
However, all hope is not lost. Over the nights that follow, Saki is visited by three spirits. Their goal is to help her navigate the ethereal Night Parade and seek an audience with the Midlight Prince – the only one who can lift the curse. Many challenges await Saki at the spirit festival but she can’t afford to fail. Her very life depends on it.
My New Year’s resolution was to review at least one new release each month, whether it’s a debut novel or a sequel to a book that I’ve already looked it. I’m hoping that I can stick to this plan as the year progresses but I thought that this was a good choice for my January book. As you may have noticed, I’m a sucker for Japanese mythology and so just reading the synopsis of this book was enough to get me excited.
I always like reading fantasy stories set outside Western Europe. Really, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Gothic castles, dragons and elves are dime a dozen in young adult literature. I gravitate towards novels that don’t draw from these tropes as it’s really nice to experience different cultures and the mythology that they embrace. Especially when the novels are written by authors who clearly understand their subject matter, as is the case with The Night Parade.
The story is certainly charming enough to appeal to both middle grade readers and young teens. It paints a rather sweet morality tale about the importance of honouring family and not allowing tradition to die out – two very popular themes within Japanese mythology. This is neatly encapsulated by Saki’s discovery of the Tsukumogami village. This place is populated by sentient household objects (including an umbrella and some straw sandals), all of whom have existed for over a hundred years and thus “earned” the right to have a soul. The Tsukumogami express concern that there are fewer of them in modern times due to the fact that people have a tendency to throw things away; a subtle nod as to how modern attitudes are gradually destroying traditional practices.
Although the novel is a little slow to start, it’s beautiful written and easily captures the gentle feel of a Japanese legend. Although Saki is occasionally threatened by some weird and wonderful creatures (the scariest probably being her narrow escape from a cannibalistic witch), the story retains a light tone and is never overly violent. It’s very accessible to a person who might be less familiar with both the culture and most popular spirits of Japanese folklore. A lot of the spirits retain their English names (e.g. the Akaname is always referred to as a Filth Licker) and the various customs of the Festival are all fully explained without resorting to exposition. The variety of spirits that Saki encounters are also wonderful. From the stoic Tengu to the tricksy Tanuki, The Night Parade offers a whole host of vibrant and memorable characters.
My only real issue with the structure of the story is the reliance on Saki’s magical bag of marbles as a plot device. This is a purely personal gripe but it seemed that Saki used these constantly during the first two nights of her adventure. The marbles seemed to be able to solve any problem that she faced, although it was never really explained why they were so powerful. Personally, I would have liked to have seen Saki find some more creative solutions to the dangers that she faced. It seemed for a while that all problems could be resolved by throwing a marble.
In terms of characterisation, the spirits really did steal the show. Although none of them really featured in the story for more than a couple of chapters, they were unforgettable and largely conformed to how they are traditionally portrayed. Some were more eager to help Saki than others but all shared a general disregard towards humans for the way that they ignored tradition and damaged the environment. There was a nice attention to detail in the way that the spirits’ attitudes to Saki changed as the story progressed. At the start, they were very hostile towards her, but as the story progressed as she learned from her mistakes, the spirits she encountered responded this by going out of their way to help her.
Saki’s personal growth formed the backbone of the story and I found that I really got attached to her. She’s actually a pretty realistic teenage girl. We all know the kind of people who get so wrapped up in their social dramas that they believe them to be far more important than they are in reality. Although Saki behaves like an utter brat at the start of the story, I could understand why she behaved the way she did and she did develop realistically. She reminded me a lot of Chichiro from Spirited Away, as her experiences in the spirit world shaped her personal growth, causing her to end the story as an entirely new, more respectful person.
However, I was disappointed that the human cast were far less developed. I really wish that a little more time had been spent fleshing out Saki’s family. It seemed at times that her Grandmother knew more about the mountain spirits than she let on but the depths of her knowledge were never revealed. Saki’s parents and brother also got little page time and her relationship with them never really changed over the course of the story. Most disappointingly, little time was spent fleshing out her relationship with Maeda. The pair went from being hostile to friends over the course of the story, despite spending very little time together. It’s kind of a same as Maeda was very sweet and deserved far more involvement in the plot than she got.
I guess that this is a good time to wrap up this review. I thoroughly enjoyed The Night Festival and would definitely recommend it. It provides a sound introduction to Japanese folklore and the customs surrounding the Obon Festival and is incredibly memorable. It’s certainly a must reads for young fantasy fans and anyone with an interest in Japanese culture. I’ll definitely be looking out for more books by this author in the future.
The Night Parade can be purchased as a Hardback on Amazon.co.uk