________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 19. . . .January 19, 2016

cover

The Emperor of Any Place.

Tim Wynne-Jones.
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Random House Canada), 2015.
324 pp., hardcover, $21.00.
ISBN 978-0-7636-6973-7.

Subject Headings:
Diaries - Fiction.
Soldiers - Fictional.
Fathers - Death - Fiction.
World War, 1939-1945 - Fiction.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Wendy Phillips.

**** /4

excerpt:

The shots that landed finally drove the creature back, until it took a shot to the eye and reeled, falling on its shoulder, before recovering and bounding off twenty feet or so.

The soldier followed it, screaming some more, his back to me, his entire attention on the monstrous animal, which squealed and squawked, shrill as the grinding of some infernal train wheels breaking on a track. The man fired again and again, and at last the thing took off down the beach, shaking its head as if trying to throw off the dreadful wounds it had taken. It hobbled, then regained its loping gait and at a surprising speed took toward the rocks while the gunman aimed and fired again.

A steely rationality grabbed hold of me. The manís back was to me, not fifteen feet away. I could shoot him with a very good chance of a direct hit and time to fire again if the first shot didnít kill him. Any second now this man Ė my champion!ówas going to turn around and see the gun in my hand, at which point the odds in my favor would be drastically reduced.

Were we enemies or allies? In a split second I had to decide.

 

When his father, Clifford, dies suddenly, Evan is devastated. At 17, all he has known is a peaceful life in suburban Toronto with his dad, and now he is paralyzed with grief. When he starts reading a mysterious book his father has left behind, Evan is swept up in the World War II story of Isamu, a Japanese soldier marooned on a Pacific island occupied only by ghosts until an American airman crashes on the island. Then Evanís uncompromising American military grandfather, Griff, arrives, a man Evan has never met, but whose harshness drove Clifford from the family home. All Evan knows about Griff is that his father accused him of being a murderer, and soon Evanís grief is replaced with rage and fear. Evanís suspicions about his grandfather deepen when he appears as a dangerous character in Isamuís story. As the story unwinds through letters, the book and Evanís angry confrontations with his grandfather, the mystery grows more complex. Solving it will force both Evan and Griff to dig up deeply buried and painful truths that will change both their worlds.

     With The Emperor of Any Place, Tim Wynne-Jones weaves together multiple layers of reality and mystery that create a vivid and compelling novel. The letters Isamu writes to his beloved Hisako, the journal entries penned by the American pilot and the confused, grief-stricken story of Evan combine to create a complex narrative that emerges through different, often conflicting, voices. The war in the Pacific and the loneliness of the marooned soldiers are evocative and emotional. The friendship that arises between enemy combatants reminds readers of the humanity that binds us all in spite of differences, as does the fragile bond that eventually grows between Evan and Griff.

     A further layer in the novel is the supernatural. Ghosts of generations yet to come haunt all who land on the island and bind the characters to their future and past. Flesh-eating spirits lie in wait for bodies washed up on shore. Evanís dreams echo with ghostly events long gone; they link his peaceful suburban life to the horrors of war thousands of miles and two generations away. Tengu, a truly terrifying monster, is a rich symbol of the perpetual horror of war. The battles between Evan and his grandfather parallel those of a world war, driven by anger, fear and conflicting ideas of truth.

     As we have come to expect from the author of Blink and Caution, The Uninvited and The Maestro, Wynne-Jonesí writing creates a gripping plot, evocative settings and complex characters. The book will appeal to fantasy fans as well as the popular teen genre that combines everyday high-school life with a twist of the paranormal. The historical element is cleverly woven into the modern plot, and the mystery provides exciting narrative momentum. The Emperor of Any Place is a powerful read.

Highly Recommended.

Wendy Phillips is a teacher-librarian in Richmond, BC, and the author of the Governor General's Literary Award winning young adult novel, Fishtailing.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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