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May 13, 2024

3 Books for Fans of Folklore and Mythology

by MK French

Are you a fan of folklore and mythology? Then I have 3 books your will want to put on your reading list.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

The Book of Japanese Folklore: An Encyclopedia of the Spirits, Monsters, and Yokai of Japanese Myth by Thersa Matsuura (Author), Michelle Wang (Illustrator)

book cover of mythology book The Book of Japanese Folklore: An Encyclopedia of the Spirits, Monsters, and Yokai of Japanese Myth by Thersa Matsuura
April 2024; Adams Media; 978-1507221914
audio, ebook, print (240 pages); folklore

Thersa loved the language and culture of Japan, studied the language in Japan back in the 1990s and learned a lot through research. She married a Japanese man and started a family, which heightened her interest in mythology and superstitions, leading to this lovely book illustrated by Michelle Wang.

Japan's myths contain stories about gods known as kami, different spirits, monsters, folk heroes yokai, the demons, and beasts of legends. These stories influenced aspects of everyday life, whether in sayings, how houses are built or arranged, and the lucky charms to protect against malevolent spirits lingering in the dark. Japan is known as the land of over eight million spirits, which is a saying meaning an infinite number. This book collects common ones in A to Z format for English-speaking readers, giving us an overview of each person or creature. There are historical sources for most of the entries, as well as a mythological background, and references to appearances in popular media.

Like any good encyclopedia, the entries give related information and refer to other entries when referenced. The folklore is layered due to time and the different origins when introduced to Japan, which are clearly laid out in each entry for the particular spirit or yokai. Some yokai developed from stories over a thousand years old, while some like the jinmengyo are more modern, with stories going back to the 1990's. If you're an anime fan, several of these entries will look familiar, but there are plenty of entries that contain new information for you. I loved seeing the ties to real history within the folklore, as well as modern media (or in Momotaro's case, a restaurant, cocktail, and jeans line!). While I was familiar with a few names thanks to Pokemon, anime, and Pathfinder, I liked seeing their origins and the meanings attributed to the names. This is a great volume for anyone looking to learn more about Japanese myth and folklore.

Black Shield Maiden by Willow Smith and Jess Hendel

book cover of mythology novel Black Shield Maiden by Willow Smith and Jess Hendel
May 2024; Del Rey; 978-0593356739
audio, ebook, print (480 pages); mythology

Yafeu is a warrior who is stolen from the Ghānaian empire and taken as a slave to a distant kingdom in the North. This cold world of shield maidens, tyrannical rulers, and mysterious gods also contains a kindred spirit in Freydis. She is a shy princess who wants to set her own fate, just like Yafeu. Yafeu is still a warrior, and not afraid to be the flame that burns a city to the ground so a new world can rise from the ashes.

Yafeu is actually her father's name, who had taught her blacksmithing and hunting basics before he left to do blacksmithing for foreign nations. She feels her pride led to her and her village getting noticed by slavers, which leads to incredible guilt. Vikings had traveled as far as Spain and modern-day North Africa, and a team of Vikings went on a raid to North Africa. The party is led by Freydis' aunt; her mother had multiple miscarriages and stillbirths, so Freydis is the only heir her father has. He's a belligerent but savvy leader and plans to use Freydis' marriage prospects to his benefit. It takes some time for the two young women to meet and begin working together. When they do, Freydis seems too shy and desperate for companionship while Yafeu is too brash and reckless to be a good thrall.

The Vikings went to Spain and North Africa on their more ambitious raids, providing the historical fodder for the novel. The majority of the novel takes place in Viking territory, so it will be of great interest to those who enjoy the time period and culture. It's an interesting way to look at it from an outsider's perspective with Yafeu, as well as the insider perspective from Freydis and rarely her warrior aunt. The expected roles chafe both girls. When it picks up, the action moves very quickly. At that point, the characters no longer meander around the area but react to the plot rapidly and the conclusion feels like a setup for a sequel. It will be fascinating to see what happens next for them.

Buy Black Shield Maiden at Amazon

The Brides of High Hill by Nghi Vo

book cover of Asian mythology novel The Brides of High Hill by Nghi Vo
May 2024; Tordotcom; 978-1250851444
audio, ebook, print (128 pages); Asian myth

Cleric Chih accompanies a young bride to the crumbling estate where she is to be the latest wife for Lord Guo. The bridal party is elaborately welcomed, but the servants are frightened and the lord's mad son implies that something is haunting the halls. Chih begins to investigate what happened to Lord Guo's previous wives and the history of Do Cao itself. But not all monsters are in the shadows after all.

The Singing Hills Cycle has been shortlisted for or won multiple awards for science fiction and fantasy writing, and with good reason. These novellas follow Cleric Chih on their travels and may be read in any order. (previous novellas reviewed at Girl Who Reads include The Tiger Came Down The Mountain and Into The Riverlands.) In accompanying Nhung to her future home at Do Cao, Cleric Chih is without their usual companion Almost Brilliant, the memory spirit in the shape of a bird. Nhung at first is almost childlike, and her parents often repeat how she'll be well off married to her new husband. The adult sleepwalking son and rooms with rot are present, with a curse in place. Chih does their best to collect story fragments, as they usually do, and everything in the household has a double meaning.

As with other novellas in this series, it's the collection of stories that leads Chih into and out of trouble. The clues are a little more hidden, and no one is really what they seem. It all comes together quickly, with danger present where others wouldn't have expected it. Not all stories are benign, and sometimes the conquerors don't look closer at what they expect to rule over.

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever. 

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