A Gift from the Universe – The Night Itself by Zoe Marriott

The_Night_Itself_cover SmallI saw a review of this book in the Times, written by the ever-reliable Amanda Craig; A woman who knows a thing or two about children’s literature.  The biggest draw for me was that the magic in the novel invokes Japanese folklore, something I know very little about, but guessed would probably be interesting.  And so it was.

The Night Itself is a delicious, uncomplicated read. Great characters, a cool sword and exciting action sequences, all based around some killer mythology. The story follows Mio, a Londoner of Japanese descent, who is about to turn sixteen. When her parents go to Paris for a week, she steals out of the house, bound for a fancy dress party. As part of her costume, she takes a valuable family heirloom. A katana handed down through generation after generation for over 500 years. Mio’s late grandfather had shown her the blade, some years ago, just before he died. He told her, never to unsheathe the sword; to keep it safe, keep it secret. Teenagers are a forgetful bunch.

The consequences of revealing the blade are unexpected to say the least, including the awakening of a ravening shadow-beast called a Nekomata. This is a bit like a gargantuan squid-cat hybrid with a bad head. Oh yes, and it can assume human form, as long as its already eaten the original copy! Mio, along with best friend Jack, have to put the cat back in the bag, with the help of the sword and the mysterious Shinobu a handsome and buff guardian angel.

The story races along, drawing on various elements of Japanese lore, and melding them into a captivating whole.  There are elements of Tom Pollock’s Glass Republic. Both novels are set in London, where layers of reality overlay one another. Both writers use the device to great effect.

Marriott doesn’t put a foot wrong, delivering an entertaining tale. As the book nears its conclusion, Mio faces a terrible dilemma, and whether she can resolve it is even more captivating than the monster chase. Whilst most of the plot is resolved, everything is left wide open for book 2 of the ‘Name of the Blade’ series.  Who is pulling the Nekomata’s strings and what exactly is the mysterious Harbinger? Interesting times lay ahead.

One final word about the cover. It’s fabulous. Worth the cover price alone!

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