Japan Blog Series – Book Review: Ink by Amanda Sun


Title: Ink

Author: Amanda Sun

Series? Yes. 1 of 3.

Rating: 2/5 stars


Book Depository

Note: This is a pre-scheduled post. I am currently on holiday. Apologies for delays in commenting back!

Reading this book was like watching a checklist of of i) preconceptions of Japan via anime/J-drama and ii) a stereotypical paranormal romance. There’s very little here that’s innovative, although I did enjoy the incorportation of Shinto mythology and religious ideals in the text.


The plot of this book is nothing to write home about, you’ve seen it a dozen times before if you’ve read YA Paranormal romance in their heydays of 2008-2010. Except, of course, it’s set in Shizuoka. There’s an ordinary girl who doesn’t quite fit in, and a handsome and mysterious boy who’s more than he seems. They fall inexplicably in love, though there’s very little interactions leading up to these undying declarations. Throw in a flimsy reason to keep them apart, some unrepentant baddies, and a ex-girlfriend – there’s your recipe to a run-of-the-mill story.

While I do occasionally enjoy reading books filled with tropes (I find their predictability very helpful with reading slump), I did not feel up to it for this particular read. It did not help that I found Katie whiny, and Tomohiro plays right along to the ‘noble idiot trope’ – something I have no patience for. Their characterisation is unnervingly inconsistent, both alternating between shy and boisterous at the flip of a page.

One of the redeeming points about the book was its mythology, which is very loosely based on Shinto religion. Kami are element and forces of natures, spirits that are worshipped in Shinto. They are one with nature, so they are neither good nor bad, and they definitely aren’t govern the the same human moralities. I wish this aspect was more explored in the text. While Kami are a part of the natural world, they are also believe to be ancestors of certain Japanese clans (with the Emperor’s family being one of the most prominent examples). It’s little wonder that they’ve captured the imaginations of writers through the centuries, and I am glad to see some aspect being represented in Western YA. The magic system involving calligraphy and ink paintings were also beautiful – I liked that it was accompanied by drawings throughout the book.

I did find it very funny that the premise of Ink and its magic system is based on homonyms that would only confuse Westerners. With the author’s logic, Kami means god (kanji: 神), Kami also means paper (kanji: 紙) – so therefore they must stem from the same place? Kami (kanji: 髪) also means hair, so is Sadako is the goddess of Japan now? In reality, the kanji and the tone stress on the spoken word would differentiate these terms, and no such confusion exists.

The inclusion of other aspects of Japan in this book made me a little uncomfortable, I couldn’t help getting a bit of second hand embarassment from the appearance of anime-Japanese in the text. Katie and the people around her would randomly insert random phrases such as:

‘Baka ja nai no?’ Myu shrieked at him.

‘Taihen da ne,’ I drawled, stretching my legs on the couch.

‘Isn’t that the same thing?’
‘Sou da na…’ he mused.

‘What I mean is…’ he said. ‘Ore sa.’ His voice was made of honey. ‘Kimi no koto ga…’ About you, it meant. I, you know, I…’ And his keitai phone went off.

‘Sonna wake nai jan!’ I whined with a Japanese accent.

‘Moshi moshi? Yuu Tomohiro desu ga,’ he said.

On the one hand, how were people who had no familiarity with the Japanese language meant to understand what these characters were saying? A couple of things were left untranslated in the text. On the other hand, anyone with even a basic understanding of the language would just cringe. Tomohiro drifts in and out of polite/casual speech at will. Mobile phones are referred to as keitai the entire time, totally unnecessary because there’s a perfectly good English word for it.

The details about tea ceremonies and Kendo were not entirely accurate – all in all – this book lacks research, something obvious to just a casual fan of the Japanese culture like myself. If you want to represent a culture, do it right. This is all the more disappointing because the author lived in Osaka for some years.

Sadly, this book did not deliver on its beautiful cover and engaging blurb. If you want to see a fantasy based in Japan with sound research yet still imbued with incredible creativity and artistic vision – you need to read Catherynne Valente’s The Melancholy of Mechagirl instead! I’ll be reviewing it in my next post.

A Tour Through Japan

As with my previous reviews in this blog series, here are some sights I saw on my trip to Japan, in relation to quotes from the books. I have never been to Shizuoka, and don’t plan to – so you’ll have to make do with the closest I can manage, sorry! If you’re interested in the author’s own trip to the sights, check out her tumblr.

The castle had seen generations rise and fall… from the roof you could almost see the whole park, paths and moats and bridges crossing, the buds on the trees almost ready to burst.

Himeji2The castle mentioned in the book is actually Sunpu Castle in Shizuoka – which I have not had a chance to visit. The original Sunpus Castle is largely gone anyway, having been destroyed numerous times. Instead, I present to you Himeji Castle of the Hyogo prefecture – the finest surviving example the original Japanese castles. It’s nicknamed Shirasagijo – the white heron castle, for its pristine colour and elegant arches. It’s one of my favourite sights in Japan, its imposing size is breathtaking. I’m not its only fan, the castle features in a number of film, both foreign and domestic.

I visited in 2014 when the main keep was still under construction, so we couldn’t enter. I also visited on the day of an incoming typhoon (we had no idea, due to our lack of Japanese) so the castleground was deserted – and I could play at imagining how life was in days gone by.

We took a walk along the shoreline of Miyajima, the giant orange arch of Itsukushima in the distance. We had dinner at a cafe, and on our way home, Niichan bought us each a maple leaf-shaped custard cake, the pastry was warm in our hands.

Itsukushima Shrine. Photo by bryan… used under CC.

I have yet to visit Miyajima as of my writing of this post – so I’ll use a placeholder image for now, I plan to visit during my trip this year, so I should have my own photo up if internet connection serves me well!  Miyajima is a sacred Shinto island – it was actually closed off to the public until recently. Even now, people cannot die or be born on this island – and there are no hospital on it. The Itsukushima floating torii gates is one of the Great 3 Scenic Views of Japan, be sure to visit when the tide is high so you can experience it in its full glory.

9 thoughts on “Japan Blog Series – Book Review: Ink by Amanda Sun

  1. I agree with your review! In the version that I read there was a glossary at the very back so you could look over and see what the words meant. If you didn’t enjoy this one I would suggest that you don’t read the rest of the series. It only gets worse from there. While Timohiro improves Katie becomes more annoying and it’s almost like she’s a Special Snowflake.
    I’m sorry to see that you didn’t really like this 😦
    I hope you next read is better! Great review 🙂
    Btw lovely pictures ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, I read the book on Kindle so I had issues accessing the glossary — I know some Japanese anyway so it wasn’t too confusing thankfully. I think I will refrain from checking out new books if Katie becomes even more of a snowflake, I was side eyeing the fact that she might have been a Kami hahah.
      Thank you for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The premise sounded pretty interesting – almost “Twilight” – esque in its appeal but also in its ability to induce second hand embarrassment 😉 Too bad it didn’t live up to the expectation :/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Aw, it is unfortunate about the book 😦 I don’t like when culture is misrepresented for so many reasons: It isn’t fair to the culture and its people, first and foremost, but also it perpetuates a cycle of ignorance, because now possibly other people will think the same things. Ugh. I am sorry this didn’t work out for you. BUT that castle in your picture!!! SO gorgeous. You’re right, it is absolutely breathtaking! Every post you write makes me want to go to Japan more and more. (And I already wanted to quite a bit!) And your graphics, as usual, are simply gorgeous!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this book was accurate for the most part – but the treatment of the language and the thing with the kami made me side eye it a little.
      Yesss, I got the chance to visit Himeji castle again, thankfully the castle tower has been reopened and I got to go all the way to the top. It’s just like a Japanese version of Minas Tirith with all the white walls ahahahah!


  4. I loved it Aentee! I don’t know anything about Japanese culture, I think reading this book may confuse me a little bit or would be a little tedious.
    And I hope you’re enjoying your trip! Or have enjoyed it, depending on where you are right now, hehe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is a glossary at the back so the terminology won’t be too confusing, but I don’t think the book is worth that hassle haha.
      Just got back home yesterday, I am so sad to be out of Japan but also very glad to be back to regular life! XD Missed you all!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Welcome back Aentee! I’m so glad you had an awesome time and have been enjoying the posts in your absence. I actually have this one on my shelf, but based purely on the cover. It’s just too gorgeous NOT to purchase. Even with a glossary, it’s too much to stop reading, turn and find the reference to understand what words mean if it’s not being translated or translated well. That’s one of the quickest ways for me to lose interest. I love the sound of the mythology though and as someone who’s never been to Japan like your lovely self, I might enjoy this a little more because I’m really none the wiser. Might give it a crack over Christmas and see how I go. Wonderful review Aentee, sorry you couldn’t have enjoyed this one and loved the photos! ❤


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