Owl and the Japanese Circus (2015), by Kristi Charish, is an urban fantasy that exceeded my expectations. “Owl” is a nickname given to our protagonist, who is delightfully different from most protagonists in this subgenre. She’s got a real Indiana Jones vibe, and her history with archeology and her obvious knowledge regarding ancient artifacts backs it up. She can hold her own, and has an obsession with online RPGs that plenty of people will relate to. Furthermore, she’s not perfect. She’s trigger-happy, and often reacts without thinking. She doesn’t want to wait for things to happen, she just wants them to happen, which causes her to act rashly on occasion. She’s quirky and unique, but most importantly, she’s real.
The supernatural creatures are just as unique as Owl is. While they do have the charisma, mystery, and sex appeal that readers will expect, they are different in many ways. Vampires do appear in the plot, but their politics are quite interesting, and their mannerisms are different than I expected. There are nymphs, succubi, incubi, skinwalkers, and just about anything else. All of them are one-of-a-kind, with qualities that you will only find in this book. Owl works companionably with dragons — yes, actual dragons — masquerading in human form. There are plenty of other supernatural creatures that pepper the book, some more obviously than others, and all of them have a unique quality to them.
The world is sprawling, and the history is rich. It’s obvious that Charish loves the topic she’s writing about, and she’s done her research. The fact that a lot of this book deals with nonwestern countries and cultures either directly or indirectly is incredibly refreshing. There is room for Charish to add some layers and depth to her world, but the world itself and the supernatural qualities of it are absolutely addicting, and leave me anxious to read more of what she writes.
The plot is pretty fast-paced. In fact, there is rarely a moment where Owl isn’t in the middle of something, or working toward something. There is a surprising amount of tension that keeps getting ramped up as the plot progresses, and there are mysteries within mysteries. While some of these are predictable and can be a touch obvious, they all work together to form a cohesive and gripping plot that will entertain readers as well as keep them guessing.
Owl and the Japanese Circus is a nice balance between fun and tense. It reads almost like a homage to Indiana Jones without actually being Indiana Jones, and has enough unique qualities to keep just about anyone entertained. Owl is a strong protagonist with believable flaws; readers won’t be able to keep from loving her. There is some very vague sexual tension, which could develop into more in future books, but as with everything else in this novel, the author doesn’t hit readers over the head with it. The ending is well done, and ties all the ends together in a surprising way while planting the seeds for future novels.
In the end, Owl and the Japanese Circus is a book that surprised me and delighted me, and caused me to renew some faith in a genre that I typically don’t take as seriously as I should. Gems like this show me how wrong I am for that.