Makoto Tateno is best known for her boys' love work in the U.S., which makes her engrossing take on the fantasy genre in Angelic Runes that much more surprising.
The story opens with a young man named Sowil coming across a terrible scene -- a village is about to bury two children alive because they believe they are "cursed." Only bad things have happened since their birth eight years ago and, in fact, their own mother died after giving birth to them with her womb "burned." Good-natured Sowil rescues them with his own special brand of magic, through the use of ancient "runes" or symbols, that seem to be entirely different from the magics otherwise known in this fantasy world.
The kids are delightfully creepy but probably not evil...probably. After their rescue, Sowil learns that one child is the mouthpiece for "angels," while the other is the mouthpiece for "demons." However, "angels" and "demons" appear to be just labels in this world -- an angel's mischief can cause as much grief or more, it appears, than a demon's malice. Once the three make their escape from the village, the kids are constantly piping up with advice from random other-worldly beings and often contradict each other in the process. Sowil not only has two companions by his side now but a host of other spirit-types butting in all the time, telling him what *they think* he should do next.
Sowil, who wields his own brand of unusual power, empathizes with the children since his mother lost her life in exactly the same way theirs did. And so, like many fantasy works, Sowil and his charges set out on a quest but unlike my experience of various fantasy narratives, Tateno builds in a very interesting human dimension to the journey. Sowil is searching for his father, but in a way he is also on a journey of self-discovery to learn more about the origin of his powers and the reason behind his very existence. Tateno's author's notes at the end of the book acknowledge she is in fact a "lukewarm" fan of fantasy, which is why I think I actually ended up enjoying this work as much as a did. She liberally mixes and matches many Western myths and legends, but at the heart of the book stands Sowil, who is an attractive and kind hero who is easy to like and cheer on.
Review Copy provided by DMP.