The Gift of Rain
In 1939 sixteen-year-old Philip, the half Chinese, half English son of a prominent Malay businessman, forms an unlikely friendship with a Japanese diplomat who teaches him about Japanese culture and particularly the martial art of aikido. Philip swears loyalty to his sensei, his teacher and guru, only to find out he is a Japanese spy and Philip himself is forced into collaboration with the Japanese in order to safeguard his family and their commercial interests during World War Two. Through Philip’s story, The Gift of Rain explores opposing ideas of predestination and self-determination, taking the reader on a journey which embraces the last days of imperial China and the British Empire in the east, as well as the economic resurgence of the Pacific Tiger nations in recent years.
I wanted to enjoy this novel, I really did. Its setting and subject matter are, on the face of it, fascinating and absorbing. The book is beautifully presented, with an arresting and elegant cover design and some lovely line drawings and hand drawn maps. Most of all, as part of a small press stable myself, I want to be positive about other small presses, and Myrmidon is a new enterprise providing welcome opportunities for fresh voices in fiction. For all these reasons I tried very hard but could not, alas, find much to recommend in the novel.
There is some evocative descriptive writing, but—perhaps due to a lack of rigorous editing—this becomes overwrought. There are careful and perceptive character sketches, minute and truthful observations of the way people behave towards one another and how their physical acts are forever betraying their words. The dialogue is, however, too full of the kind of cod Confucianism beloved of the script writers of Kung Fu, and the narrative drive is interrupted at every end and turn by tedious and unnecessary expositions of aikido. If intelligent martial arts fiction is your bag, by all means give it a go, but this is not how the book is being marketed, so I fear I will not be the only disappointed reader.