In Ecclesiastes 1:9 it is written that there is nothing new under the sun. That is a mostly true statement, and the meaning is evident to anyone who has noticed that most mediums of artistic expression (notably cinema) have struggled to come up with fresh ideas in the modern era. For every new or semi-new concept, there are a hundred carbon copies of existing work. For every A New Hope there is a Star Wars: Episode VII. For every debut album there are a hundred reunion tours. For every successful film franchise, there is a television adaptation. There really is nothing new under the sun.
Now that I have truly brought the mood down, let me try to bring it back up again by saying that Toru is one of those novel, original stories set in a fantastic land that for once doesn’t seem like a charcoal etching of another realm. Toru is a steampunk story set in the far east. Disciplined samurai ride into battle aboard bustling locomotives and the paths of sword and steam cross brilliantly. About halfway through this novel, I had to stop and look to see if this kind’ve thing had been done before. To my surprise, it has, and if you’re interested in samurai steampunk stories, there are one or two others out there, though I would be very surprised (and pleasantly) if they carried the depth and attention to detail of this one.
If there is anything to nitpick about the story, it might be the capabilities of the main character of Toru. In many ways, this book is a coming of age tale, or a bildingsroman if you squint, but there is little room for growth for this character. Toru can do it all, knows just about all there is to know, displays few (if any) character flaws and is basically an infallible force in the world. It would be interesting to see Toru grow and change more than what we’re given, but much like Star Wars or the bible, we are dealing with very powerful, legendary characters and there is clearly more story to tell beyond this first entry so this is forgivable. Also, as I mentioned, this a nitpicky thing and one that doesn’t distract from an otherwise remarkably well-written and well-edited read, nor does it warrant the subtraction of even half of a star. This is easily a 5 star novel that I think most readers will find approachable and satisfying.