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review 2018-06-13 05:45
The Dark Maidens (book) story by Rikako Akiyoshi, art by Booota, translated by Kristi Fernandez
The Dark Maidens - Rikako Akiyoshi,Booota,Kristi Fernandez

The Dark Maidens is structured like a meeting of the Literature Club at St. Mary's Academy for Girls, a mission school in Japan. It begins with the current club president, Sayuri Sumikawa, opening the meeting by explaining its rules and purpose. This is both one of the club's infamous "mystery stew" meetings and also the first meeting since the club's previous president, Itsumi Shiraishi, either jumped to her death on school grounds or was pushed.

"Mystery stew" meetings are one of the club's traditions. Each member brings an ingredient to add to the stew. At some meetings only edible things are allowed, but at others, such as this one, inedible things may be added, as long as they aren't unsanitary, like bugs or shoes. Each member must eat the stew in darkness until the pot has been completely emptied. While everyone is eating the stew, members take turns telling stories. The theme, this time around, is Itsumi and her death.

I bought this knowing only that it was a mystery and that its author is a woman - my brief check for English-language reviews prior to hitting the "buy" button didn't turn up much. Happily, it turned out to be a quick and interesting read, despite its flaws.

I disliked the format, at first. Sayuri's introductory section was odd and a little awkward, as she described a room the club members she was speaking to should already know and discussed the death of her best and closest friend in what seemed to be a remarkably calm way. Readers were given no sense of what was going on in the room or how Sayuri or the other members were behaving unless Sayuri put those things into words. Fortunately, the stories the club members told were more traditionally written, and I eventually adjusted to Sayuri's parts.

The first character to tell her story was Mirei, one of the school's few scholarship students. After that came Akane, the club member who preferred baking Western-style sweets over reading, then Diana, an international student from a small village in Bulgaria, then Sonoko, a student aiming for medical school who was also Itsumi's academic rival, and then Shiyo, one of the club's first members and the author of an award-winning light novel. The book wrapped up with a story and closing remarks by Sayuri.

The first story, Mirei's, made it crystal clear that this was not going to be a book about female friendship and support. No, these girls were going to verbally tear each other to shreds - apparently in a very neat and orderly manner, since there was never any mention of outbursts and denials in the breaks between stories (I assume there were and it just wasn't included in Sayuri's text, because I cannot imagine a bunch of girls keeping silent as they're each accused of murder).

The second story added an interesting, if not terribly surprising element, as it directly contradicted the first story. From that point on, I started keeping track of details that came up in more than one story, trying to sort the truth from lies. Literally everyone in the room was lying, but what they were lying about and why wasn't always easy to figure out. Also, some stories had more truth to them than I originally assumed.

I can't say whether the translation was very accurate, but it was pretty smooth and readable. I flew through this book like it was nothing, and I appreciated the way the differing styles of some of the stories reflected the characters. For example, Shiyo's story had a very bubbly and conversational style, while Sonoko's was more detached and stiff (at least at the beginning).

As much as I enjoyed attempting to sort out the truth and lies in the girls' stories, this book definitely had a few glaring flaws. The biggest one was the mystery stew. It wasn't believable in the slightest that the club members would willingly eat the stew when they all thought that one of them was a murderer. Heck, one of them even suspected that

another club member had been poisoning Itsumi's snacks! Since the meeting was supposed to be happening in the dark, it would have been easy for the poisoner to refrain from eating, or fake eating, and wait until the soup had done its job.

(spoiler show)

I also had trouble believing that the girls would have been as open about some things as they were. For example, one girl shared that she'd been in love with Itsumi, while another girl admitted that she'd lied to Shiyo about having read her book. Several girls said things they had to have known that others in the group would recognize as lies. Why didn't they worry about being called out for it?

Another problem was that Akiyoshi seemed to have trouble keeping certain details straight, or perhaps hadn't thought them through very well. For example, Sayuri said that the usual rule for "mystery stew" meetings was that club members could only bring edible ingredients and that the rule had been changed for this particular meeting, and yet only a few paragraphs later it was clear that inedible items had been allowed in the past. Also, club members were supposed to eat the soup "in total darkness," and yet the room had 1-2 lit candles in it (one by Sayuri, to allow her to put ingredients in the pot, and one by the spot where members were supposed to read their stories). There was enough light for Sayuri to notice that one girl's face had paled, even after she'd left the storytelling spot - hardly "total darkness."

Despite the book's problems, I had a lot of fun with it and could see myself rereading it in the future. Next time, I think I'll start with the final two chapters and then go back to the beginning, just to see if everything really does fit together.


Several black-and-white illustrations. One of them shows all the girls at once. When I tried to attach names to faces, I realized that there wasn't enough descriptive information in the text to do that. I know what Sayuri and Itsumi looked like, because they were both introduced with illustrations, but, as far as I can tell, most of the others were never described.


Rating Note:


I feel like I'm probably giving this too high of a rating, because, oof, some of those flaws. But I really did have a lot of fun, especially during the last couple chapters, and I decided to reflect that in my rating.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2018-06-11 04:40
Reading progress update: I've read 207 out of 207 pages.
The Dark Maidens - Rikako Akiyoshi,Booota,Kristi Fernandez




So. This was fucked up.


I figured out parts of it. I correctly guessed the identity of the murderer (more through murder mystery logic than any clues in the text), and I was mostly correct about the murderer's motive. And I expected this club to be a pit of vipers. I just didn't realize quite how bad it was. Dang.

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text 2018-06-11 01:48
Reading progress update: I've read 146 out of 207 pages.
The Dark Maidens - Rikako Akiyoshi,Booota,Kristi Fernandez

Story #4 was wacko.


There's been very little overlap so far between the different stories. I've been trying to keep track of details that have been mentioned in more than one story, on the assumption that those details are likely to be true and might be clues as to what really happened, but the list doesn't seem to be very useful so far.


Only two of the six Literature Club members haven't been accused of murder yet, and there are two more stories (plus closing remarks) to go. I'm interested to see how Akiyoshi wraps this up (hey, poisoned stew is still a possibility!), and I'm glad that this has turned out to be a quick read.

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text 2018-06-10 20:02
Reading progress update: I've read 90 out of 207 pages.
The Dark Maidens - Rikako Akiyoshi,Booota,Kristi Fernandez

I'm reading the third story now. Story #1: accuses one of the Literature Club members of murder. Story #2: directly contradicts Story #1. Parts of it seem unlikely, but other parts are pretty convincing. Story #3: Wow, these girls are just letting all their personal feelings out, aren't they? And now we have a third member accused of murder. Nothing in this story contradicts either Story #1 or Story #2 (yet).


And a quote from earlier, which seems to perfectly sum up the perspective through which this book approaches female relationships:


"Don't you find that friendships between girls our age exist within two extremes? If a girl is similar to you, you'll either hate her or love her; if she's your opposite, you'll either lover her or hate her. I imagine you learn how to gracefully handle these kinds of things as you become an adult: you learn that whether you are similar or different, get along or don't, these relationships provide us with the wisdom we need to survive in society.


But for our generation, this wisdom is impossible. All we care about are our own selfish emotions. We have to protect our feelings more than anything else. So, do we kill, or allow ourselves to be killed? Friendships between girls are always hanging in this balance. Life-or-death survival. This is especially true at an all-girls school like ours. Right, ladies?" (18-19)

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text 2018-06-10 17:26
Reading progress update: I've read 55 out of 207 pages.
The Dark Maidens - Rikako Akiyoshi,Booota,Kristi Fernandez

These girls are going to end up utterly destroying each other by the end of the meeting. I'm not ruling out the possibility of poison being added to the stew.


At this particular Literature Club meeting, everyone is supposed to tell a story about the death of the previous club president, Itsumi, who only died a week or so ago. Itsumi either jumped to her death on school grounds or was pushed. Itsumi's family did not permit any of the Literature Club members to attend her funeral and refused to give any details about her death.


I just finished the first story, told by one of the school's few scholarship students. She outright named one of the other club members as being Itsumi's murderer and outlined her reasoning for the accusation. Looking at the table of contents, the accused member will have to wait through two more stories before she gets a chance to respond. Can you imagine just sitting there in silence after a fellow club member has accused you of murder?

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