The Book of Heroes is the second novel by Miyuki Miyabe that I have read. My introduction to her work was through her novel Brave Story and its various adaptations. The two novels share many similarities with each other: both were initially serialized in newspapers, both are fantasy stories featuring a young protagonist, and both were translated into English by Alexander O. Smith, just to name a few examples. But The Book of Heroes and Brave Story are each very much their own work. After its serialization, The Book of Heroes was released as a completed novel in 2009. Haikasoru, Viz Media’s Japanese speculative fiction imprint, first published Smith’s English translation of The Book of Heroes in 2010 in a hardcover edition. The novel was subsequently released as a paperback in 2011, which is the edition I picked up. Because I enjoyed Brave Story I was looking forward to reading The Book of Heroes.
Yuriko Morisaki, a fairly average girl in the fifth grade, was dozing off in science class when she receives terrible news: her older brother, who she adores, has gone missing after stabbing two of his classmates. Her family can hardly believe that Hiroki could be capable of such an act. They are desperate to find him and to understand what happened. Soon after Hiroki’s disappearance, Yuriko stumbles across a magical book in his room, one that may be able to help her find her brother. Suddenly, Yuriko is no longer an ordinary girl as she is swept into a world of story and magic. It is revealed to Yuriko that her brother and her very reality are in danger. The responsibility of rescuing them has fallen to her. She’s not without help and over time she gains some valuable allies, but Yuriko’s journey will be a very challenging one.
For me, The Book of Heroes worked better as a sort of philosophical exercise rather than as a novel. I absolutely loved the world building. I found the universes that Miyabe created to be fascinating and intellectually stimulating. I enjoyed thinking about the worlds in The Book of Heroes and loved the importance placed on books and stories—stories that hold tremendous amounts of power and that can quite literally change the world and reality; a reality that in turn can alter and affect those stories; and the grave repercussions that this system creates as a result. The ideas and concepts that Miyabe was exploring in The Book of Heroes were thrilling. But I found actually reading The Book of Heroes to be somewhat of a slog. Yuriko’s story felt terribly unfocused for much of the novel.
As often as The Book of Heroes frustrated me as a narrative (which was actually quite often), Miyabe pulls everything together beautifully in the end. In the beginning something just didn’t quite feel right about how things were progressing in The Book of Heroes. Yuriko, too, seemed to be frustrated and aware of this. Eventually, all is revealed to both Yuriko and the novel’s readers in the final chapter, appropriately titled “The Truth.” It was this chapter and the epilogue that follows it that made all of my frustration with The Book of Heroes worth it. The ending is fairly open-ended, but I thought it was very appropriate and very satisfying. The Book of Heroes is more complex and layered than it might first appear; Miyabe mixes reality and fantasy, light and darkness, in a very compelling way.