The Emperor of Any Place is about men. Specifically, the Canadian son of a draft dodging American, his military grandfather, and two soldiers shipwrecked on a mysterious island from opposing sides of WWII.
It deals with growing up, grief, responsibility, fathers and sons, male mentors, and male friends. There’s a nice mystery that baited me enough that I actually finished the book, even though I was only halfheartedly invested. The author went on and on about things I found tedious and boring (constructing forts, shelters, miniature boat models). There were tangent plotlines that felt irrelevant, mainly the bits about the grandson, his band and his friends. But there were also very intriguing elements – the diary of the two men on the island, for example.
The author did a excellent job of capturing the language construction of a Japanese soldier and his diary entries were generally the most interesting. The other interesting thing was the island itself… home to restless ghosts, monsters, and other strange beings. It’s not presented a fantasy though, merely a place where Japanese mythologies and folklore exists… and it’s as baffling and terrifying to the two men shipwrecked there as it was to me, the reader. In fact, the men on the island knew no one would believe what happened to them, thus their years of secrecy and the heart of the mystery.
My favorite weird plot element was the concept of each man’s lineage were unborn spirits… existing as ghostly children waiting to be born. And that the men could tap into these memories, of their unborn selves following their ancestors… well, that was fascinating.
Still, it just didn’t do it for me. I don’t generally like historical novels or mysteries, so this just isn’t my cup of tea.
RATING: THREE STARS