Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

Owl and the Japanese CircusOwl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish (The Adventures of Owl #1)

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Simon & Schuster on January 13, 2015

Source: Library

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Fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, and Linda Hamilton will flock to the kick-ass world of Owl, a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.

Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.

Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.

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Kristi Charish’s debut novel OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS is a fun, fast-paced, and clever addition to the urban fantasy genre. Charish is Canadian so there was no way I could resist giving her work a try – and I’m happy to report that I was pretty damn impressed with her originality and her plotting. While a few things grated on my nerves and the writing occasionally lacked polish, I can tell that this author is one to watch.

OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS has a ‘blockbuster summer adventure flick’ vibe, in the best way possible. As many bloggers have noted, Owl has a distinct Indiana Jane appeal: she is a former archaeology graduate student turned artifact thief. Yep, it was just as fun as it sounds! Without giving too much away, the basic story is that Owl has been tasked with retrieving a Japanese artifact for the mysterious Mr. Kurosawa, who owns a casino in Las Vegas called The Japanese Circus. Cue light bulb moment for the book’s title. But of course, the artifact and Mr. Kurosawa himself are likely more than they appear…

Unlike most urban fantasy series openers, OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS spends little time with world building. Generally I prefer a detailed world in my UF, but this time the less is more approach worked because Owl herself has very little knowledge about the supernatural because she’s human. Like, actually. Not a supernatural in hiding, not a ‘sleeper’ supe who doesn’t know her lineage. The genuine human article. Unfortunately Owl’s introduction to the supernatural was far from ideal, and it’s made her somewhat leary of them. Her personal motto is essentially never work for, work with, or steal from supernaturals. Three guesses how well that works out.

While there isn’t much in the way of world building, Owl’s continent-hopping and her subsequent encounters with unusual supernatural creatures lend colour and complexity to the story. For example, Owl has a quite nasty encounter with a naga in a Balinese temple while searching for archaeological dirt (HA). To my recollection I’ve never read a book featuring a naga before, so good on you Kristi Charish for unusual supernatural types!

The real heart of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the thief herself. Owl is a multifaceted character: she’s brilliant, reckless with her life yet cautious with artifacts, she purports to be non-violent despite a tendency to kick her assailants in the balls, and she might have a bit of a drinking problem. She’s messy and real and I like that in a protagonist. Unfortunately, there were times when Owl’s messiness and realness made her difficult to like. Sure, she’s been burned by people she trusted in the past, but is that any reason to treat her BFF and maybe-boyfriend poorly? I don’t think so.

Owl seems to do much better with social interactions online than she does in person, although she responds to conflict in both arenas by either lashing out or completely shutting down. Not a very mature response. I guess that was my real issue with her as a character: for a grown woman, Owl is pretty immature. But the fact that her friends don’t ignore Owl’s immaturity – and call her out on it – suggests that Charish has a solid plan for character development throughout the series, and I’m more than willing to read on and see for myself.

A solid urban fantasy debut that doesn’t take itself too seriously, OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS is perfect for those who like their summer reads with a side of smarts.

What unusual locations and creatures have you encountered in SFF? How do you feel about protagonists who are more than a little rough around the edges? And what was up with Owl’s obsession with Carona? It’s not even a good beer!

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  • Tammy Sparks

    I really enjoyed this book too. I felt the same way you did about Owl, she was a bit rough around the edges and realy bugged me at times, but other times I really liked her. I’m looking forward to book two!

    • Yeah, Owl kind of reminded me of that one friend that everyone has who just can’t get their act together…but somehow you still love them. HA! I’m also looking forward to the sequel, I saw Kristi Charish saying online that book 2 should be on NG soon.

  • I had a lot of fun with this one, though you correct about not much time spent world building or on character development. It’s such a prevalent issue with this genre, probably because so many UF series hope to build that over time. I’m definitely hitting up book two when it releases though, Owl is being filed under “Good popcorn/Guilty pleasure reads”. I do love myself some archaeology related stories 🙂

    ~Mogsy

    • Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading a TON of UF, but these days I’m expecting the world building in series debuts to be better than average. BUT, when a bunch of people I trust really like a series then of course I’ll give it a chance – Canadian books also get a little bump. 😉 Haha, yes I do love a good ‘popcorn’ read!

  • Lynn Williams

    I also really liked this – I think your review is spot on. I also had issues with the main character, in fact she just plain got on my nerves at times, but overall, not enough to put me off reading further. You have to hand it to Charish for originality too. I’ve never read about a Naga before. And I liked the archaeological aspect.
    Lynn 😀

    • Yay, glad to hear you agree! Owl is frustrating in the same way that real people can be…and what the heck was up with her Corona obsession? But I still really liked this one. YES so true about the originality! I’ve never read about a Naga, a UF set in Vegas, or an archaeologist. <– triple crown of originality, right there!

  • *touches imaginary beard and ponders*
    I might just wait for book 2, if that one is good too then yes!

    • *twirls imaginary moustache*
      I’ll read book 2 when it comes out and report back! 🙂

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Indiana Jane, I keep thinking I should read this one.

    • Isn’t that such a great description? Definitely appeals to the nerd crowd, and we are legion. 😉