The novel Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate opens and closes as “Moon Viewing at Shijo Bridge” from the collection Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter. Even though I loved that short story collection, this made the novel a slow start because, having already read the short story, the word-for-word repeat was not interesting. Especially not for 50 pages. I am glad I kept going though.
Between Yamada and Kanemore figuring out Princess Teiko’s death and Yamada’s final few paragraphs of contemplation, this story presents a new mystery: a series of murders including a girl in the palace (which gets Kanemore involved) that eventually connects to the disgrace and death of Yamada’s father years before. The main cast adds 2 new characters, Lady Snow and her servant Nidai. Yamada knows Nidai as a street kid who sometimes helps him get information, and he (Yamada) takes a somewhat romantic interest in Lady Snow. He knows that she’s up to something, but he still likes her.
There are 2 parts of the main novel that were not my favorite. First, what happens to Seita (the lantern ghost informant) seems unnecessary. Yes, I liked the character, and no, what happens is not good. Second, the final reveal of the villain works well for the story and in hindsight the set-up is done well, but it does feel a little deus ex machina. The supernatural part is what makes it seem a little while forced, but in spite of that, after the confrontation, the story is back on track to wrap things up. The villain himself is no surprise, as he appeared in the short story as an unsympathetic part of Teiko’s plan. The new supernatural force that he gets involved with is a variation on a theme from another of the short stories (“Lady of the Ghost Willow”), but the separation of the supernatural and human parts of the bad guy that gets the conclusion moving reminded me of the parts of the finale of the Harry Potter series that disappointed me, namely how the final Harry-Voldemort struggle turns out. What I did like, and where this story differs, is who/what makes it out alive.
The old characters who return get additions to their character or backgrounds to stay interesting, and the new characters are complex without being over- or under-developed. The investigation into Yamada’s father’s death gives Yamada history without turning into melodramatic backstory, as does the touch of romance with Lady Snow. Nidai’s situation at the end suggest that he might return in the next novel, and I hope he does, because he both provides moments of comic relief and participates in the action and drama. I look forward to book 3.