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The Leopard Mask by Kaoru Kurimoto

The Leopard Mask

by Kaoru Kurimoto

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ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

I'm not much of a traditional heroic fantasy fan and The Leopard Mask, the first installment of The Guin Saga (now at 124 novels), won't be changing my habits. This is a rather uninspiring tale of two twins (Remus and Rinda) whose kingdom has fallen to an evil army and who are now trying to stay alive among all of the ghouls, demons, and other nasties who live in the marches. They are saved by an intriguing amnesic warrior (Guin) who, for some unknown reason, has an irremovable leopard mask fused to his face.

The writing is only serviceable. I don't know if this is due to the original Japanese text or to the English translation but it just doesn't grab me. The perspectives change abruptly, the dialogue is stilted, and the omniscient narrator tells too much -- sometimes in a tone that would be used to teach children.

The plot of The Leopard Mask is quick as it moves from action sequence to action sequence. But for all of the fighting, being captured, escaping, and yelling ("Guin, look out!" "Rinda, Rinda!" "Remus!" "Ahh!" "The door! They're breaking down the door!" "Run!" "Guin, it's coming this way!" "Run, quickly!" "Guin! Quickly! Are you okay?" "Arragh!"), my heart rate didn't rise once.

There is little character development in The Leopard Mask. With their platinum hair and violet eyes, the twins seem more like a couple of manga characters than real humans, but I'm sure readers will get to know them better in future books. The masked warrior is somewhat intriguing (or perhaps it's the rippling muscles that have deluded me) and I would like to know what's up with the leopard head, but I'm not about to read 123 more installments to find out. I have a feeling that The Guin Saga might be more enjoyable in its manga format.
Read this review in context at Fantasy literature. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
see http://www.sfsite.com/09b/gs160.htm
Book 1 of the Guin Saga ( )
  Georges_T._Dodds | Mar 30, 2013 |
The Leopard Mask is the first book in Kaoru Kurimoto's epic light novel series The Guin Saga. Kurimoto began the series in 1979 and as of the author's death in 2009, she had published one hundred forty-seven books Guin Saga novels, making it one of the longest works written by a single author. So far, only the first five novels of The Guin Saga, consisting of the first major story arc, have been released in an English translation. The Guin Saga, Book One: The Leopard Mask, translated by Alexander O. Smith with the assistance of Elye J. Alexander, was first released by Vertical as a hardcover in 2003 and then in a paperback edition in 2007. The English releases include the wonderful illustrations by Naoyuki Kato. In Japan, The Guin Saga is a very popular and highly influential work. I have seen numerous authors, mangaka, and creators cite Kurimoto and the series as a source of inspiration for their own work, including Kentaro Miura and his manga series Berserk. Additionally, The Guin Saga received a Seiun Award in 2010 for Japanese Long Fiction.

Twin brother and sister Remus and Rinda are the last remaining members of the royal house of Parros. Wandering the extremely dangerous Roodwood on their own in an attempt to escape their pursuers from the Mongauli army, they come across a fierce and frightening warrior. The man is nearly naked, wearing only a loincloth and a strange mask shaped like head of a leopard that seems to have been magically affixed to his own and which he is unable to remove. He has no memories of who he is, where he comes from, or why he is injured and alone in the Roodwood. He remembers two words: Guin, which he believes to be his name, and Aurra, which remains a complete enigma to him. But no matter who Guin really is, he may be the only chance for the twins survival.

At least for me, the most interesting character by far is Guin, even though hardly anything at all is known about him. The mystery shrouding Guin and his past intrigues me, not to mention his form and martial capabilities. One thing that did bother me, and something that Remus comments on about halfway through the novel, was that for someone claiming to be an amnesiac, Guin tends to remember some fairly important information when it's convenient for the story. I have a feeling and hope that this may be further explained in later volumes. I found the twins to be slightly annoying; Rinda especially comes across as somewhat of a spoiled brat. I liked most of the side characters, particularly Istavan and Orro, even if he did gain and lose his accent from one appearance to another. Towards the end of The Leopard Mask, Kurimoto does some really nice things with the character of the Black Count, who is more complex than he might first appear. Characterization in the novel is mostly based on the character's actions and reactions rather than really getting to know their thoughts or feelings.

The Leopard Mask is a good hook for the rest of the series, introducing the world and characters, but it doesn't stand as well on its own; it really seemed more like a prologue to me. The prose can be overly dramatic at times, but that is more an indication of the genre rather than the fault of the translators. (In fact, I think that Smith and Alexander did a fine job with the translation.) It's almost as if the story would be best read aloud or performed. The action and fight sequences are particularly well done and exciting. Kurimoto does have a tendency to "rewind" the chronology from scene to scene and sometimes it can be difficult to get a good sense of the passage of time. The best descriptions in the text are reserved for Guin as well as for the other freakish and bizarre things in The Leopard Mask. Overall, the world has a very dark atmosphere to it. While I eventually enjoyed The Leopard Mask, I wasn't really taken with the book until close to the end. However, I'm still looking forward to giving book two of The Guin Saga, Warrior in the Wilderness, a try.

Experiments in Manga ( )
  PhoenixTerran | Mar 9, 2011 |
I found this story boring and contradictory. Being a fan of anime and manga in general, I thought it would be better than it was. It's probably good for an 8-12 year old, but isn't worth reading if you're older than that. Save your time and read something better. ( )
  Homechicken | Dec 20, 2008 |
Gotta say, I'm not impressed at all. This novel was written with all the thought that goes into making a comic book. The plot was thin, the characters shallow and the storyline was filled with oddities that were simply out of place. ( )
  jegan22280 | May 6, 2008 |
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Guin, a man with no memory, has the highly trained body of a warrior, the reflexes and fighting style of a large cat and, mysteriously, the mask of a leopard firmly fixed over his head. After the duchy of Mongaul invades the kingdom of Palos, Guin rescues the regal preteen "twins of Parros," Rinda and Remus, from a Mongaul patrol pursuing them through the Forest of Rood. Guin and the headstrong twins band together to fight their mutual enemies, but Janos, the weaver of fate, has other plans for them. They end up as prisoners of Count Vanon of Stafolos Keep, who has a curious wasting disease and an evil miasma about him.… (more)

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