Firstly, a huge thank you to Doubleday and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Publication Date: 22/04/2021
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Fantasy | Translated Fiction | Magic Realism
How will you help your friend if she doesn’t want to be saved?GoodReads
In a tranquil neighbourhood of Tokyo, seven teenagers wake to find the mirrors in their bedrooms are shining.
At a single touch, they are pulled from their lonely lives into a wondrous castle filled with watchful portraits, winding stairways and twinkling chandeliers. Hidden within the walls is a key which will grant one wish, and a set of clues with which to find it. But there’s a catch: they must leave the premises by five o’clock or suffer a fatal end.
And so they begin to unlock each other’s stories: how a boy is showered with more gadgets than love; how another suffers a painful and unexplained rejection, and how a girl lives in fear of her predatory stepfather.
As time passes, the devastating truth emerges: only those brave enough to share their stories will be saved.
This was one of my most anticipated novels of the year, I was overjoyed to see that I was approved for a copy on NetGalley and it took all of my willpower to not drop my entire TBR just to pick it up. After devouring this novel in a couple of days and staying up late to read the last 60%, I can honestly say that this novel was well worth the wait.
I absolutely loved all of the characters in this novel, each of them had such fascinating stories to tell which trickled through the novel until the reveals at the end. There was something so relatable about each of the characters, how they are all outsiders in their schools to the point where they don’t feel comfortable going any more. I was immediately endeared to Kokoro which just intensified as the novel continued; as you witnessed her try to step out of her comfort zone to make friends and as you learned about the horrific events she went through at school. I loved how each child had a very distinct personality and it was fascinating to see how they all got on and formed friendships inside the castle. Especially as it didn’t appear that they necessarily would get on at first.
Whilst not one of the seven children, I really enjoyed the Wolf Queen character. I loved how mysterious she was and how there were times where she felt as though she was a child like the others and times where she felt much older. She was a very interesting character to add to the story, maddening at times with her cryptic clues, but a great addition to the story. Whilst we don’t see them often, I also thought the adults in Kokoro’s life were quite interesting too. Kokoro’s mother was quite confusing, there were times where she was very patient with Kokoro and her anxiety around school and people, but then there were times where she was quite short with her. Just seeing these brief, contrasting, moments of her mother helps the reader understand Kokoro better too.
Tsujimura does a wonderful job of creating such a magical and enchanting world in the mirror. The idea that if you find the key to the wishing room then you will have your wish granted by the Wolf Queen was one that would appeal to adults and the children of the castle. But the key and the room had to be found by the 30th March. I also liked how this world came with more dangerous rules too: that you had to leave by a certain time otherwise whoever broke the rule would be eaten by the wolf. The contrast between this seemingly perfect escape and the underlying threat was fascinating to me and it was an addictive read. Not only did I want to know whether the kids would overcome their social anxieties and other problems to do well in the real world; but I also wanted to know who would find the wishing room and what their wish would be or if they made one at all.
What at first may seem like a coming of age novel of children that struggle socially with a hint of fantasy but it becomes so much more than that. This is an emotionally gripping novel with an ending that left me in tears and overwhelmed (in a good way, I promise!). Tsujimura’s writing and characters had me completely captivated. I struggled putting this novel down and I didn’t want it to end. This is a touching story that I will happily revisit again and again, and I know it will still be just as magical as it was the first time. I really hope that more of Tsujimura’s novels are translated in the future as they need to be shared with the world.