I'm on the train recently, and I have the remarkable fortune of sitting across from a youngish woman who could make the cover of a leading fashion magazine.
Courtesy forbids that I describe her makeup and the style of her costume in too much detail for the same reasons I shouldn't just take a photo and post it without her permission. Perhaps I can say it reminds me of some of the older traditional Japanese styles. Or it makes my think of a mythical Jorogumo spider-woman. I wonder whether she is on her way to some cosplay event.
There are such writing prompts on the train every day, really. But I don't dare use them, at least not directly in my writing. Too much possibility of causing someone harm.
But this woman who was sitting across from me that day makes me think of characters from another novel I have recently had the privilege of reading at beta through the LDS Beta Readers group: Spinning Silk.
In Spinning Silk, Taya Cook creates a mashup of the oriental Tanabata/Qixi Festival myths of the cattle-herder and the weaver with the attractive and powerful shape-shifting Tsuchigumo and Jorogumo, whose creature forms are arachnid. What she produces should be considered a love story similar in substance to, and borrowing from the Tanabata myth.
As a child, Furi, the protagonist, is a member of the lower castes of a kingdom that looks like feudal Japan. Think parallel worlds or alternative realities.
Her life is cruel in the way we understand life in those lower castes was; she exists essentially as non-family chattel, spinning and weaving silk for her masters. And what passes for her daily happiness is constantly subject to the whims of jealous members of the households in which she lives, until a deadly epidemic completely alters the patterns of her life.
Her work is beyond exceptional, and provides her with opportunities for impossible upward social mobility, ultimately into deadly contact with levels of society she never dared dream of.
Her mobility also brings her into contact with a mysterious young man of obscure and dubious origin, and this young man informs her of the truth of her own unbelievable heritage.
Gradually she develops deep feelings for the mysterious young man as she is brought into an intrigue to reform the shogunate from within, bring the military and imperial seats of power together, and bring a new era of peace unknown in the history of our world. And those feelings bring her into conflict with her role in the intrigue.
Equally gradually, she discovers a dark and deadly secret about herself, a secret which both enables her part in the intrigue and threatens the relationship she desires with the mysterious young man, repeating patterns of her own heritage.
Similarly to most fairy tales in their more primitive forms, Spinning Silk contains elements which may not really be appropriate for general audiences.
In her tale, Taya demonstrates typical consequences of a society in which power is accepted as the underlying principle of relationships between sentient beings. Her conclusion defies that acceptance, but the cost of that defiance turns out rather violent.
There is also a sexual element integral to the plot. Taya does not indulge in direct depictions of the sexual element, but she doesn't hide it. And her use of that element could be considered an implicit argument that sex has never been, and should not be considered, a safe form of recreation.
I don't believe in the moral-age-appropriateness rating system, so I won't say you should consider this a
PG-13 work, but I do think you should not give it to younger teenagers without reading it first. And it may provide a springboard into discussion of important and meaningful matters, even for adults. Real literature can be difficult to read at points, and many readers
will find parts of this story at least somewhat uncomfortable -- and,
Did I enjoy the book? Mostly.
For me, it hits a little close to home. But the pain I feel reading certain parts of it is evidence, rather, that she has captured something deep, real, and hard-to-capture about the culture.
Well worth reading.