LitStack Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

by Sharon Browning
Owl and the Japanese CircusOwl and the Japanese Circus
Kristi Charish
Simon & Schuster
Release Date:  January 13, 2015
ISBN 978-1-4767-9499-0

Alix Hiboux is a thief, specializing in antiquities.  Well, thief is a somewhat suggestive term, but she has built a reputation for acquiring ancient artifacts for discerning (and wealthy) clients.  It wasn’t always that way.  Not so long ago she was an aspiring graduate student in a prestigious archeology program, but after being pressured into surrendering two years of research after which she was summarily dumped with nothing to show for it but negative credentials, her attitude towards academia and antiquities had changed somewhat.

Now she goes by the name “Owl”, and she still works in archeology, just with a different end game.  But while she may not have qualms about infiltrating a dig site or even purloining from a lackadaisical exhibition on occasion, she does have one strict policy:  “No magic, no monsters, no supernatural clients.  Ever.”

Easier said than done.

Kristi Charish’s upcoming supernatural thriller is a swashbuckling affair.  Check your skepticism at the door, because this one is going to defy logic in the pursuit of having a really good time.  It has vampires, dragons, nymphs, naga and more, gallivanting between Las Vegas, Tokyo, Bali, Berkeley and even Nevada.  But Alix – Owl – ain’t your parent’s Indiana Jones; she’s a tech savvy, gadget friendly, plain speaking, cat loving, Corona drinking, hardcore gamer gal.  Still, she seems to have her share of by-the-skin-of-her-teeth escapes, and just like Indy, she really, really hates snakes.

At the start of the novel, Owl is flying under the radar due to a, um, misunderstanding with a group of vampires when she is intercepted in the Nevada desert by henchmen in the employ of Mr. Ryuu Kurosawa, the extremely wealthy owner of Las Vegas casino The Japanese Circus, and the recipient of Owl’s last completed contract.  Turns out that the item Owl retrieved for Kurosawa – an ancient silver egg excavated from under a terra cotta warrior in an emperor’s tomb – while authentic, was, unbeknownst to Owl, part of a larger treasure trove.  It was not just a bauble, it was a puzzle with a hidden compartment holding… nothing.  And Kurosawa wants Owl to find that which is missing.  He’s adamant, in fact.

After the Japanese businessman makes Owl an offer she really cannot refuse, she grabs her loyal companion – an Egyptian Mau cat named Captain (the breed was developed to sense and attack vampires) – and sets off to find something she’s never heard of with virtually nothing to go on.  Undaunted, she turns to her best friend, Nadya Aleyev, owner of stylish Tokyo club, Space Station Deluxe.  Nadya was also an archeology student in the same program as Owl but she had enough wherewithall to get out before things got bad, and managed not to burn all the bridges that Owl had left in smoldering ruins behind her.  Nadya is a research goddess, able to infiltrate almost any database or online scholarly catalog, documentation or system.  Together, they slowly piece together hunches and clues that have Owl on her way to Bali to visit a set of excavation sites that may hold the answer to the missing treasure.

Of course, along the way she has to dodge various dangers, both supernatural and mortal, including a dangerous new “freelance” vampire, Sabine, who wields perplexing powers and who seems to have a personal vendetta against Owl – something that Owl not only doesn’t have an inkling as to why, but has absolutely no time for.  The clock is ticking, especially since it seems like she and Sabine both have the treasure of the silver egg in their sights.

Author Kristi Charish has spun an imaginative tale that is fast paced, adrenaline rushed and often hilariously irreverent that should keep every fan of supernatural intrigue on their toes.  Owl is a compelling heroine:  casual, caustic, somewhat clumsy  and more apt to speak her mind than err on the side of caution.  She has a conscience, but not a strict one, and even though she doesn’t live a fancy lifestyle, she likes cash.  She’s not the most stunning woman in the room – Nadya fills that role – but she does have chutzpah in abundance.  And she’s far too busy for romance…. well, yeah, she is.  As a general rule.  Indy, eat your heart out.

But make no mistake about it – you have to leave your skepticism by the door when reading Owl and the Japanese Circus.  Not only do you have to accept the presence of vampires, dragons and their ilk in modern society, but you also have to allow for quite a bit of leeway in plausibility, as well.  Underground caves beneath archeological excavations that are mappable by Google Earth but haven’t already been exploited by looters?  Causing a catastrophic cave-in at not just one but two archeological digs in one weekend without raising a hue and cry?  Having the obviously guilty suspects in multiple murders apprehended in Bali one day yet appearing unscathed in San Francisco a few days later?  Schlepping a backpack that seems to have TARDIS proportions in what you can pull out of it, including (but not limited to) a gas mask (sometimes two), UV flashlight (sometimes two), camera, bleach gun, climbing rope, latex gloves, and a spray bottle of chicken blood, but never have a problem of getting it AND your cat unnoticed through customs?

Okay, so maybe she is closer to your parents’ Indiana Jones, after all.

But that’s all just nit-picking.  The point of books like Owl and the Japanese Circus is that you have a good time while you’re taken on a wild ride, and this definitely is a good time – and a wild ride.  If your life is somewhat dull and mundane, or if it seems like all the picayune duties and responsibilities of day-in and day-out are grinding you down, crack open Owl and the Japanese Circus and get swept away with Owl and her buddies on a grand and harrowing adventure way outside your comfort zone.

Oh, and if you’re ever in Vegas and see a bunch of burly Asian men in dark tailored suits with dragon tattoos snaking up their necks?  Walk the other way.  Or if you’re feeling particularly brave, tell them that Owl says hi.  Then run.

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