Japanese mythology is dense. For hundreds of years the lives of the many gods and goddesses were intimately entwined with the lives of the Japanese people and controlled every part of their destiny.
This is true on the tiny tear-shaped island where, in The Goddess Chronicle, two little girls are born a year apart from each other. Inseparable in childhood, they are parted at when the younger sister, Namima, is six and the older, Kamikuu begins training to become the Oracle and Priestess of Light.
It is another six years before Namima learns that her own fate is to be the Priestess of Dark living alone among the dead. When she defies that fate and runs away with her lover and gives birth to a child, she finds herself, at age 16, dead and fulfilling her role in the dark undersea Realm of the Dead as priestess to the goddess of that realm, Izanami.
The book interweaves Izanami’s story with Namima’s and that of their faithless lovers and those who are left behind.
This is a dark retelling of and continuation of the Japanese creation myth in which Izanami dies in childbirth and is trapped in the underworld, forced into her role while her husband takes human form and travels the world, impregnating human women who Izanami then kills. It is full of sorrow, fear, anger, hatred and other negative emotions, as mythology so often is.
The message here is that women are expendable, at the mercy of not only the gods but also of human men and that they exist in this time and place only to give birth and to serve and then to die. That message may seem dated, but it was certainly true in Japan at the time of this story, as well as in much of the world.
My only problem with this book is perhaps inevitable in that the part of the book in which Izanami retells the creation story is so full of the names of gods and places she and her husband Izanaki gave birth to that is is completely confusing to the casual reader. My advice is just to accept that you probably won’t understand all that and it won’t matter to the main plot anyway.
This is an exotic, melodramatic tale full of passion, betrayal, loss and vengeance which will please any lover of myth and legend. For readers who do not require an easy story with an uncomplicated happy ending, it is highly recommended.