Pilgrim by Harmon Cooper was a surprisingly good read.
I’ll be honest, a nitpicky formatting thing had me iffy with the spaces in between each paragraph. Made me feel more like I was investing in a series of blog posts as opposed to a novel. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found throughout this text.
What we have here is a former assassin, Danzen, who’s on a quest for redemption. He’s trying to get away from his past and do good deeds. The novel consists of eleven parts, each with four different chapters. Each part sees Danzen overcoming some sort of adventure/challenge, with the overarching plot of his “past” lurking throughout.
At first, I liked the structure of the parts and seeing individual adventures alongside the grander one. Toward the middle, I started to feel a little disconnected toward the overall plot. However, since this is a Japanese-themed book, I ended up watching Asian fantasy films while I read this. I’d like to continue on with Asian literature going forward, but Handsome Siblings on Netflix ended up catching all of my attention for now.
First of all, that show is… unexpectedly incredible.
Second of all, I understand that Handsome Siblings is Chinese and Pilgrim is Japanese and they’re two separate cultures.
Watching Handsome Siblings helped me visualize some of the themes better throughout the remaining text of Pilgrim, and for that, I’m appreciative.
Danzen is a really strong main character, as well.
His adventures revolve mainly around his different interactions with various yokai, who are basically various “monsters and spirits” in Japanese lore. He befriends some of them through his adventures, like Kudzu the fox and Jelmay, who I can’t really talk about, I don’t think, without giving away some spoilers.
Jelmay is hands down my favorite character, though. So I will definitely talk more about him in the spoiler’s section.
Along the way, we encounter various attacks from the Diyu Brotherhood, whom “Pilgrim” is running from the whole time. “Pilgrim” being the nickname for him given by the townsfolk who know of his unsteady past.
We definitely see a lot of action in this book.
It is well-paced, the action not overly gruesome or bulky. The Japanese elements, especially, with the yokai and everything are very well-researched. The author himself is white, which, to be honest, was part of the reason I chose this book.
Being a white author myself, I wanted to see how other authors represented other races. It was actually something I was nervous about going into this, but, personally, I think it was really well done. Considering the Indian and Hindu mythology I’m putting into my book that this helped influence, it was really nice to see that type of research played throughout the text.
I did struggle a lot with character names and places.
However, it’s easy to forgive because it all fits into “where” it’s supposed to be. Especially with the amount of real legends involved here (like every yokai he meets.)
Out of the five books I chose for the project I’m writing on this platform, I was the most nervous about this one. The white author writing a Japanese-inspired element in particular. That became the best part for me, in the end, because I think he did a good job. And, like with reading my first LitRPG book, Pyrseouls Apocalypse by James T. Callum, I feel like this book opened me up into this genre and makes me want more of it. I definitely want to read books by Asian authors themselves, but I think I’m more interested in translated-to-English works so I can feel as close to it as possible.
Overall, I think Pilgrim turned out to be a surprisingly good read. I predicted a 3 star for it, but I gave it a 4. Really, a 4.5, but rounded down to a 4 because some grammatical things really bothered me throughout the text. More on that in my chapter-by-chapter analysis.
**ADD THE SPOILERS AND CHAPTER-BY-CHAPTER ANALYSIS**
The Diyu Brotherhood is after Danzen the whole time. The prologue has him fighting Norwin, who’s like his mentor before Danzen runs off. The prologue itself, I thought, ran a little long upon initial read, but it made sense as soon as I carried on throughout the text.
Diyu is also Japanese for “hell” and Sunyata is “heaven.”
There’s a lot of references to both throughout all of this. Especially when we consider Danzen and his whole “demon-speech” ability throughout the text.
At first, I was a little nervous about that, considering my experience with “demon-speech” in Monster Whisperer. Here, however, I think that storyline was a much better-placed elephant in the room that worked as the overarching foreshadow throughout this book.
Especially to go on to discover basically the same thing. In Monster Whisperer, I don’t want to give away the spoiler, but the demon dad reveal wasn’t as good as it was here in Pilgrim. We find out that Danzen’s dad is basically the ruler of hell, that he has a half-brother who is a full demon, and that his mother is a nun who was raped by his father.
His mother then left him with the Brotherhood that raised him as an assassin, and there’s more than likely going to be so much more about that in the second book. Which, I’m currently totally on board to read. I’m pretty sure Danzen is going to search for his mother and find some crazy answers, and I have a feeling things are going to get saucy in book two.
As to Jelmay, since I mentioned him up in the spoiler-free section.
Jelmay is a type of yokai known as a bakaneko, which is basically a cat that can shape-shift and disguise themselves as a human. They eat a lot, and we first meet this “bakaneko” when he’s disguised as a boy eating all of the furniture and things in a local shop. It’s one of the “parts” and adventures that Danzen has to go through, to stop this kid from eating everything.
It was an odd part of the book — perhaps not as odd as the part with the fire-breathing chicken, but still odd — until the kid turned into Jelmay the cat.
Jelmay was just hilarious. He didn’t come back as a character until later in the text, but he added a lot to the group and I was really happy to have him along for the ride.
I just wish there was more of Yama, the lion dog.
I’m also a little confused as to if Soko’s dead, but I think I’m supposed to be. Soko is an assassin from his former tribe, and one I think he was romantic with, and they have a face-off. I think she’s dead, but I’m not sure. Pilgrim, I think, is also in the same position, so that’s why I think I’m supposed to be left in wonder of that.
I’m definitely interested in moving on to book two, whenever that may be. The author has other books I may check out in the meantime. I was impressed with what I read here, despite some of the small formatting/grammatical issues that just make me who I am.
Honestly — I recorded the prologue and chapter one notes on my phone, and the audio files are messed up. I will do my best to remember.
I do remember that I liked the prologue… Although I was iffy about it at first, but once I moved into the next few chapters, it all made sense. We get some introduction with the main character, Danzen, and his relationship with the Diyu Brotherhood. He fights off one of his brothers and flees into a village to live his life in peace.
My memory here is a bit fuzzy, but it was a nice opening with getting to know Danzen in his new “home bodied” life. Sorry the audio screwed this up for me here.
I also like the structure of the book itself, with four chapters in each part. Something about that just makes me feel like the structure of the book is well placed, well thought out, and meticulous. I’ve done the same thing in previous books, so I approve.
I like the addition of Elder Sonders, as well as how he’s trying to get Danzen (Pilgrim) out of retirement. I’m interested to see how this plot unfolds, and still more accepting of the length of the prologue before. I think it was necessary to be as it was.
I’m going to write down place names for my benefit: Suja Raksi Hall. Chuthum. Third District. Suja Village. Panchen Mountains. Genshin Valley.
I really like the way this book is written. Harmon Cooper, the author, has a really distinct voice and writing style, and it’s very engaging and readable. I was a little iffy about this book at first, I’ll be honest, even though I went into it blind, but it’s shaping up, so far, to be a pretty good read. I like Danzen, I think he’s a good main character who’s obviously battling some internal struggles with his previous life as an assassin and then the dangers he’s finding himself in that are testing that.
Really like this book. This chapter had us learning a little bit more about the Diyu Brotherhood Danzen escaped from, as well as touching on the idea of female assassins, including Soko, whom he used to date. We also see him reunite with Shedrup, who he’s obviously trying to save in the first place, but Shedrup is not all that he seems, either. I’m interested to see how this “half demon” thing with Danzen works out — it wasn’t my favorite plotline in Monster Whisperer so hopefully this one is more well done.
This was the first kind of “average” chapter. Nothing really happened in this chapter. Not in a bad way, it was just an average chapter that moved the storyline further. I’m not angry about it either way. Just a pretty average chap.
First of all, I really do continue to enjoy this use of Japanese culture. So, yokai… I just looked it up, and it is a Japanese folklore meaning ghost or phantom. So, now the nozuki he just fought off… I wonder if he is in danger of becoming one of them? They’re the ones that left the monastery… I’m interested to see how that all pans out with the yokai again. He’s exploring his past as an assassin. And now he’s also found Sarnai, and she’s getting him ready. I’m trying so hard to keep the names and places straight, but it’s hard.
I’m interested to see what happens with Danzen and what happens to him in the mountains and what separates him from Diyu and hell.
Shunta from the Diyu Brotherhood just tried to kill Danzen! He was able to hold his own, and he found Dalan, who he was searching for. Things are developing nicely as we go.
It seems like each part so far has seen Danzen on some sort of escapade that he must accomplish. I like the thought out structure of the four chapters and each part, and then fitting a certain amount of the main story in here. We meet the giants in here and we see him fight them. We also see more of Astra, his sword. All of the Japanese and everything in here is so great. I was attracted to it because, as a white author, I wanted to see how another author positively highlight another culture. I think it’s done pretty well, at least.
Again, really loving the Asian themes in here. Sunyata, the place that fell, the heaven that Danzen was talking about in this chapter, is a place of meditative state, a feature of reality, and an empty place of primordial awareness. Diyu is know as Chinese hell, which also makes sense with the straight-up hell references made toward the Diyu Brotherhood.
I like the way this story is unfolding, it’s not really a slow burn but it’s also not all just in-your-face. I’m still interested to see what happens to Danzen as far as his solitude from the monastery, especially if that’s going to turn him into a yokai.
Good chapter that just builds the tension here, not too much else to say about it. We’re now halfway through this part, so judging by how the last two parts were structured, I’m sure the next two chapters are going to see some sort of climax/resolution that also helps add to the overall arc of the plot. The yokai are fun to read about, I think. This one again brings up the idea of him not being fully human, but we know that from his previous demon speak.
I’m pretty sure all these yokai are actually based on real Japanese myth, as I’m starting to look through them. At first, I was just accepting the names and the legends and such as part of the story, maybe more influenced by than actually based on, but I think it’s really cool how much of the Japanese and other Asian influences are actually wrapped within these texts. It makes the novel feel more well-researched and thought out, especially when added to the “every part has four chapters” structure of the overall story.
That was definitely a big fight to protect a chicken. I like the whole sky burial idea, too, it’s kind of brutal but respectful all in the same I suppose. It’s a Tibetan funeral practice, and I enjoy the fact that every time I go to look something up like that, there’s a real thing it’s based off of. I think the author is doing a really good job, at least so far, of constructing and telling this story, and if he ever told me he just “guessed” everything and “got lucky” I’d be flabbergasted. But I do like this book, overall, so far, and it’s definitely keeping my interest.
I think it’ll be interesting to see the development of Danzen and this chicken throughout the rest of the text. I’m already kind of thinking of Moana and her little chicken in that movie, I guess kind of a cute relationship. We’re meeting more of these creatures in this world, which is cool, but I’m interested to see what becomes of all of them. There are a lot, so far, so we’ll see how many more there are by the end.
I still think Danzen is a good main character who stills seems relatable as a human despite his little search for redemption and whatever little demon powers he’s got that make people fear him. He’s obviously a very skilled fighter because of his assassin days, but he’s, like, a teddy bear assassin in some ways, I guess. Not in a bad way, just an observation.
What we learned about this little talisman of Sunyata and Soko taking a piece of it for herself was pretty interesting here, I think. This was a good chapter with some development, especially continuing on with the life at the monastery and his relationship with Sarnai and her family. I’m still struggling a little bit with the names and keeping them all together, especially with all the different “S” names, but I don’t think the author does a bad job at keeping people straight. Sometimes, there’s just a lot of characters, and that’s the way it is. I think the story itself is being delivered succinctly and is an enjoyable read up until now, where I have just about passed a third of the way through.
I really like this whole “lion dog” thing. I think it’s funny, because I have a German shepherd and I’ve always called her a lioness, so that little addition in here is just a side thing that brings me joy.
I’m still liking the development of this story, and how all the different yokai are coming into play. It really is interesting how much research the author seems to have put into this culture. Or, perhaps, he’s always just been a big fan and this is his translation of that. Either way, I think that, so far, anyway, this is a really well structured and well detailed book.
Unexpectedly short chapter, there. Not in a bad way, but there’s not much to really report here. We’re moving now into Part Five, and I’m still intrigued and interested to see where this will head.
I almost feel like this is also a LitRPG. It’s like every part is almost like a level, and then each chapter is just the progression of that through the text. Between all the demons and the fire breathing chicken, it’s just quite a little adventure Danzen’s got himself on over here.
Curious to see how this journey pans out. Also still curious to see how his character arc unfolds — prostitute mother, all he ever knew about his dad was that he and his mother had sex at some point and he can communicate with demons.
It’s also funny now, considering the reason this was one of five books, how many similarities I’ve sen, particularly since that was part of the focus in the dark fantasy category, with this and other books. The demon speech and mythology, like in Monster Whisperer, the feeling of a LitRPG like Pyresouls, and a tone that reminds me a bit of Christopher Mitchell’s The Queen’s Executioner but just a little better, sorry.
I like that there’s some Japanese horror influence going into this right now. Personally, I think Japanese horror is the most terrifying. I usually avoid it just because of that. The horror element here isn’t grotesque or overly psychological, but with the use of the demons and the faceless woman and such, I just like how he uses what he does.
What I will also say, though, something that I didn’t really notice that much until this chapter, is that, while I’m really connected with Danzen and I think he’s a great main character, we also don’t necessarily spend that much time with anybody else, and with Shedrup and Enkhmaa and the fire breathing chicken and all the other quests he’s already had, all of that occurs within the four chapter part, which is great, but then those characters kind of dwindle and only make random appearances from there. Not necessarily “random,” I guess, but I’m definitely starting to notice how much of the focus is solely on Danzen.
At least he’s a good character to focus on.
Okay, a grammatical thing that I kind of noticed in the last chapter that has no occurred three times within the first page of this one.
“The library was fairly expansive, Danzen Ravja eventually finding a section…”
“His field diary opened along with the book, Danzen cross-referencing the information…”
“The information was bountiful, Danzen letting the written word pass over him…”
All of those “ing” words are wrongly place here.
Should be: “The library was fairly expansive. Danzen eventually found…”
“His field diary opened along with the book, Danzen cross-referenced…”
“The information was bountiful, and Danzen let the written word pass…”
That was something I noticed in the last chapter, but now it’s starting to bother me. Sorry for grammatical things but it bugs me, what I can I say. Will see what I think about the rest of this chapter.
Mu-Onnna — I also want to start trying to write down all the yokai names or legends or whatnot so it’s easier to keep them straight (Not the fault of the other, mostly for review purposes.)
Nomin sounds intense.
“But don’t go around town wearing a mask.” Ah, the days before COVID.
What just happened with Danzen and Sarnai?? And, side note, she’s the strongest secondary character in my opinion.
A nice little action chapter here, especially with the show-off between Danzen and Mu-Onna. Again, though, now it’s turning into a game where it was like this level has now been passed. He successfully rescued Enkhmaa. We met more demons. We learned more about his demon powers. But then now, the next part is probably going to be another adventure that’s all complete within the act. I guess it’s reading more as a series of short stories that has one overarching plot tying them all together, and the parts are just like little episodes or something. It’s not bad, it’s just I guess like what I said a few chapters ago, that it just makes it harder to connect with and care about anybody who’s not Danzen.
But, again, at least Danzen is a really solid main character. If he wasn’t, this wouldn’t be a good book.
We meet a white fox yokai and Dalan has sent for Danzen’s help because he’s captured by giants. I wonder if Yama the lion dog will be around for this one. Kudzu is the fox. I haven’t been writing down many names but I think I need to.
So the fox is a kuzunoha. Good to know. Again in this chapter, I don’t know why, but I’m feeling some LitRPG vibes again. This fox is bringing me back to the Fire Oppa in Pyresouls apocalypse and I feel like Danzen is checking in with his equipment and gearing up for battle. I enjoyed this chapter, but I am starting to have an “I’m only halfway?” kind of mentality, so that sucks. I do actually think it’s partially because of every “part” having a plot of its own, so it just feels like so much as happened, but so much has still yet to happen, and part of me feels like the overall plot of this is starting to drag out a bit. Hopefully that changes soon.
Daidarabotchi. That’s the giants, I can’t remember if I wrote that down or not.
I like Dalan. I think he’s a funny character and I like what’s actually going on with him and the giants. It takes away the sense of danger here, but there’s a lighthearted humor that’s added in that I think helps flesh out the story a bit.
The red moon reminds me a bit of Halloween.
I’m assuming the final chapter in this part will see Danzen completing the task for Dalan.
The author’s use of “ing” words in here is actually starting to bother me a little bit. It’s not as much about them being used as it is about their use not being correct.
“His enhanced powers only aided him in his ability to move in such a quiet yet swift way, Danzen preferring the silent killer approach.”
That should be two separate sentences, first of all, but second of all, “Danzen preferred” is what it should read.
It’s whatever, but it’s something that I notice and that bothers me and that happens way more than the times I’ve called it out and quoted it here.
And I’m only halfway through, and this book is 700 pages.
“Gaki” is… another type of yokai I think?
But, of course, that part rounds up Danzen’s task with Kudzu to save — or, it turns out, help — Dalan, who needed the giant’s boy to be rescued, and Danzen completed all of that and met more yokai and did the same thing that’s been happening in every other part so far.
I wonder what this part’s quest is going to be. So far, each of the opening chapters have felt similar to an opening chapter in a book. It’s another feeling that this is a bunch of short stories put into one overarching story. That’s not particularly a bad thing. It does prevent me from fully investing in certain places, though, I suppose. Like in the last part, all the action and everything with the giants. I knew it wouldn’t last more than a few chapters, so it’s like, outside of “Danzen’s a demon,” all the other storylines just become a blip.
Nozuchi. I need to remember that one. As well as now a sugawara, or apparently the spirit of a lost warrior.
Outside of some of my up-and-down opinions here, I’m still loving all the Japanese influence.
Someone eating everything, including furniture. That seems like the adventure of this little part, but we will see how it all goes.
Kyubi are another yokai fox that get stuck in a form they’ve chosen because they eat too much. Which, I would assume, is what was going on with the kid who was eating all the furniture.
I like Kudzu, the fox, but I also really like Yama, the lion dog. What’s funny about both to me is that I wrote about thinking of may dog as a lion, but she’s also a foxhound. So I guess I see my own little furry pooch in Kudzu and Yama both, and I like that.
If only my dog could talk like Kudzu. I bet she’d have the same attitude.
Kudzu also reminds me a little bit of Fenris, the Fire Oppa from Pyresouls Apocalypse.
Now we’re talking about bakeneko’s, cats that can turn into yokai’s. There isn’t an overabundance of the types of yokai, but for reviewing purposes and trying to keep things straight in my chapter-by-chapters, I just realized it’s easier to start writing them down, since he meets so many different types of them.
It seems the bakeneko is more at fault than the kyubi. They’re pretty cool, though, the bakeneko, and I’m once again enjoying all of the Japanese influence in the text.
Danzen should take Kudzu up on the offer to discuss what he is, but I’m sure that will still be coming later in the book. Unlike in Monster Whisperer, I don’t feel like that aspect of this storyline is being dragged out too much. In fact, I think it’s probably going to start becoming a central focus. I think what we’ve seen with Danzen so far has been us connecting with him and the good deeds that he does, so when we connect to the deeper parts of his character, we’ll understand him more.
Uncle Gempachi rescued, this part saw the conclusion of another arc, and we are moving into the last four parts of the book.
Ooh, going to Ogul, a yokai village? I might need to stay by the keyboard for this one so I can write down all the yokai and keep them straight! (That’s not a snarky comment, either, I really like all the different yokai and I’m excited to get into a village of them like this.)
Hajikkaki is the species we first meet, with Hajiki being the kid and Kikikkaki being the mother, who I think is also the leader of this group of yokai.
The jubokko tree grows on the sites of battles or massacres.
Damn, Danzen’s blood be calling up on the demons from the underground, okay. I am interested in this, and the development of his little demon ability is coming along at a nice pace. We’ll see how much of that gets dealt with in Part Eight here. There’s only three parts after that, so I’m sure we’ll get some answers soon.
Jelmay is the cat that was trapped in the boy that was eating everything. And Danzen has a half-brother that’s a demon, so here we are moving right along with that story.
I kind of like this Jelmay character, I think he’s funny and adds a good sense of lightheartedness to an otherwise darkly-undertones story.
“I take it your mission was a success.”
The same sentence can be ushered in every chapter four up until now.
That was a nice little action-packed chapter with the battle against the skeletons of the tree and everything else leading up into the next part. We’re coming toward the end now, and I have faith that it will wrap up into a good ending. I also believe this is a standalone book, although I’m not too sure at this current typing, but I would like that. Not because it isn’t a good book, but just because it would be nice to complete full story. The only other book out of the five chosen for this project on my site that wasn’t a series was Piranesi. Sometimes it’s nice not to be left wanting more.
I like the character development in this chapter. I also still really like Jelmay, and I think the addition of him — or keeping him around, anyway — was a good choice. This book also had me interested in more Asian-themed works, and I started watching a Chinese show on Netflix last night. This is obviously Japanese, this book, but I’m really enjoying getting more into works from this culture because of this book. Before this, I thought Asian cinema only really excelled in horror, and I’m glad to find I was mistaken. So, thanks, Pilgrim, for that.
A momiji and an abumiguchi, and itsumade. Props to the guy who kept all of this straight.
We see another journey for Danzen in this act, where he has to go hunt down a businessman, Harsha who hasn’t paid his tab at the brothel and beat up the prostitute he used. This businessman is also the father of someone Danzen has killed before, by the same name, in his whole fire chicken thing. I am more than certain all of that particular storyline will be wrapped up in this part, as with all the others, but I will say this one might be the most interesting so far. Things look like they’re about to start clicking, so I’m here for that as we move into the last quarter of the book.
Well, Danzen completed that task already… it was a little anticlimactic, if I’m being honest.
However, that being said, I think it was just to make way for his interaction with Soko at the end, which should certainly be an interesting finish to this part.
“Money is just money, but having it allows you to do whatever you would like in our world.” That’s basically how I feel about money. I hate it, but I need it. Was actually just thinking this morning about changing my mentality and relationship with money. I don’t want to “love” it, but I also don’t want to “hate” it, so I’m trying to find a middle ground with it. Just liked this quote. That’s all.
Bye, Soko. I did think that was going to be a little more dramatic, but it is what it is. We’re moving forward now into the last two parts, and I’m still very interested to see what’s going to happen and how this will end.
Okay, so, now that I’ve started watching Handsome Siblings, that Chinese show on Netflix, I have a new appreciation for this story. I know it’s Japanese, but I’m mostly meaning the arcs within the four chapters of the parts. It’s making me now feel more like I’m watching a season of a TV show, and each part is actually an episode broken down into the teaser and then the three main acts that follow it. All along, there’s the overarching story of the “season” that lingers. I liked it already, but there was the brief moment where I felt kind of annoyed at the conclusions of all the side stories, but I don’t feel like that anymore.
This one, so far, is about someone trapped in a sauna.
Interested to see what happens with the poison arrow.
Akaname is another type of yokai that lives in bathhouses and abandoned estates. Lots of bathhouse action going on in this book.
Not much to say here, either. We’re moving toward the end, and I’m enjoying everything up to now.
I enjoyed the little Tavern at the End of the World sequence here, and now we are about to move into the last part of the book. This is another Book One, though, so who knows if we’ll actually get into Danzen’s little demon speak thing in this book. I would be kind of upset if we didn’t, to be honest. It’s fine if it’s something that’s not fully developed or divulged, but if it leaves me with basically nothing more than what’s taken me through all of this in the first place, then… I’m not going to be too happy, to be honest. That would be the only thing that would make me kind of feel like I wasted my time on this book.
Not much to say here, but I really do enjoy this book. Jelmay is still my favorite, but I miss Yama. Although with Kudzu I’m not sure how many animal-types could logically run around here.
I’m also really happy about finding Handsome Siblings, because it’s really helping me connect with this text in a different manner. Mostly in the visual sense, and adding an Oriental flair to everything I see in my mind. I’m again impressed with the author’s handling of this culture.
So Danzen’s father was the demon blood — he’s the ruler of the Diyu. That brings that full circle, wow. Especially considering he has a nun mom. I can say I didn’t really see that coming. Sad to hear he’s the result of a rape, though.
I’m glad we’ve got that information. Going forward, I would be happy to move into the second book just knowing what I know about it: Demon father ruling hell (better reveal than the one seen in Monster Whisperer), nun mother who was unfortunately abused, and a full-demon half-brother. What a family dynamic.
And especially with the “if you ever meet her” comment from Abbot Monpa toward Danzen about his mother, I would assume that dynamic will be examined in the next book. Although, hey… we could still meet here in this one.
Uh-oh! Norwin is back!! How will this book end??!
Well, that was a great ending! I know that’s kind of anticlimactic to just put and leave like that, but I’m pleased with how this ended. I’m pleased with this overall. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, but it was great. Good job, Harmon!