Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.

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By Arpad Okay. Izuna are spirit wolves, born from the world tree, protectors of the barrier. The world created by Saverio Tenuta, Bruno Letizia and Carita Lupatelli is actually split in two, a single land occupied by both spirits and men, blinded to each other’s existence by a magic veil. Despite their inability to connect, these two worlds are not separate entities. They share more than earth. War in the world of men poisons the spirit world and rends the curtain. It seems that, for both sides to survive, a wolf girl must fall from paradise.

“For every flower that dies, a new bud prepares to open.”

 Izuna evokes stories new and old. One is quite Japanese. The beautiful white wolves with their branchy black ears and whiskers. The Munemori, world tree and parent to the Izuna wolf clans, is white as its children, with blossoms the color of embers. Pagodas guarded by fox and tanuki. Beyond the veil, moonlight falls on Edo style castle gables. Samurai battle ninja. But the paintings of Carita Lupatelli and even the story itself are cut from a different cloth. One is more Romantic, more fantasy than fantastic, something more akin to Dungeons and Dragons. A pulp novel cover depicting bizarre Eastern creatures. Romantic heroism and samurai spiritualism, all of it very Star Wars. The flashing blades of warriors. The mystical energy beneath it all, binding everything together. Even the Hidden Fortress side of A New Hope is felt here; the battles in the book are viewed from the rustic’s perspective as frequently as the warrior’s. It’s Dragonlance, by way of Kurosawa.

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Aki is its cornerstone. She is the last member of the wolf clan to be born from the Munemori tree, but she is a human being, not a wolf. Aki represents a turning point in history. The future is no longer in the hands of a vanguard of dedicated defenders. It is in the hands of ladies who use their wits. Women are the most compelling characters in Izuna, specifically Aki and Kisune Hime, the fox princess who can cross the veil. The wolves of paradise fear change and the fox princess revels in it. Kitsune Hime counsels embracing the future instead of running from it.

Running isn’t really an option. Divided worlds or no, the destruction caused by man is as significant to the spirit world as it is the material. The common consensus in our world is that, even with all the damage we are doing to the Earth, the end result of our meddling will destroy our world but not the world. In Izuna, no place is safe. The mad general’s black magic massacre of the countryside compromises the spiritual world tree. And only the few whose lives have been touched by magic can make a difference. A single person can shape the destiny of the world, as it is in the world of Tolkien. The Izuna are Arthurian heroes, fit to make the grand decisions that shape the lives of many.

This story is part epic, part Enlightenment. Aki is a new kind of fruit borne from the tree of life. A spirit wolf lives forever in paradise. Aki is the spirit made in our image, she is able to bear her own fruit. The fanatic views this change with apprehension, unable to let go of the immortality promised in paradise. The sage accepts the way things are. The cost of a finite life, to use the time you have to create life and magic, is what gives it value. With an infinite number of chances, the victories are as meaningless as the defeats. When you have but a single chance to get it right, every moment truly counts. The smart wolf says immortality is for the birds.

The end result of playing with ancient myths and modern theology is that Aki can stand in the pantheon of warrior goddesses. Her tale is one that illustrates the value of a single life through the broad metaphor of a wolf war against ghost hands. Lofty, progressive philosophy snuck into an adventure yarn. It is the quality I have come to expect from Humanoids: the story lingers even after the book is closed.

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