Tangled Relations and Secret Parentage Revealed! – Queen Seondeok, Vol. 2 – Part 3

Continuing with the last part of volume 2 from Eunkyeong Ryu’s series Queen Seondeok (류은경의 “선덕여왕”), I’m going to skip chapter 6, “A Blossoming Flower on the Battlefield,” since it mostly has to do with Deokman and Kim Yusin’s Hwarang unit fighting against the Baekje. There are other storylines that interest me more than that one, and we pick up those juicy subplots in the last two chapters of the novel.

In chapter 7, “Tangled Relations,” the chapter opens with a very poetic description of time passing. Around five years have passed, and Yeoraesa Temple is again the scene of something terrible. It has largely been abandoned since the massacre and is now full of cobwebs and weeds. The altar is empty with no Buddha or furnishings, and dung is all over the floor. 

An old man arrives here with Bidam. It’s Munno, sickly and fragile, now with white hair and wrinkled like a chicken. Munno wonders what happened at the temple. Bidam says he will investigate while Munno rests after their journey. Bidam goes into the temple and enters the monks’ quarters, noticing what appear to be bloodstains from five years before. Bidam thinks about Deokman, who makes his heart flutter, but Munno calls out for him, and Bidam leaves the hall to return to him. They continue their journey.

The next scene starts with a description of Wolseong Palace before turning to Prince Yongchun who is drinking with Kim Seohyeon. The men discuss Kim Seohyeon’s family status being restored to a higher class and his change of residence resulting from Princess Cheonmyeong’s attention and concern for his son Yusin.  The long segment segues into Yusin and his squad of Hwarang, a storyline I’m not highlighting in this post, so I’m skipping over the rest.

The story then continues with a meeting between Princes Cheonmyeong and Deokman. Some time has passed from the last scene, and Deokman is laying spread-eagle in a small pavilion in the palace garden. She is tired from drinking and dancing with Yusin, and Cheonmyeong is sitting next to her, yawning. They talk together. I don’t think Yusin is there though he is the subject of their conversation. When they start talking about Deokman’s feelings for Yusin, Cheonmyeong gets her flustered since she doesn’t seem to realize Deokman is a woman, which is a secret Deokman still wants to conceal though she struggles with her urge to show herself truly as a woman and be with Yusin. Apparently, Deokman even kissed Yusin at one point, and it comes up often in her thoughts in this section. She also thinks Cheonmyeong loves Yusin, too, which complicates things.

In the next scene, an unspecified amount of time has passed, but it’s now August at dusk. Light is coming from the window of Munno’s guest room at an inn, but Munno is sitting out by the gate talking with Bidam. Bidam has been out carousing with a character named Deokchung, and he’s only obedient to Munno because Munno is ill, but Bidam eventually starts to resist him. However, he has studied martial arts regularly under Munno’s direction.  

Their discussion turns to Princess Cheonmyeong, who was nearly killed at Yeoraesa Temple. One of them mentions there was a witness to the massacre at Yeoraesa Temple who was warned to stay silent about the situation but who confessed the whole incident to someone at Poseoksa Temple. The speaker speculates that Mishil led the massacre at Yeoraesa or at least covered it up due to her power and that Ilwolseongdo Hwarang group was clearly involved. None of the dialogue is tagged, so I’m not sure who is speaking, but I’m assuming this conversation is still between Munno and Bidam.

The person the first speaker is talking to notes that his guess is correct and that the Ilwolseongdo Hwarang group is led by Bojong, Mishil’s son.  Then the conversation turns to Deokman being one of the Yonghwahyangdo Hwarang. Bidam eventually asks why Munno thinks he should be named to be an envoy to Deokman, a woman. Munno responds it’s because she’s a princess of Silla, surprising Bidam. Bidam demands to know why a princess would be living in the desert posing as a man instead of living in the palace as a woman.

The text here goes into Bidam’s demeanor, his family history and his name with Munno concluding that Bidam is now grown up and can help his mother work out her karma. Munno begins to explain Deokman’s story. Bidam asks why Munno would suggest Bidam become Deokman’s envoy knowing Bidam is Mishil’s son. He also asks if that was why Munno raised him, then declares he wants to go to Mishil’s palace to meet his mother. Munno tells him no, he should not go to her.  

The next scene switches to Mishil talking with Kim Seohyeon about Yusin. She asks if Yusin will pair up with Hajong’s daughter. She thinks it’s time for Yusin to think about marriage since his reputation has grown so much. I believe that the girl would be Mishil’s granddaughter since one of her sons is named Hajong. Kim Seohyeon just looks at her in confusion since Hajong’s daughter is only 7 years old, which is too young for marriage in the era even for girls. This story is set around the 8th c AD, which would put it a few centuries before Tale of Genji, and in that country at that time the age for marriage for girls was usually puberty through her early 20s, while it was 12 for boys. So suggesting a 7-year-old girl as a marriage partner was out of bounds even for these societies at this point history.  However, Yusin is very close to Princess Cheonmyeong, and the division this has caused in the Hwarang is the reason Mishil came up with such a scheme. Remember that Mishil was at one time prominent in the Hwarang, and she’s losing some of her influence due to Cheonmyeong’s position. 

The final scene in this chapter returns to Bidam and Munno. It’s just before sunrise, and Munno watches Bidam sleep in the low light, noting how delicate and anxious his face appears. Munno thinks about the secret Bidam forced him to reveal the night before. As daybreak approaches, the blue light of a naked blade appears near the sliding paper door, and Munno sees it’s Bidam, who is now overwhelmed by wrong appetites and a desire for revenge. Munno has a bad feeling that Bidam will betray everyone in the end and pulls out his sword.

Raising his arm, Munno slices Bidam in the neck, but Bidam seems to anticipate Munno’s actions and trembles as if dying. Munno sees a tear on Bidam’s cheek and sighs. He had raised Bidam as if he were his own, but he knew it was hard for Bidam growing up without a mother. It is understandable that Bidam wants to meet her now. Munno pulls back his sword, and Bidam opens the paper sliding screen and flees.

I’m going to just pick out a few scenes from the final chapter in this volume. Skipping the first scene, we see Bidam approaching the gates of Wolseong Palace and glaring at it angrily in the second scene.  He already has injured some of the guards at the gates and is demanding to meet Lady Mishil. The difficulty of reaching her has made his anger flare even higher. He knows from her reputation that Lady Mishil is a swordswoman, but he wants to see her and understand why she abandoned him. He looks up at the sky filled with dark clouds which echo the evil in his own heart.

Yusin and Deokman are in a cave in the mountains, and they are practicing martial arts. There is some discomfort between them since they have to bathe apart due to Deokman’s secret. Deokman ponders whether she can break her oath yet and tell him her secret that she is really a woman and not a man.

Skipping past a few more military segments, we return to Deokman and Yusin, who are traveling together in the hot weather into the district of Dalgubeol. They hear crying and encounter a young woman, whom they question. Yusin asks the woman why she is crying. She replies that bandits attacked the village and kidnapped their children, so Deokman asks how they can help. The woman then complains that the government officials have turned a blind eye to the selling of children instead of coming up with a solution. She refers to Deokman and Yusin as aristocrats when she speaks to them. Yusin says they should then go to Hwangsanjin, a major trade waterway where many ships sail through, because they can find the children before they are sold at that location. They discuss whether it’s more likely that they can save the children if they report the situation to Princess Cheonmyeong.

When the storyline returns to them again, Deokman and Yusin are traveling along a mountain road and sit on a bench there, where they meet with Munno. Deokman hopes to discover the secret of her birth by meeting the man she thought at least for some time was her father. They talk about her search for her father and the possibility of meeting her real father. At the end, Munno tells her there isn’t much time left, calls her princess when he addresses her, then leaves the bench to head back to the temple.  

Then in a later scene, the wind buffets the windows of a guest room at the temple, and the eaves shake ominously.  Munno opens the door and goes out, calling for Bidam. Seeing the boy, he asks what he’s doing. When Bidam thanks him, Munno asks what he is talking about. Bidam draws his sword, and Munno yells for him to stop, but Bidam stabs him near the heart. As Munno is dying, Bidam rips the military manual that Munno has been carrying out of his hand. Remembering his humiliation at the gates of Wolseong Palace in passing, Bidam also retrieves a letter Munno has and examines it. Bidam tells Munno how betrayed he feels before saying goodbye and going in search of Princess Deokman.

I’m going to end the volume on that note. There still is one more book in the series that we’ll get to later.

Part three of a three part series

Next time: We turn to Hong Kong’s most illustrious wuxia writer, Jin Yong, and his classic Return of Condor Heroes!

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Virtual Conference Flights of Foundry Coming Up May 16th & 17th

Next weekend, I’ll be participating in the virtual Dealers’ Room of online speculative fiction conference Flights of Foundry, which readers can get the scoop on and register for here: https://flights-of-foundry.org

Programming for the event is set for May 16th and 17th.

I also have prepared my book trailer for volume 4 of my Lucky Cat Series, Lucky Cat and the Kaiju Horde:

I also got some more Lucky Cat posters done.

I don’t know if I’ll be drawing more for this series, but I do want to get back to drawing the ghost manga I started a few years ago and got sidetracked from with requests for a sequel to Kumori and the Lucky Cat.

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Kim Yushin’s Special Hwarang Squad – Queen Seondeok, Vol. 2 – Part 2

Continuing with more of volume 2 from Eunkyeong Ryu’s series Queen Seondeok (류은경의 “선덕여왕”), we pick up the action with chapter 3, “Yonghwa Hyangdo: Kim Yushin’s Hwarang Squad.” In the first scene, we see Kim Yusin with his Hwarang squad meeting Princess Cheonmyeong at a Buddhist temple. There’s a procession with the king and queen wearing their crowns, and everyone is in formal attire, including the Hwarang in their special uniforms. About ten of the Hwarang go to greet Cheonmyeong and comment on her return.

The scene continues into the next few sections where we see Bojong with Kim Yusin’s Hwarang, whom he salutes. We also see King Jinpyeong with his grandson Chunchu, who is with a wet nurse. It sounds like he has never met the child before since he verifies that the boy is Prince Yongsu’s son. They talk about his clothing then head over to Mishil’s palace where she is waiting with Seolwon and Sejong. They didn’t know about the princess’ son either, and they speculate that was why Princess Cheonmyeong went looking for Munno. They also talk about Deokman.

In the next section, we see Deokman waking on a path through juniper trees carrying a lantern. The description in this section is extensive and includes more details like peach trees and a hall called the Dead Flower Hall. It’s nighttime, and she is on the palace grounds not far from the military exercise hall. Two people are on the lawn practicing a sword dance. Princess Cheonmyeong promises to show her Munno’s manuscript, and the subject of Mishil’s operative, Chilsuk, comes up again. They also discuss who sent an assassin to Yeoraesa Temple. The scene ends with Deokman lamenting her “mother’s” death and feeling uncertain about her own identity.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that Deokman is reported missing in the next scene after her existential angst in the previous one. Kim Yusin gets angry while he’s asking about Deokman’s disappearance and tries to find out where her companions Jukbang and Kado are. The brothers are brought to him, but they are unaware that she is missing. There’s some concern that Deokman was kidnapped, and Princess Cheonmyeong sends Yonchun to Mishil’s home.

Yongchun finds Deokman and talks with her about Chilsuk and Mishil. It’s nighttime again, and Deokman is suspicious because so many of Mishil’s associates are accompanying Chilsuk. There’s also some controversy over a special Hwarang mortuary tablet, but by the end of the segment, Deokman actually ends up talking with Mishil about Chilsuk.

The chapter closes with the Hwarang dressed in their formal uniforms training with Kim Yusin. Deokman is among them, sweating and eating. Her impressions of Mishil the evening before has left her filled with dread since she is now sure Mishil genuinely wants to kill her.

The next chapter, “A Lack of Character,” describes the changing seasons, a heavy atmosphere, and a languid crowd returning from the market. Deokman is at the eastern market and talks with a plump shopkeeper, Kim Muhwa, who happens to be Kin Yusin’s younger sister.

In the second scene, it’s spring with the Hwarang and Princess Cheonmyeong sitting in a pavilion near the royal palace. I guess a fair amount of time has passed, and her son Chunchu will be twelve in three year. Cheonmyeong is uneasy since he won’t be able to stay hidden anymore, and she wonders how she can protect him from the cunning and treacherous Mishil as well as rival kingdoms Koguryeo and Baekje.

The following few sections alternate between the Hwarang and Mishil’s cohort, and the first scene shows Kim Yusin in a garden with the Hwarang, calling for Deokman. Someone flogs Deokman with a club when she comes out and kneels before Yusin, and as she is beaten, it feels like her bones are being pulled out. I think she’s still pretending to be a man, and her ordeal in the Hwarang, which is a male-only military order at this point despite Mishil’s power over them, is pretty drawn out. There’s a scuffle over taking someone’s pants off, which is problematic for Deokman since she’s actually a woman, so Deokman hits the man.

We then switch back to Mishil and her usual conspirators of her two beaus, her sons, and her brother who are having a laugh together about Deokman’s situation during Hwarang training since they mention the pants incident. Mishil already knows who she is apparently and that Deokman is only pretending to be a man.  The next section swings back to Yusin, Deokman, and Jukbang at night, catching the scent of liquor on the wind.

A more significant scene comes next with Mishil and Princess Cheonmyeong. Cheonmyeong goes with Mishil to her chambers where she and the rest of Mishil’s retinue discuss the Hwarang. Kim Yusin’s regiment is going on a march, and there was some quarrel between them and another regiment that set this march off. Bojong is particularly bitter as he questions Cheonmyeong because Yusin has somehow humiliated him before Mishil, but he knows his mother was a woman whose scheming could drive anyone out of power. Mishil’s brother Misaeng tells Cheonmyeong that she shouldn’t mediate the dispute.

When someone else at the meeting says everyone is gathering at Namdang to discuss countermeasures, Cheonmyeong and Mishil rush there. The scene then shifts to Seolwon and King Jinpyeong talking about the Baekje enemy gathering their forces and the state of Daeya Castle.  Jinpyeong tells Seolwon to take the troops to the front line.  Meanwhile, Princess Cheonmyeong feels suffocated by the constant tribulation between the Three Kingdoms.

The final chapter I’m covering in this post is chapter 5, “Conspiracy,” and it begins with a description of nighttime falling over Seolwon’s fortress.  Seolwon prepares to deploy the Hwarang from camp, and Deokman, Jukbang, Kim Yusin and Kim Seohyeon are among them. They’re fighting the Baekje, and this section gets into some of the logistics of that fight. The scene continues through the remaining four segments of the chapter as the Hwarang arrive and attack Amak Fortress in Baekje’s territory.

Just for fun, here is a post (Korean only) showing what remains of this historical fortress:


Amak Fortress is quite high up and has a wonderful view of the valley below in some of these shots. The tourist sign has an English translation that refers to the battle mentioned in this chapter between the Silla and Baekje kingdoms.   

The fourth segment of the chapter starts two days later as a messenger from the battlefield returns in the rain to Wolseong Palace (literal name Half Moon Castle). The text notes here that the king and Princess Cheonmyeong, who I believe are at Amak Castle, care a lot about Kim Seohyeon and Kim Yusin and that Princess Cheonmyeong considers Deokman her defender. This scene otherwise features the Silla royal family mostly together as King Jinpyeong and Prince Yongchun discuss negotiations with the Baekje. Yongchun reports that the king of Baekje surrendered tearfully because there was no advantage to a long war, and Silla had attacked Bakeje’s Amak Fortress, so negotiations went well, and Silla’s troops will be returning in seven days.

Mishil then goes to King Jinpyeong to discuss holding a celebration for the returning Hwarang, then she walks with Princess Cheonmyeong as the princess heads toward the back garden. Mishil asks Cheonmyeon if it’s true that Kim Seohyeon and Kim Yusin are the Princess’ close allies, and the chapter ends with Cheonmyeong looking out beyond the walls of Amak Fortress with tears in her eyes and a worried expression on her face.

We’ll finish up this volume next time.   

Part two of a three part series.

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Hidden Crimes and the Fragility of Human Nature

I got the review from Kirkus on the final volume of The Lucky Cat Series, and this obviously was written by someone different from the reviewer of the first three books, which is what happens at that organization. They even note on their FAQ page that they can’t guarantee their reviewers will understand your work and may not have all of the same background knowledge as you as the author has, and this is just the nature of the industry anyway. You win some, you lose some. People have different tastes, which is why I don’t really get into whether I love the books I’m reading for this blog or not.


That said, let me make a few points about it anyway. The occasion of a high-profile mixed review gives me an opportunity to talk about my work and my approach to it, and that’s never a bad thing. The topic I selected to write about in The Lucky Cat Series is an uncomfortable one that most people don’t learn about in school, and there’s a lot of revisionist history and denialism involved with it. However, this was the whole point of the project: the series was my answer to a college age friend who wanted to compare our different language degree programs separated by many years in time and geography because she felt there were key omissions to the information presented in her program. I didn’t have those same omissions given the place and time and with the people I was studying under for my Russian language/lit degree, which also included a special certificate program in the historical and political side of the region, and I studied under a very good historian who was not revisionist on Stalinist history. Just because of the topic, though, there will be a negative reaction from some quarters.

My first point of commentary is the reviewer’s summary of the opening chapter. At no point in book four is it a plot point that anyone hears that the white roses are now still growing in the Alps, and the secret police never went to the Alps because they heard that they were. From the beginning of chapter 1 to the end of chapter 1, the roses were dead and weren’t expected to be anything but dead, though after they arrived someone had a vision of them blooming briefly during a haunting sequence. If a reader misses this plot point, it’s probably true the rest of the novel wouldn’t make sense.

So what actually is the plot at that point in the story? The secret police go to the Alps to investigate a theory one of them had about the true identity of the Empress after deliberating between two possible points of attack on her: they could either go after the phantom castle where it usually appears in Fujimi City in Old Japan or go to the Alps where the Empress has a human connection.

My second point is that there should have been no real mystery as to the characters’ motivations since it’s all laid out right in front of the reader. For example, in one scene, elderly superstate leader Gleb Shulga is lured late at night into New Bangkok’s Grand Theater where the seats are full of sinister figures (the Empress’ legion of fox servants) and a woman is murdered on stage by superstate thugs. When the dying woman turns to the audience, points to Gleb, and calls him a murderer, he thinks back over his work for the superstate, which is not a benign entity; he realizes he probably did murder women like her in his service to the state, and even now he doesn’t care. The dead want justice. That seems to me to be pretty straightforward, and this scene I think really illustrates the heart of what the series is all about.  But these ethical questions can lead to discomfort. This article was in the headlines just this week about the quest to find the graves of dissidents murdered by the Soviets many years ago:



At some point, the sheer brutality of what was done to victims like these and the incredible number of the dead across the globe under many different totalitarian societies in the 20th century make them faceless and forgettable, and what I intended to do here is make them less passive, give them agency, and personalize them. I thought it would be fun and appropriate to have them pound the superstate’s a##, and the kaiju are good instruments of terror to do just that. Here are just a few of the mind-numbing historical statistics involved just as a sample:

Stalin (1930s)                     20 million

Hitler (1930s-40s)            5 to 6 million Jews plus 6 million victims of other categories

Mao (1950s-60s)               20 to 46 million

Pol Pot’s Cambodia (1970s)         1.2 to 2.8 million, or between 13% and 30% of the population

Argentina’s Dirty War (1970s-80s)            30,000 “disappeared”

Some of the other psychological aspects of totalitarianism I illustrate with the series also are straight out of the history books, even if that doesn’t make people happy because that’s not how they thought things actually worked. Rationality was supposed to bring enlightenment, but it didn’t. It brought mass murder instead.

I have a few new pictures of the kaiju from the story to share here, too, today:

Of course, these reviews are short and can’t get into everything, but let me also note that The Lucky Cat and the Kaiju Horde continues my rather different take on the crone archetype with the Empress’ character that I began in volume 3 and haven’t talked much about yet, and it features a new backstory of the dolls in Danli Xian’s collection. In earlier volumes, I’ve mostly focused on the Hinamatsuri doll collection, so there’s plenty more to explore in that universe among the doll resistance movement beyond the hints the review gives.

The review Kirkus did of my third volume in the series did touch a little on the crone aspect I was working with, but here’s some background. I should probably write about my take on that more in the future:


On that note, my next project will be The Inn at the Edge of the World, which will be a Silk Road style, pseudo-historical horror-mystery centered around a retired court dancer and her inn full of colorful, frightening guests.

My next post will definitely be the return to Queen Seondeok that I’ve been promising, and I think I have a taste for the Tomb Sect, Dragon Girl, and Li Mochou to follow up on that blog reading series, so I’m going to dig out Jin Yong’s Return of the Condor Heroes novels for the next featured books on this blog. It’s difficult Chinese to read, though, but maybe now is the time to give it a shot.

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Lucky Cat and the Gods of War Book Reading Videos

In honor of the postponed Steel City Con that was supposed to be this past weekend, I got more videos reading excerpts from my Lucky Cat Series finished. I did a more limited cosplay in this one, too, to keep things interesting.

Video 1:

Video 2:

Video 3:

Only one more volume to go with book trailers and reading videos to finish out the Lucky Cat Series promotional art, though I hope to get back to my Queen Seondeok series this weekend.

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Lucky Cat Chews Up the Scenery on Story Monsters At Home and New Reading Videos

I recently put together a new series of book reading videos in my special Snow Maiden cosplay for volume 2 of The Lucky Cat Series, Lucky Cat and Snow Maiden’s Vengeance. Here are the video links:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Let me mention again that my YouTube Channel, The Enlightened Rabbit Scholastic Society, is at this link:


I don’t post a lot there, but if you want to see older reading videos to get caught up on the series excerpts, that’s where you should look.

Also, I got the new trailer done for Lucky Cat and the Gods of War:

Kirkus Review recently looked at volume 3 and posted their review of it here:


My pull quote:

“In this follow-up to Lucky Cat and the Snow Maiden’s Vengeance (2018), Gray continues to add meticulous layers to her saga of spirit-animated figurines battling for humanity’s freedom….the author’s portrayal of magic is subtle and rewarding….This engaging and complex series installment offers fans more supernatural maneuvering.” – Kirkus Review

Also, many thanks to Story Monsters for featuring the Lucky Cat Series in their at home program for students displaced by the school closings for the rest of the academic year:


I’m waiting to hear about a second virtual con that may also feature it, and I’ll be sure to post that as I get word. I’ve extended my free book offer at Voracious Readers through May. More reading videos and another book trailer will be coming soon, too.

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Kaiju Unleashed! Free E-Book Giveaway For March Only

It’s done! My final volume of the Lucky Cat Series, Lucky Cat and the Kaiju Horde, is now available in print and e-book formats at Amazon.com:

(Did that link show up properly? If not, you can head on up to the menu at the top of this page where it says books and hit the “Lucky Cat Series” from the drop down menu or just go to Amazon to find it directly.)

For the month of March only, I’m partnering with Voracious Readers Only to do a special edition e-book omnibus giveaway of The Lucky Cat Series. That is, all four volumes compiled into one e-book for a limited release only. Sign up to get your copy here, which will also get you on my newsletter mailing list:


I haven’t gotten around to preparing the book trailer for the third installment yet, but here’s Kirkus Review’s take on Lucky Cat and the Gods of War, which I’m pleased to say they clearly liked. It’s great to see people getting into the series:


As I close out the series with this volume, let me say a few words about my inspiration for some parts of it. Of course, my research and presentation of the Godzilla franchise certainly has been influential, especially on volume 4 where things really get crazy with the kaiju, but I also just finished binge-watching all of the currently available seasons of “Attack on Titan” for more inspiration. My haunted, chic ball-joint doll set I feature as the antagonist/protagonists certainly have some direct influence, though I would say the beautiful puppets in “Thunderbolt Fantasy” are a bigger inspiration. The doll design was particularly inspired, too, by a really impressive South Korean doll maker, Iple House, in Seoul, which has an incredibly beautiful type of ball-joint doll they make, especially their doll Miho, which you can still get a look at here:

The photos of the doll version in her black lace and red number were very much what I had in mind as a starting point for the Empress’ design. Their male dolls are equally amazing, and I just wanted to give a shout out to them for their great work. I don’t think I’ve seen dolls more beautiful and realistic anywhere. Of course, the Empress’ haunting form was strongly influenced by the Umbrella Goddess of Japanese anime series “Yamishibai,” so if you want to explore some possible elaboration on that character, you could check out The Lucky Cat Series, though the head tilt and intimidating style of the character is probably the only resemblance.

I also kept the Just War Theory in mind when writing this series, too:


I’ve already talked at length about the real-world totalitarian state angle of the project at length, so I thought I’d give you some insight into other aspects of the series this time.

Now, let me also announce my upcoming panels for Tekko. I will be speaking on the following topics:

Japanese Castles

The Westernization of East Asia

Buddhism 101

Thunderbolt Fantasy and East Asian Puppetry

I will be back to my normal blogging around April 1st, though I should have a post or two before that comes about.

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2020 Schedule and Publication News

I’m going a little slow on my reading schedule for this blog for the moment as I get the final volume of The Lucky Cat Series finished up. I should be done with that in a few weeks along with some related videos, illustrations, etc.

My schedule of appearances for the first half of the year is shaping up as follows:

Tekko, April 2-5, 2020

Steel City Con, April 17-19, 2020

Momento Con, May 9-10, 2020

3 Rivers Comic Con, May 30-31, 2020

Living Dead Weekend Monroeville, June 12-14, 2020

I also have started a newsletter for subscribers called the Scholar’s Circle in late 2018 that is semi-annual. It often focuses on cultural and historical topics, depending on what I want to do. If you would like to subscribe to it or get back issues, drop me a line at icepinepalace at yahoo dot com. Past issues include a focus on Asian tea culture, Silk Road music, and topics in bilingualism and foreign language education, a topic I will revisit again as I feel a need to return to it. I think for 2020 I need to address some historical topics that I think are being ignored in public discourse these days to everyone’s detriment, and I’m going to go out of range a little with the next one to cover topics like the history of the NAACP, some select civil rights leaders, and basic genetics and historical intermarriage patterns in East Asia. The second one for the year will probably look at East Asian immigration history. My recent bilingualism newsletter looked at little known laws surrounding foreign language education in America in the early 20th century and the historical reasons for the aggressive monolingualism of the Anglosphere, so be sure to get on my mailing list if any of those topics are of interest.  

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Slaughter at Yeoraesa Temple and the Search for Munno – Queen Seondeok, Vol. 2 – Part 1

We’re kicking off 2020 by returning to last year’s Korean selection, Eunkyeong Ryu’s Queen Seondeok (류은경의 “선덕여왕”), which is a novelized version of the Korean TV show by the same name. This story comes in a three volume set, and I will look at volume 2 next.

To recap since I didn’t continue with the series later in the year last year as planned, the story takes place in the Silla Era with the Queen of Silla giving birth to a set of twins that they separate since they are in a power struggle with Mishil, the leader of the Hwarang fighting force and former concubine of a deceased Silla king. The King keeps his daughter Princess Cheonmyeong and sends his second daughter off with palace lady-in-waiting Sohua with the help of the revered Hwarang leader, Munno. Once the second princess, only known as Deokman and raised in Central Asia in a Silk Road caravan town, Mishil’s agents have traced her. After a series of misfortunes and Sohua’s death, Deokman goes in search of Munno, uncertain of who her father may be, and meets Princes Cheonmyeong along the way, though neither of them know who the other really is.

Turning to chapter 1 in this volume, “A Fated Encounter,” I realize I must have skimmed the end of volume 1 too quickly, because we’re starting in a very dramatic, ugly place with volume 2, and I wasn’t prepared for that. I haven’t watched the series in quite a long time, and maybe I should refresh my memory, but chapter 1 starts with 5 scenes worth spending some time on.

In scene 1, we begin with a description of a midsummer day at what is probably a Buddhist temple called Yeoraesa. The description of the scene includes a “sea of blood,” assassins and a massacre. Deokman is there, and she leaps up the main sanctuary’s stone steps. A clanging sound can be heard in the distance, and the assassins disappear.

At this point, Deokman heads straight for Yeoraesa, looking for the man she thinks is her father, Munno. She is surrounded by corpses covered with black flies and the fishy smell of blood in the intense heat in the temple’s garden. She can hardly believe a great man like Munno could have been killed in this attack since he is a Hwarang leader with an extensive background in the martial arts. Tears are running down her cheeks as she looks over the dead bodies to find him.

When she finds one man who is still alive but near death, she asks whether Munno survived and says he is her father. The dying person is certain Munno wasn’t there during the massacre and asks if she is really his daughter. Near the end of scene, Deokman snatches an ornamental knife she finds in the garden.

The story returns to Mishil’s palace in the next scene. Mishil is wearing a wide, floral print skirt, and she’s talking with Sejong and Misaeng about her son Bojong, who has disappeared. Bojong is known to have a calm demeanor and superior skill at the military arts, so they are concerned that he disappeared, which is also connected to the massacre at the Yeoraesa temple in Gongju.

Mishil also speculates that Prince Yongchun and Princess Cheonmyeong have an illicit relationship although they are in laws, and Misaeng mentions that Cheongmyeong also went missing after she fell off a cliff, but no one knows if she died or survived the fall.  Seolwon goes to look for Bojong.

In scene three, we go back to the Silla palace and King Jinpyeong, who drops a cup of wine as he speaks with Prince Yongchun about Princess Cheonmyeong’s disappearance. He wants to know why she went to Yeoraesa Temple, and Yongchun tells him she went to meet Munno. This news surprises Jinpyeong, but Yongchun says she has wanted to meet Munno for a year and had gathered intelligence that he was at Yeoraesa. Both men think she fell off the cliff there at a place called Mannogun. They then talk about the kings of the other kingdoms of Baekjae and Koguryeo.

The next scene appears to be a flashback with Yongchun with Princess Cheonmyeong at Mannogun. They are with Kim Yusin’s mother Wife Manmyeong, who is married to Kim Seohyeon. She doesn’t realize at first that the weeping girl with them is a princess of Silla. Their discussion ranges from Silla’s royal family, Mishil, and the Hwarang as Kim Yusin himself arrives.  

The final scene in the chapter shows an injured Bojong among a pile of corspes. Deokman is there with a male friend Jukbang, and Jukbang takes Bojong’s amber ring before they leave the area.

Chapter 2, “A Deal With the Enemy,” opens with Mishil having an audience with King Jinpyeong and Queen Maya about the disappearance of their children. Queen Maya is tearful and heartbroken over the situation, and King Jinpyeong is also very depressed. The second scene shows more of these characters, but I’m going to stick with the juicier subplot with Deokman and the Princess.

We get back to Deokman in the chapter’s third scene where she’s traveling with two men, Jukbang and Kodo. Jukbang still has Bojong’s ring, and they’re looking for somewhere to sell it in the Eastern Market. Later in the scene, there’s an extended description of a victim of the Yeoraesa Temple massacre who owned the ornamental knife Deokman took. At the time, she is concerned he might regain consciousness, but he doesn’t recover.

In the next few scenes, the missing characters Bojong and Princess Cheonmyeong return to the palace. First, Mishil and her coterie go to visit Bojong, who gets very emotional and cries as they discuss Munno and Yeoraesa. Then, the next scene begins with a description of a pine forest known as Cheonkyeongrim, located in Gyeongju, and contains a few references to the northern and southern skies. Of course, astronomy is central to the plot of this series since there’s the prophecy of the rise of Mishil’s enemy when the stars of the Big Dipper change. After a brief description of the people of the land and some commentary on the kings of Silla, Deokman and Cheonmyeong appear near a stream that passes by Heungryusa Temple, a large temple situated in Gyeongju during the Silla era. Deokman tells her she’s now safe, but Yongchun chides Deokman for speaking so casually to the princess. Deokman is surprised to hear that Cheonmyeong is a princess.

They talk about Munno, Yeoraesa Temple, and how members of the Hwarang massacred the monks there. Deokman says she hates the Hwarang and doesn’t want to live with them, and Cheonmyeong asks if she has given up on meeting Munno in that case. Deokman says she hasn’t, and Cheonmyeong promises to show Deokman books written by Munno that are kept in a library. Deokman says she prefers to stay with Jukbang and his brother since she’s more comfortable around them. Finally, Cheonmyeong asks Deokman to give her Bojong’s ring and the ornamental knife, which Deokman does still have, and she hands them over.  

The final scene of the chapter shows Mishil going to Cheonmyeong’s palace with a bowl of honeyed fruit juice as an offering. She finds Cheyonmyeong there, and they chat a bit. Mishil asks if she remembers the prediction she made to the princess years before. Chyeonmyeong says she does, mentions the Big Dipper, and says that Mishil encouraged her to flee her fate and run away from the palace. They also discuss Kim Seohyeon’s family briefly and refer to a cover up of the Yeoraesa Temple massacre.

This is where I’m going to stop for the first installment of this series. We’ll continue it in the next post.

Part one of a three part series.

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An Ominous Murder Attempt – Land, Vol.6, Part 6

I’m going to quickly finish up this volume of the second story arc of Kyeongni Park’s Land series (박경리의《토지》) this time. The rest of part 5 has 10 more chapters to review, which is the end of the story arc. There are three main storylines that come up in this part of the novel and intertwine: Gilsang and Seohui, Lee Yong and his family, and Kim Dusu.

We start off with chapter 2, “Traveling to Harbin.” Gilsang is in the Chinese city of Harbin, looking at a map and the houses surrounding him. It’s a middle class district, and a woman asks who he is looking for. She confuses him at first since she is Chinese yet speaking to him in the Joseon language. She asks if he’s looking for Mr. Song, and when he says he is, she tells him to wait.

A Chinese girl opens the door to a house and speaks Chinese with the woman then tells them to enter. Song Janghwan is there, and the woman who led Gilsang there appears to go by the name Sunyang. They discuss meeting Kihua and how Sunyang had learned to speak the Joseon language, which turns out to be because Sunyang isn’t really Chinese. Finally, after talking about a number of other topics, Gilsang asks what items Kim Hunjang left. Song Janghwan says they are written documents, which appear to have something to do with the independence movement. Towards the end, the sound of the wind outside indicating the coming of winter is emphasized.

Chapter 3, “The Last Report,“ has 2 segments. The first one shows Kim Dusu now as head police officer, and he feels the world is ridiculous as he leaves the police station. He’s starting to resemble his father as he approaches 40 years old, and he likes running into Japanese soldiers on the street. The police post wasn’t great, but Kim Dusu felt lucky to get it given his regular education and Joseon nationality. The police needed a Joseon officer who spoke both Japanese and Chinese.

Kim Dusu asks someone if they saw Geumnyeo in Harbin. The person answers they aren’t sure if the person they saw was her or not because she looked Chinese. When they ask Kim Dusu if it’s possible she is hiding with Yoon Yibyeong disguised as a Chinese woman, Kim Dusu laughs then becomes enraged and threatens to grab the wench alive rather than kill her outright. He promises she will die by his hands eventually, however.              

In the second segment, Kong Noin is looking for Gilsang. He finds Seohui with Yoonguk and talks with Seohui about Gilsang’s trip to Harbin to look at Kim Hunjang’s personal effects. They chat a bit about how Bongsoon (aka Kihua, though they don’t call her that here) is doing these days then laugh together before he leaves.

I’m skipping the next three chapters since they get into the convoluted storyline of Lee Yong and company. The other subplots are more interesting, so I’ll stick with those for now.

In chapter 7, “Looking For Someone,” the story transitions from a few pages about Lee Yong then moves on to Gilsang and his son Hwanguk in the spring after Gilsang has returned from Harbin three times. He now is arranging some books in the main quarters of the house with Hwanguk asking him about his trip. Then the household servant arrives to tell Gilsang that someone has come to speak with him. It’s Kong Noin and Kim Hwan. They talk about the characters from the old Choi Champan household, and by the end of the chapter, Gilsang and Kim Hwan end up spending three days and nights drinking together.   

In chapter 8, “Memory of a Familiar Face,” Seohui asks Gilsang about the guest in the main section of the house. When she goes herself to see the guest, it’s Kim Hwan, but his resemblance to her late grandmother Wife Yoon confuses her terribly to the point where she refers to him as “grandmother” 할머님, halmonim.

As they talk, Kim Hwan explains how he has traveled from Jirisan (Mt. Jiri) to Myohyangsan (Mt. Myohyang) to see the sights. It seems that Gilsang went with their guest to Harbin on business, and Seohui becomes very angry about the situation. The text briefly mentions the children: Yoonguk is sleeping while Hwanguk is out in the garden playing with a dog. It mentions again that Seohui is afraid for some reason, but she’s afraid because she loves her husband and children.

Kong Noin is also there, and Seohui asks him if he went with their guest to Jirisan before putting it together that the guest is related to Kim Kaeju and Wife Yoon and that he is Kim Kaeju’s only son. For some reason, Kim Hwan also goes by the name Kucheon, and the ending of this chapter emphasizes that and has one of the characters questioning Seohui’s memory. (I should note the text also refers to Kim Hwan in places as Hwani, too, so it makes the story even harder to follow.)

Gilsang and Seohui Confront Kim Hwan

Chapter 9, “Human Limitations,” shows Gilsang on another trip to Harbin, most of which covers some of Gilsang’s conversation with Kim Hwan, but things really heat up in chapter 10, “Kim Dusu.” Geumnyeo goes to the market to shop for tangerines, and Kim Dusu is following her. He ends up following Geumnyeo down a deserted street to her house.

When she finally turns and their eyes meet, they talk a bit, and she asks if he has come to see her. In response, he asks her when she turned into a Chinese woman. She answers that she isn’t a Korean, that she went there to stand in as an adopted daughter to a childless couple.  Then she takes a revolver out of her basket and shoots Kim Dusu in his thigh.

Geumnyeo Shoots Kim Dusu

Once the deed is done, Geumnyeo rushes into one of the buildings and locks the door against him, calling calls for a Chinese woman. A fifty something woman appears, and Geumnyeo tells the woman she killed someone whom she doesn’t name. It would seem she means Kim Dusu.

The Chinese woman goes out and discovers Kim Dusu didn’t die but was taken to a hospital after many people had gathered. She reports it back to Geumnyeo. A quick reference to Sunyang in this scene connects the characters back to the Chinese woman Gilsang met in Harbin in an earlier chapter mentioned above, suggesting maybe that he had met Geumnyeo on that visit.

In the chapter’s second scene, Kim Dusu dreams of his late father Kim Pyeongsan, his mother Hamantaek and brother Keobok. The bullet only went through the flesh and hadn’t hit a bone, but he was now in the hospital. His injury wasn’t serious even if he was worried of being harmed further. He goes into a monologue about how Geumnyeo had a gun, talking to his dead father and family, and so on.

The final chapter, “Like An Arrow,” has 4 segments, all following Seohui and Gilsang’s storyline, which here mostly shows the two boys wondering where their father is after he went back to Harbin with Kim Hwan.

We’ll look at the next story arc in the series in 2020.  Happy New Year!

Part six of a six part series.

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