Book Review: "A Robe of Feathers"

A Robe of Feathers: And Other Stories“A Robe of Feathers” is a collection of short stories by Thersa Matsuura, an American living in Japan. By their nature, short story collections are difficult to review as a totality. That said, I’ll try to give an overall impression and some insight into individual tales.

Matsuura uses urban fantasy in Japanese settings to great effect in “Robe,” which is her first book. There are a few instances when it would have been helpful for me, a westerner, to be more familiar with the folkloric creatures she uses: Ojizo, Kappa, Tenjo Sagari, etc., but that knowledge was not always necessary. For instance, the first story, “A Robe of Feathers,” is a modern day version of the folktale which is also told within the context of the story. The “nymph” is never even given a Japanese name and the tale flows toward its beautiful, tragic conclusion. I thought the strongest of her offerings was the story with the greatest proliferation of creatures, “Sand Walls, Paper Doors.”

It’s told from the viewpoint of an American student in Japan. She’s lonely, but too shy to reach out to the strange population and culture around her. Then she’s transplanted into a haunted mansion where she finds spirits who are equally alien and lonely in modern Japan. The ensuing story moved me so much I wept for joy at the end. I can think of only one other short story that’s ever elicited that response. For me, the entire book’s brilliance culminated in that tale, though there are other excellent stories.

Many of Matsuura’s stories, among them, “Hate and Where It Breeds,” and “Ganguro and the Mountain Witch,” felt unfinished. They conveyed a sense that this was not the end, but the beginning of impending horror. For me, this was as if an oni had turned on the theme to “Jaws” while I read and my mind continued to follow that musical cue. I’m still a little tense, which is why I can’t say I loved all of Matsuura’s stories. However, I can appreciate the skill it took to achieve the dark, otherworldly effect she weaves through “A Robe of Feathers.”

If you are Japanese or if you are familiar with Japanese folklore and culture, this book will engross you. Matsuura’s style is spare, but fluid. She effortlessly grounds the reader in Japan’s modern cities and countryside. Even with unfamiliar terms and place names thrown in, I had no problem understanding her plots, though appreciating character motivations and goals derived from a foreign mindset was sometimes difficult.

Giving a score on a collection of short stories seems unfair as one has to “grade” on a curve. However, if you enjoy fantasy in alternative settings or you just love Japanese literature, I recommend this collection.




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5 Responses to “Book Review: "A Robe of Feathers"”

  1. Sabrina says:

    Thanks for this review/recommendation. I think I mentioned before that I'm working on an urban fantasy with a Japanese protagonist. I'm trying to utilize some Japanese mythology as well. I know about Kappa, obake, and oni, but I haven't heard about many books with the same that weren't local (HI) ghost stories. This sounds really intriguing.

  2. Victoria Dixon says:

    It was. I'd heard about Oni and Yuki Onna, (who is also in "Robe")but the others were all new and fascinating. And sometimes creepy. LOL

  3. Dara says:

    Sweet. If the Yuki Onna is in it, I have to read it. I devour anything that has her in it, sometimes under the guise of "novel research" but mostly because I just love her myth.

    Many Japanese stories end with a cliff hanger or unresolved ending. Most movies and anime I've seen end with an "open" ending or one that's bittersweet and unresolved.

    Anyway, I can't believe I never heard of this book. Thanks for mentioning it!

  4. Victoria Dixon says:

    LOL. I KNEW you'd want to know about the Yuki Onna. I tried to put her in the review, but she wouldn't quite fit.

    Don't feel bad about not having heard of it. The book just came out and I've got an ear out for things like this.

    Yeah, that open ended feeling sometimes works well for me as a reader. Sometimes not so much. I think it usually worked in this collection, but I'd have to admit I thought there were some exceptions, but that's me, ya know? I suspect you like that style more than I, so you'll probably devour the book. I hope you like it. The author is very nice and generous. You can find her at

  5. Kappa no He says:

    Oh, Victoria! I just stumbled across your blog and love it. And thanks so much for reviewing _A Robe of Feathers_.

    It really is a potpourri of stuff–the good, the bad, and the ugly. I'd have to agree. To tell you the truth my parents have *yet* to finish the book. They can't seem to get past "Her Favorite" (That one was published in a horror journal before this, quite dark).

    If anyone would like a bookplate(s) I'd be more than happy to send them along. I carved four hanga stamps (karakasa obake-the haunted parasol; an oni; a nekomata-necromancing cat with two tails; and yuki onna).

    Here's what they look like:

    Just send me an e-mail with whatever address you want them sent to. I'm at thersamatsuura(at)

    Yeah, thersa is a strange spelling, I know.

    Thanks again, Victoria. You're a doll!


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