Let me first note that you should probably go over to my First Date Review for my thoughts on the first chunk of the novel, which revolves around the setup and the main character's final entry into the fantasy world of Vision. (But don't worry, I'll still go over the basics of the story, for those of you who ignore my well-meant advice. *sniffle*)
Vital Statistics: Title: Brave Story
Author: Miyuki Miyabe
Original Publisher: Kadokawa Shoten
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Release Info: Release Date: 11/17/09
US Publisher: VIZ Media
Translator: Alexander O. Smith
Length: 820 pages
Disclosure: This review is based on a review copy courtesy of the publisher.
Wataru is an 11-year-old who's had a bit of a tough time of it: his dad is leaving the household for another woman, leaving Wataru in a state of constant confusion and self-doubt, not to mention leading his mother into a moment of near-insanity. After a strange encounter at an abandoned building, Wataru begins hearing a strange voice and before he knows it, he's landed himself an invitation into Vision.
Vision is a mystical fantasy land created from the minds of Wataru and the other people from the "real" world who have traveled there. (That's not a spoiler; Wataru learns this very early in his journey.) In this world they have an opportunity to meet the Goddess of Fate and ask her to change their destinies, and Wataru wants to ask the Goddess of Fate to fix up his family.
In Vision, Wataru is met not with the usual good versus evil mentality. Instead, the world is plagued with, of all things, intolerance-- primarily racial and religious. The races of Vision aren't based on skin color, but on animality: there are humans and there are "beastkin," humanoids with animal characteristics, like Lizardkin, Kitkin (catpeople), and the like. In other words: furries. Except not always furry. Oh, and there are also dragons, but as you can imagine they don't suffer from a lot of poor treatment.
Along the journey Wataru must also deal with Mitsuru, a boy who he meets briefly in the real world before his entry into vision. Another real-world Traveler, Wataru and Mitsuru both seek an audience with the Goddess of Fate...but as they later discover, only one will make it there successfully.
...I think that's about all I can give away to you without spoiling the major plot points here.
For all that I was worried about getting through its 820 pages, I really, really enjoyed Brave Story. That's the short version of what you need to know.
The novel works sort of like a compacted bildungsroman-- for those of you who don't remember your high school literature class, that's a genre revolving around the development of a character over time, albeit usually over considerably more time than what's covered in Brave Story. That doesn't mean that Wataru doesn't develop just as much as Jane Eyre, just that it's in a much shorter, high-stress time.
I was particularly impressed that Wataru, who I sympathized with but didn't really "like" in the initial chapters, really developed over time into a character I both sympathized with AND liked, slowly and surely, bit by bit, as he became both more assertive and more thoughtful, not to mention more empathetic himself.
A little spoiler now...
Wataru's assorted companions on his journeys are all reasonably well-rounded while remaining very firmly secondary to Wataru himself in importance. It's very interesting to see the difference between Wataru, who befriends people in Vision regardless of their quasi-fictional status, while Mitsuru sees them as virtually non-beings.
All in all, Brave Story is an intelligent book for pre-teen and teenage readers, especially those who delight in the challenge of length, though its massive size may scare off some as well. As such it's a perfectly strong read for adults, especially since several moments of massacre and parental mayhem are considerably darker than standard preteen fare.