Summer Reading: The Dark Maidens Discussion

The Dark Maidens

It is time for a discussion of The Dark Maidens, featuring me, Gee, and Justus! This post will contain lots of spoilers, so it's recommended you read the book first. (Amazon -- Barnes and Noble -- Book Depository -- RightStuf)

To check on the Summer Reading Program 2018 schedule, click here.

The Dark Maidens

Cho: Welcome to literature club
Please place your secret ingredients in the stew
Gee: I’m hoping it won’t taste too terrible this time
Justus: I brought some maple syrup to mask the taste…
Cho: Perfect, we’re all here! Thanks for joining in for the Dark Maidens discussion, Gee and Justus
Justus: No problem. 🙂
Gee: No problem, I’m looking forward to the discussion
Cho: We can start with general impressions. How did you like this one? Was it how you expected it would be?
Justus: It met my expectations in terms of its tone. I was surprised by the ending, that’s for sure…
I love how it was a mind game the entire time, trying to guess how much I should, and shouldn’t, trust a particular character
Gee: I enjoyed it quite a bit! I thought some of it was pretty overwrought and predictable as the genre dictates, but the twists for the reveal were shocking
Cho: I liked it too — I’m a fan of this sort of thing in general, but the way this story was told was pretty unique
It was kind of an anthology of short stories, and then a final one to string everything together
And that was the fun of it, trying to work out which parts of the stories were true, and which weren’t
Justus: Yes, the structure worked very well. And the little connecting bits between each story just heightened the mystery and sense of impending doom
Gee: Have you read In A Grove by Ryunosuke Akutagawa?
Justus: No, I’m not familiar with that one
Cho: I actually started reading it today, ha ha
I have seen the film Rashomon though (which is based on that story)
Gee: Oh, I hope you enjoy it then Cho!
It established the same structure Justus, which I thought was interesting because it demands scepticism from the reader
Cho: Both deal with characters offering different accounts of a murder, and then having to work out what really happened
Justus: Ah. Yeah, I like this kind of mystery. Perhaps even more than the usual “follow the trusted detective” variety
It makes the characters more interesting in my view. Plus makes me feel like I’m more actively engaged with the story
Cho: I found it fun to look back at each of the stories, and see what parts were lies told on purpose, and which parts were probably misunderstandings or “filling in the gaps” too generously

Gee: Did anyone have some early guesses that turned out to be right?
Justus: The pregnancy
Though I didn’t have the father figured out initially
With the way her dad reacted in the one story, I wasn’t sure if she had a relationship, or if he had assaulted her
Gee: Mr. Hojo was always in the background of the stories, so I knew he had some involvement. The pregnancy was obvious from the beginning
Justus: Yeah. I suspected he was involved, but initially I thought he might’ve been covering for her.
Gee: I also suspected Itsumi was probably a terrible person… that seems to be the case usually
Cho: The story really lived up to its name in the end, didn’t it? They all seemed so nice at first, but they all held a dark secret
But they were all being used too — first by Itsumi, and then by Sayuri
I had figured there was going to be some overarching scheme concocted by Sayuri, since the entire setup of the book is rather suspicious — but it ended up more dramatic than I expected
Gee: You’ve got to watch out for the quiet ones
Justus: LOL!
Gee: I didn’t expect the stew. That was gross, but really fitting.
Cho: Even at the beginning, that stew
Nothing quite like a wristwatch to add a little flavor
I liked that for setting an uncomfortable tone right away, though that was nothing compared to what was revealed in the end
Justus: Right? That’s one thing I admired in this book. Because she made such a strong point of mentioning certain things, I didn’t suspect them when they initially happened. Like the watch
Gee: It was such an obvious vehicle for the progression of the story, and yet the ending was still something I didn’t anticipate
Justus: I felt her skills of weaving different truths and lies through the stories made the reveal satisfying. Because none of it felt “out of nowhere”
Cho: It was a well-organized book in general, in terms of having each character suspect a different classmate, and there being hints for each character’s secret along the way
Justus: Well, I thought the stew was just a metaphor. In each way the girls’ stories add to the whole picture, and a new ingredient is added to the stew. And in the end, it tastes awful and bitter
Cho: But it’s also exciting :>
Justus: But then the REVEAL!!!! Holy crap!!!
Stew is not just a metaphor…. YIKES!
Cho: First it looks like they’re all going to die of poison… But instead…
We get a classic double twist ending, for a conclusion that’s even more messed up
Justus: Yes, I liked how each of them tried to shuffle the blame. And also how Sayuri would call out a person’s reactions to the story afterward.
Like how the one girl tried to hide the hair clip
Cho: The way Sayuri’s segments were written — I really liked that, how it was like she was talking straight to you, the reader
Justus: Especially in the beginning! It brought me right into the story. And then my guessing game kept me hooked

Gee: I thought Sonoko’s story was the weakest. It felt too unbelievable considering the rest of the book.
Cho: Sonoko, the aspiring doctor?
Gee: Yes, who blamed Diana
Justus: Yeah, that one kind of stuck out.
Cho: Right, she was the one who approached the situation with logic, but ended up interpreting things supernaturally
Justus: I wondered if she went so outlandish because she was the most analytical of the group. Like, she lacked the imagination/writing talent to weave a believable tale, so she went way outside.
Or maybe it reveals she has a less logical view of the world than she lets on
Gee: Maybe. It felt a little xenophobic though, considering Diana’s the foreign student
Justus: Oh yes, I agree
That’s a good point. It could be really demonstrating the character holds some biases based on race etc.
Cho: I did like that she was from Bulgaria though, for having a different place for the foreign exchange student to come from
I kind of wonder if the author ever visited there
Justus: That seemed so random to me. Is there a basis for that?
Like a Japanese basis?
Cho: Perhaps mainly just for the vampire connection, the Balkan region is famous for those stories
Gee: That was my thought. Her story and background was quite interesting, although it was hardly a surprise her secret was sabotaging her sister. A “convenient” fall, eh?
Justus: And a miraculously fast visa approval
Cho: Yes, I thought “how convenient” for that, and for the restaurant burning down too, ha ha
Since it was no secret Akane resented her father and the family restaurant
Justus: There were a number of conveniences. But to the book’s credit, I wasn’t always able to put together the why of them.
Gee: OK, also!! Literally no Catholic school would celebrate Easter in July. (source: a lifetime of Catholic schooling)
Justus: Bwahaha! So true!
Cho: Ah, so Gee has experience with a similar setting to this story :>
How was your literature club :>
Justus: uh oh
Gee: I>.>
Cho: I guess we can blame summer for not having any big well-known holidays?
(that would tie to the school?)
Gee: Why not do a cultural festival though??
Cho: IDK, what do you think might have been the reasoning for an Easter festival specifically?
Gee: Maybe because of the holiday’s implications–persecution, rebirth
Justus: I got the impression it was to help spread the message of Easter, but because Easter has so many non-religious trappings, it was accessible to the non-faithful
Reel them in with chocolate and bunnies, preach the gospel once they’re there 😉
Though from a thematic structure, Gee’s probably more on the money!
Cho: Could be interesting to compare to the literature club itself
How each girl is brought in to the fold, as it were
Justus: Well, Itsumi also dies and rises again
Gee: The Jesus allegory isn’t subtle haha
Justus: And this is her body, given for you….
Gee: Ugh
Justus: Sorry
Cho: But that’s an interesting angle to the story — disappointment in the one you’ve placed all your adoration upon
The story in general is about the darkness that can lurk beneath the surface — each of the five girls looks like she’s having a wonderful high school life, but that’s not truly the case for any of them
Gee: I think it works more as the adoration placed on the dead and how people purposefully disregard faults once someone has died
Justus: I felt it was more Sayuri was living vicariously via Itsumi. The decision by Itsumi to be something different wasn’t just a disappointment to Sayuri, but a destruction of the “life” Sayuri helped create
To Sayuri, it was as though her own life were being toyed with. And so she decided to take control instead of being passive,
Cho: She cared more about *her* Itsumi, rather than the actual Itsumi herself
Justus: Yes. Very much.
Gee: The obfuscation of the “Ideal high school girl” is what made the whole thing work
None of these girls were normal, and all seem pretty far from the ideal
Justus: Even the club room went a long way to add to that impression
Cho: Yes, this whole story could be seen as a response to the general trend of The Springtime of Youth, The Glory Years of High School
Nostalgia for that time before becoming an adult — it’s a strong influence in fiction in general
Gee: Itsumi’s self reflection on how beautiful and special high school girls are was creepy and weird. Narcissistic
Cho: She certainly thought highly of herself! But then again, she *was* rather amazing, ha ha
(and scary)
Gee: “Amazing”
Justus: It’s that whole pursuit of being “special” taken to an extreme
Itsumi stating she is the “star” of this high school stage
Cho: It wasn’t much of a leap for her to think that though, considering her position in the school and all her abilities
Justus: And when she no longer shines, the girl who sat in the dark as the apprentice decides to move center stage
Cho: Et tu, Sayuri
Gee: I thought, dang girl, wish I had that level of confidence at 17. Illicit affairs, manipulation and blackmail…she was busy
Justus: But yet their own guilt prevented them from truly moving forward
They allowed themselves to be manipulated. Then ruined Itsumi via manipulation, then got themselves manipulated by Sayuri
Gee: Yes, they were all their own worst enemy.
Justus: A classic, you get screwed for not taking responsibility
Cho: They were all rather talented students though — can’t help but be a little jealous of all of them
(And jealous of that nice literature club salon and kitchen)
Gee: I would never go home if my school had a literature club salon like that.
Justus: Oh man, high school would’ve been home if I had a room like that

Cho: That overwhelming guilt that follows though for committing some misdeed is a staple of literature, and I suppose it’s what might make this story palatable for most readers — it’s a downer ending, but we don’t exactly feel *too* bad about it because it’s a kind of karmic ending too
Gee: Lesson of the story: Catholic high schools are terrible places
Justus: I don’t know. In an odd way, I kind of wanted Itsumi to get away with her man
Cho: Itsumi is revealed to be the main villain, but you still rooted for her, hm? I can see that though, because her little arc there is sympathetic
Justus: I think her having her child forcibly aborted made me feel like she had paid for her sins. It was her need for vengeance and having the last word that was her undoing
Gee: I felt bad for Mr. Hojo (although pls don’t start relationships with teens).
Justus: If she’d been able to forgive and move on, I would’ve been ok with her
Yeah, I suppose he loses the biggest in all this. But yeah, don’t do that. Especially when you’re a teacher
Gee: The student-teacher relationship is standard for a lot of stories like this, but I still hate it.
Cho: I mean, if it was just some boy her age from the Catholic all-boys school, it wouldn’t really need to be a secret, ha ha
Justus: Well, the pregnancy thing probably would’ve still resulted in the same thing, regardless of the daddy
I still think the girls would’ve used it against her and her dad would’ve had it aborted
Cho: True, that could’ve worked for the story too
Justus: And really, Itsumi was using the girls, yes. But having them bake for her, do her homework, and cover for her, is that really as bad as burning down your family’s restaurant or almost murdering your sister? Or even falsifying your grades?
Itsumi was a bitch, but I thought the crimes committed by the other girls were just as bad if not worse.
Cho: It might’ve mainly just been the humiliation of being Itsumi’s pawn that rattled each of them on a day-to-day basis
Justus: Yes, I think that’s very much the point
Gee: There are no innocent parties in this sort of story
Justus: No. Which as said earlier, makes the dark ending palatable. Because you can’t feel truly sorry for any of them
Cho: I still feel sorry for them tbh, but yes, it’s a kind of “what comes around goes around” for most of them
Justus: Do we think Sayuri’s plan will work, or will she be found out?
Cho: Sayuri is definitely the wild card of the story, but she’s shown to be both intelligent and competent in general
Gee: A mass poisoning might have worked, but I find it hard that a murder/cannibalization would go undiscovered
Justus: I think keeping the watch was a big mistake. Physical trail….
Gee: I don’t know if any of those girls are that worried about their dark secrets enough to avoid reporting the crazy murder amongst them, especially if she’s graduating soon
Justus: You’d hope
Cho: Though I do wonder how seriously the police would take “Sayuri made us eat Itsumi”
Not to mention that might look bad on them, ha ha
Justus: Okay, I just LOL’d at that
Just trying to envision someone actually saying that through tears and such.
Cho: I think Sayuri’s scheme might have traumatized these five to the point that they dare not even think about it anymore, let alone bring it up aloud
Gee: Or able to eat stew again
Justus: I think that was the point of having them eat the stew. Not just to “hide” the body, but to cause that trauma
To make them feel complicit and also to make them think “If she’d do that to Itsumi, what might she do to me?”
I’d be on the first plane back to Bulgaria though
Cho: Delightful ending
Justus: Yes. Very heartwarming
In stew
Gee: Enough to make you think fondly on your own high school days
Cho: Yup, I don’t mind having a boring high school life after this 🙂
Justus: High school could be hell, but it was positively fluffy bunnies compared to this story
Cho: Though I still want that literature salon and kitchen
(Just have the club composed of K-On slice-of-life girls)
Justus: Oh yes. Give me that club room! Heck, give me a room in my own house like that!
Books, cake, and rock-n-roll. Sounds like a perfect world, Cho 😉

Cho: I guess I just have one last random comment — I didn’t expect there to be illustrations in this, so I was surprised when there were
(not an interesting comment, but, well)
I’ll never be entirely sure what is and isn’t a light novel I suppose
Gee: I agree. It didn’t seem like it needed them to be honest.
Justus: I think they were included in a reissue of the book.
Cho: Ah, I think there might have been two releases of the book, since I saw a different cover when looking up the Japanese title
Gee: Sometimes the light novel vs novella line is a very thin one.
Justus: If you look on it has both this version and one with a painted girl on the cover. I think they might’ve repackaged it for light novel audiences after its initial release
Maybe because of the movie?
Cho: I’d be up for reading more novels by this author though, if any more ever get licensed
Gee: Me too. I thought it was a very engaging style.
Justus: I’d like to read more of her books too.
I also had the opportunity to submit questions to her. She was very kind and generous with her answers.
Cho: I liked getting a little more insight on her from your Q and A video BTW, that was nice
I love that she read Kafka at age 11, and The Metamorphosis was what inspired her to be a writer, ha ha
Justus: Right? I laughed when I read that.

Cho: I’m curious about seeing the movie for Dark Maidens too somehow
It was apparently directed by Mari Okada
Gee: This is going to be very different from her last film, haha
Justus: Just looked it up. She’s credited as the writer
Cho: I see, she handled the screenplay
Justus: Yup. That makes more sense.
Gee: Even so, this is an interesting twist on her usual type of story
Cho: It seems like a good story for a film-length feature though
Justus: I wonder if Netflix or Crunchyroll might get it at some point. Especially since the book is here now.
Gee: The story does seem perfect for a film.
Or a mini-series
Justus: Oooh, yes! One episode devoted to each story
Cho: That’d work too

Cho: Any final questions or comments?
Justus: I hope people check this out. I’d enjoy getting more works like this translated. And the best way to do that is support what we have. It doesn’t hurt that this one is entertaining!
Gee: I was surprised at how much this book was able to do–multiple perspectives/character voices, double twist ending, legitimately unsettling conclusion–I think a lot of people would enjoy it!
I also appreciate one-and-done books like this
Cho: I’ll be suggesting it to anyone who likes darker mystery stories at least, yes
Next summer reading will be for something completely different: Legend of the Galactic Heroes, volume 1
Gee: Yay!
Justus: LOL! From big blue monsters eating kids, to kids eating kids, to space opera
Cho: And then after that, I think it’s Gun Gale Online
So if June was our scary month, July is our shooting weapons month
Justus: We have a lot of books with kids getting killed 😉
At least Gun Gale is virtual
Sci-fi month!
Cho: There we go, let’s go with that
Gee: Sticking to the theme 😉

Cho: That's it for our discussion on The Dark Maidens. Now it's your turn! What are some of your thoughts on this book?

5 thoughts on “Summer Reading: The Dark Maidens Discussion

  1. Excellent discussion guys! I’m actually curious how you manage to get this so nicely organized.

    I must agree with everyone on the double twist ending, it had me reeling and asking what just happened. If Sayuri was going to betray Itsumi, I had expected her to be the one to reveal Itsumi’s pregnancy, not poisoning Itsumi with her own plot. Overall, I found the last two chapters darker in tone than the previous chapters. I’m chalking it up to how Itsumi and Sayuri weren’t hiding their malice behind false pretenses of trying to protect a friend or bring her killer to light like the other girls in their stories. For the stories, while I did enjoy the unreliable narrator usage, I wish some of the chapters had been rearrange. Instead of having one girl tell her story and the next reader immediately name that girl the murder, I think we could have had better suspense than outright after Mirei’s story revealing everyone is going to be unreliable. Two differing stories could be chalked up to differing perspectives and possible fool the audience longer, but immediately contradicting Mirei told me everyone is going to be lying.

    During the secret reveal, Akane’s secret surprised me the most. While she was telling her story I had suspected that her brother started the fire, since she presented him as an uncaring person, but maybe that’s just good old sibling bias and jealousy clouding her own view. Also, I found it funny that Diana who could see the invisible strings battling around the school painted Itsumi as someone above this battle, even though she had everyone dancing for her like puppets.

    Sonoko’s story definitely did stick out, but I think there’s a sense of irony to her story. She fell into hysteria because she went with the first thing that popped up about Bulgaria when she did a bit of info digging. She reminds me of my professor mentioning how people would occassionaly look up their symptoms and completely become convinced they have something base on small evidence. She’s one character I’d love to try and compare to doctors of the Salem Witchtrial days, the medical knowledge back then was so weak doctors actually diagnosed the girls based on the vague idea of witchcraft.

    Sayuri overall just gave me creepy tones, she seemed too calm and almost mocking with how she pointed out the stories contradicting each other. You just knew Sayuri knew more than she was letting on, so I was expecting her to turn on everyone, not just in the way she did. I found the way she chose to describe the salon in her opening remarks an interesting style choice, I must agree that it really felt like she was talking to us and nobody else.

    I was also rooting for Itsumi in the end, mostly just because I wanted her love to succeed and that I felt it was fairly genuine in the end. Other than her, Mirei and Akane get a bit of my sympathy Akane I can relate to in a way, it’s hard being a younger sister at times, so I can understand her frustrations, even if I don’t support her actions. Mirei, I really think she didn’t steal from Itsumi, based on what we knew of Itsumi’s father he could have easily handled her if she was posing a threat. It’d also be too dangerous for her to steal from Itsumi while Itsumi held on to her dark secret. She was manipulated for trying to help her family out, and then ended up enticing Itsumi’s revenge by working along with the other girls. I feel a bit of pity for them, but everyone really did get their just desserts in the end.

    I found the art charming, but also fairly jarring. We’d have Itsumi described with long hair but all the pictures showed her with short hair, it’s a tiny complaint but still distracted me from time to time. Other than that, it was an enjoyable read overall. It’s not quite my type of mystery, I like stories where I can piece it along as I go instead of trying to figure out fact from fiction the entire time. Thanks for having this summer reading discussion though, it was fun! I was going to join Ao Oni, but my classes got in the well, oh well there’s still WorldEnd in August!

    1. Thanks for commenting, chaikamachi! Dark Maidens is definitely doing something a bit different from your average mystery story, in terms of how the whole thing is structured–so in a way it could perhaps be considered a story about mysteries, rather than detective fiction. I think Dark Maidens had some interesting things to say about storytelling in general though, and I liked how much the story could change when simply told from another point of view. All those little details add up, and what people choose to focus on and what they choose to not reveal ends up saying a lot about them.

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