Wishes. In almost all cultures, wishes have been used in literature and mythology, in fables and lore. Often, as in "The Fisherman and His Wife" or "The Monkey’s Paw" the granting of wishes comes with a price. Perhaps these stories are object lessons on the greed found so often on display within these same cultures, or subtle propaganda in support of the status quo, but one message is invariably and consistently obvious: wishes are dangerous things.
Wish3, by Sylvia Leung, is another chapter in this enduring meta-tale.
This is what Basil Toback learns on his 18th birthday â€“ that every third son of a third son in his family is granted three wishes come that exact moment in time. There is a catch, however, and a particularly nasty one. Upon the use of the third wish, these men either die or begin going insane.
Basil learns this the hard way, through the manipulations of his family. Brought up on stories of spiteful children who squander their talents and gifts on themselves rather than for the good of their families, Basil realizes that he has been set up in a most horrific manner, to give one wish each to his father, mother, and oldest brother as soon as he gets them.
With the realization that he really does have three wishes, and what his family intends for him, Basil uses one of his wishes immediately. He wishes to never see his family again. Then he’s off and running, to his friend Paige’s house to explain what is happening to him, and then to figure out just what he’s going to do about this curse of his.
He uses his second wish to travel through time and space, but since he isn’t specific about where he and Paige want to go, they are taken to an "in-between" plane. There the kitsune â€“ or fox spirit â€“ Himitsu (translated as "Secret"), patron of the wishes, waits for wishers to call for her assistance. It is also there where Basil learns that he is fated to break the curse. Although Himitsu isn’t quite convinced that he can do it, Basil begins his quest to cleanse his family by looking in on the last three wishers that Himitsu had visited.
And so Basil and Paige travel through time and space to Japan, first to the Seventeenth Century, and then to the Tenth Century to find his ancestors.
Leung has written a strong story, about fate, responsibility, and temptation. Basil is well-crafted as a young man struggling under a burden that must be shed if he does not want to be destroyed. This burden is tremendous, for who among us could easily resist the temptation to use at least one wish if it was available, regardless of what the ultimate consequences were? Shizuko is believable as the man who has made the wrong choices for the right reasons, and Morigami is an angry, ugly man, torn apart by a need for greatness. Paige sometimes seems like little more than a sidekick, but her affection for Basil comes across strongly, and her support is important in giving Basil an emotional brace upon which to push against his fate.
Story-wise, there are some rough spots in the very beginning, where Basil is learning of his predestined fate: we learn along with him, but not always at the same "speed." This pace is choppy, as Leung attempts to tell too much story in too few wordless panels. By the time Basil and Paige meet Himitsu, though, the narrative settles down â€“ it has moved past the need to convince the reader (and Paige) of the existence of the wishes, and Leung becomes more facile in her storytelling techniques as a result.
Leung’s artwork is presented in a myriad of gray shades, effectively presenting an atmosphere of uncertainty and ambiguity. Her characters are well differentiated, and they move in a realistic manner. Battle scenes are drawn in a much more fluid style, expressing the confusion and motion inherent in them, and if they appear slightly "off," this is only because these scenes are more difficult to imagine and lay out than a group of characters walking along a garden path.
My only quibble with Wish3 is its historical accuracy. I am not an expert on Japanese history, but I do know that the Tokugawa Shogunate, when Shizuko’s story is meant to take place, strictly controlled the movement of foreigners until its fall in 1863, and Europeans were restricted to Nagasaki, not Osaka. And a quick Google lookup of Morigami’s era tells us that it appears to not have been as violent as Leung implies, at least not at the time mentioned.
There are also some glaring anachronisms, such as eyeglasses and a newspaper in the possession of a Seventeenth-Century samurai, the talk of a samurai farming (Shogunate samurai were forbidden to farm or engage in commerce), and the Edwardian-style business dress of the British (who shouldn’t have been there, anyway; the only foreigners allowed into Japan at that time were Dutch or Chinese).
However, these struck me only because I was aware of the historical facts. These details don’t adversely affect the story in any meaningful way. Wish3 is a quality fantasy tale that asks serious questions about fate and responsibility. And with one more ancestor to visit and a frightening villain only just introduced, Basil’s journey to save his family is only just getting underway.
One could wish that the story will continue to enthrall and entertain as it has to date, but if there is anything we should have learned by now, it’s of the danger of wishes. Fortunately for us, Leung seems to have the situation â€“ and the fate of the tale â€“ well in hand without our wishing help.