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Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi

May 22, 2008

Things you should know about Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit:

  1. It’s purty. Seriously, the internet does not do the cover justice. In person, the cover is vibrant and gorgeous and actually depicts something that happens in the book. And the interior! Before I even sat down to read the book, I kept on oohing over how awesome the design was. Phil Falco, you rock!
  2. The writing more than lives up to the expectations the cover and design create.
  3. Or should I say the translation? Because if not for the fact that I think the central fantasy element is entirely non-Western, you would not know that this book has been translated from Japanese. Forget every stereotype of stilted or clunky translations that you may have, because Cathy Hirano’s translation is fantastic. It’s smooth, engaging, unpretentious, and very easy to read.

As a royal procession crosses a bridge, the Second Prince of New Yogo is thrown from his ox-drawn carriage into the raging river below. Balsa watches these events unfold, then jumps into the river to save the life of the Prince. She does this with no expectation of rewards. She’s a bodyguard; saving lives is what she does.

But the Second Queen, the mother of Chagum, the Second Prince, rewards Balsa, then begs her to take the Prince from Ninomiya Palace. The Mikado, the Second Queen fears, is trying to kill Chagum, and Balsa is the only person the Second Queen can turn to to protect him.

What makes Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit interesting (besides the fantastical elements described in the next paragraph) is that I would argue the main character is Balsa, a thirty-year-old woman. Among the major characters, Chagum, who is twelve, is the only young person. Yet the book is still suitable for and will appeal to tweens and teens. The action starts right away and rarely lets up, and the List of Characters and List of Places and Terms at the start of the book are useful references, especially once the central plot takes off.

Chagum was somehow chosen to deliver the egg of the Water Spirit, Nyunga Ro Im. The Mikado and his Star Readers, believing the Yogoese account of the creation of New Yogo, think Chagum is a threat to the country. Now Balsa must save Chagum, the egg-carrier and therefore a Guardian of the Spirit, from the Mikado and the deadly Hunters who do his bidding. And the more Balsa and her allies learn about Nyunga Ro Im, the more they realize the enormity of Balsa’s task. Because there is something else after the Guardian of the Spirit, something even more dangerous than the Hunters, and the knowledge of how to save the Guardian of the Spirit may have been lost forever.

If you are looking for an exciting fantasy, something different from the other fantasies currently being published, I highly recommend Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. Besides the plentiful action, it also had a depth I was not expecting, touching on some philosophical, and occasionally rather academic, themes (somehow I was not surprised to read that the author is a cultural anthropologist), but which always felt natural and organic to the story. In her author’s note, Nahoko Uehashi mentions that this is the first book in the Moribito series. I hope we’ll be seeing the other books in English soon.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2008 11:55 pm

    No matter that I will read fantasy from anywhere, some of my faves are the translations. The stories are just — epic and so far outside the Western ‘princess-happily-ever-after’ stuff. It’s just so much more complex than that, and quite pleasing. This looks GREAT.

  2. May 23, 2008 4:48 am

    Thank you for a nice post. I read the book a few times before illustrating the cover and interior images, and I really enjoyed it. It was much more than what I expected from a young adult fantasy, so much depth.
    Phil and I are in the middle of working on the second book design. And, what is great about the second book is that it is even more gripping, exciting and have great messages about life to the young readers.
    Cheers, Yuko

  3. May 23, 2008 10:42 am

    TadMack – I do admit to having a soft spot for princesses who get HEAs, but it’s also great to read books that are completely different. I’m by no means a fantasy expert, but like I said above, I can’t imagine a Western fantasy with this kind of plot. An egg? That’s basically laid in some people? And which… I’ll stop before I give the whole thing away.

    Yuko – I should credit you in the post, too! Your illustrations for the cover and inside the book are wonderful. And I’m so glad to hear about the next book.

  4. Brinda J Kuhlman permalink
    September 7, 2008 9:57 am

    Iwatch this film moribito every week with my daughter and i have really enjoyed watch this film that you wrote i espacial like balsa how she put her life on the line to save someone.cathy all i can say is keep up the storys that you put out.and the books.you are a great lady to do this.thank you again and god bless you.

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