Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi
Things you should know about Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit:
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!
The writing more than lives up to the expectations the cover and design create.
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.