Book Talk: Balsa is a fighter and a body guard, but even she isn't prepared for the mess she finds herself in after rescuing the second prince from drowning one day. Balsa has no love of royalty, but before she knows it she's risking her life and fighting foes natural and supernatural to protect the boy. She soon realizes that much more is at stake than just one boy's life, but how can she defeat a foe that she can't see and knows nothing about?
Rocks my Socks: A great, fast-paced fantasy adventure novel. The author is Japanese (it's translated into English), which really makes it stand out among all the western fantasy stories in the market. The novel is fantasy and not historical fiction, but just as English and American fantasy novels often take place in worlds based on Europe in the Middle Ages, the world of this book is rooted in Japanese culture in the same period. I also love the exploration of gender in this book. The strongest magician and the strongest warrior are both female while the male lead is a healer. The land of the novel is populated by a foreign cultural group who took over the land of the natives and the themes explored involving the interplay between the two are also fascinating. There is a romantic subplot, but it's minor and well-handled and doesn't detract from the action sequences. There are great two-page illustrations at the beginning of each part.
Rocks in my Socks: There were a fair amount of moments, especially in the beginning, where I felt that basic aspects of the world were a bit awkwardly explained and shoe horned in without really matching the flow of the novel. This usually involved aspects that weren't unique to the fantasy world but were drawn from history so that most Japanese readers wouldn't need the explanations. This lead me to think that they might have been added in by the translator to help western audiences follow the plot. It was particularly frustrating to me because I've studied Japanese history a bit and I've taken two years of the language at university, so it felt a bit obvious to me. I can see why these explanations were needed though, especially for a young adult audience, but I do think they could have been handled better so it didn't disturb the flow of the novel as much.
Every Book its Reader: I'd recommend this to fans of fantasy adventure novels in general and especially to those with an interest in Japanese culture. The book isn't terribly violent for an adventure novel; I'd say that it would be best appreciated by 6th grade and up but it could be read by strong readers of a younger age. Adults who are looking for a Japanese fantasy novel or a good quick read would enjoy it as well.
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano
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