Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit


Author: Nahoko Uehashi

Publication: Arthur A. Levine, 2008

Pages: 272

Overall Rating: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Balsa is a martial arts expert and warrior for hire, renowned for her skill with the short spear.  She is hired by one of the wives of the Emperor of New Yogo to protect her son, prince Chagum.  The queen believes that a magical creature is living inside her son – a creature that according to tradition could never take root in someone descended from the gods.  The Emperor is afraid that if word of the child’s possession gets out it will lead people to question the entire royal dynasty.  To protect his position he has made several attempts to have his own son killed.

Balsa accepts the job and soon finds herself on the run, with imperial assassins hot on her heels.  She takes refuge with Tanda, a healer and old friend.  Together with Tanda’s master, Torogai, they set out to learn more about the demon that has taken possession of Chagum.    If they fail Chagum will die and the entire country will be plunged into a horrific drought.  But in order to succeed they will have to defeat Rarunga – a monstrous creature from another world.

Age of Main Character: Balsa is 30, Chagum is 11

What I Liked the Most: Balsa is a great character. She’s tough, smart, fast, and just a bit angry.  She may be a bodyguard for hire, but she’s got morals and when she agrees to guard someone nothing will stand in her way, not even the possibility of imminent death.  She stands up to the imperial assassins and goes toe-to-toe with Rarunga.  She’s just a fun character and I enjoyed watching her story unfold.

With Chagum being set up as a young prince in need of protection, there was the potential that he could have turned into a whiny brat – nothing more than a drag on Balsa.  But that’s not the case.  Chagum quickly develops into a full character in his own right – angry at his fate, but ready to see things through no matter what the cost.

Uehashi also does a good job of making the imperial assassins intimidating while still humanizing them.  Some authors go over the top with their villains, making them pure evil so that they come off more like a comic book character.  That’s not the case here.  Mon and his fellow assassins are vicious and they clearly enjoy their work, but as the story moves forward they also show sparks of humanity, which makes them feel both more well-rounded and more frightening.

What I Liked the Least: The dialogue often felt rather stilted and unnatural.  For example, in one passage Shuga, a Star Reader or scholar for the Emperor is talking with the Master Star Reader about what happened to Chagum.  He says, “When you first summoned Gakai and me and told us that some creature had nested within the prince’s body, it reminded me of two things.  The first was the story of the evil water demon vanquished by our sacred ancestor Torugaru, which is recorded in The Official History of New Yogo.  The second was the sign of the Great Drought, which appeared in the sky at midsummer this year.   Although nothing has happened yet, the omens indicate that next year there will be a drought of terrible proportions, as we have already discussed.”  And so Shuga goes on for two more paragraphs.  It was one of quite a few instances where I felt like Uehashi was stuffing unnatural words into his character’s mouths in order to get information across to the reader.

How Good was the Action?  Great.  The fight scenes provide a good mix of summarized and blow-by-blow action, painting a broad picture of the battle and then focusing in on specifics in just the right places.  The fights with Rarunga and between Balsa and the assassins were particularly good.  Balsa performs some amazing feats with her spear, warding off a hail of blows from three experienced assassins, delivering pinpoint jabs and swipes, and using it to vault Chagum and herself out of danger.

How Engaging was the Story?   There are times when the story begins to feel a little too far-fetched.  All the business of two parallel worlds – Sagu and Nayugu – with a creature that lays eggs in both worlds ever hundred years that must hatch in order to avoid a terrible drought could easily have gone over the top.  And yet, the story held my attention.  I whizzed through it in a single day.  Somehow, the book’s fun, swashbuckling attitude helped wash over the more far-fetched aspects of the story.   And the characters, especially Balsa, are so fun that you want to keep reading regardless of anything else.

Overall Assessment: This is a fun book.  The dialogue’s not always the best, but it’s a good swashbuckling adventure with a tough female lead.  If you like martial arts, manga, or Japanese anime this is a great opportunity to see all of that translated into the world of prose.  It’s a rollicking adventure with a healthy dose of fantasy and lots of action.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Yes.  Some of the fights are fairly violent, with people being slashed across the face or stomach and cut in half by Rarunga’s claws, but for the most part it’s not overly graphic.

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