Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness

0-545-10295-2

Author: Nahoko Uehashi

Publication: Arthur A. Levine, 2009

Pages: 272

Overall Rating: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                       

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

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Balsa Yonsa returns to her homeland of Kanbal after more than 24 years in exile to tell people what really happened to her foster father, Jiguro Musa, who was labeled as a criminal and traitor by the former king of Kanbal.  However, it doesn’t take long for her to discover that the conspiracy to discredit Jiguro went much deeper than she ever could have imagined.  When members of the Musa clan try to kill her she’s forced into hiding.  But in order to save Kanbal from destruction she’ll have to team up with Kassa Musa and risk confronting the most powerful man in Kanbal in what could well be a fight to the death.

Age of Main Character: Balsa Yonsa is 30, Kassa Musa is 15

What I Liked the Most: Balsa remains a wonderfully character in this book.  When she fights, her skills are unmatched, and she goes into battle with no fear of death or injury.  It makes her a formidable opponent.  She’s also smart and extremely compassionate for a warrior and bodyguard.  All this makes her a fun character to follow.

Uehashi has done a great job of creating a realistic and believable world in the kingdom of Kanbal, a poor mountain country divided by clan loyalties.  He’s developed a Kanbalese language, with a glossary at the back defining various Kanbalese terms that are used throughout the text.  Life in Kanbal is hard, but beautiful, and Uehashi excels at describing the rough mountainous terrain, the small clan settlements and marketplaces, and the clan culture and customs, weaving bits and pieces into the story to create a complete picture of Kanbalese life.

What I Liked the Least: The dialogue does not feel as stiff as it did in Guardian of the Spirit, but it doesn’t always have a very natural quality to it either.  It tends toward the formal, and there are a number of places where the characters give fairly long winded and unbroken speeches to provide some of the background for the story.  For example, when Balsa meets her Aunt Yuka for the first time since she was six, Yuka goes into a lengthy two page explanation of what the people of Kanbal think Jiguro did.  It includes a lot of passages like the following: “When he learned that King Naguru was mortally ill, Jiguro stole the nine gold rings from deep inside the castle and fled the country.  Those rings were priceless.  They marked their bearers as the King’s Spears and symbolized the bond that unites the nine clans with the royal family.  The knowledge that Prince Rogsam would succeed to the throne would have been hard for him to accept.  But to steal the rings and run away was unforgivable.”

It’s not bad, and feels less stiff than much of the dialogue in Guardian of the Spirit, but there’s also nothing particularly natural about it, and it is a fairly blatant attempt to use dialogue to dump background information that the reader needs.

Fantastical creatures and other worlds played a somewhat less central role in this book than in Guardian of the Spirit, but only slightly.  For readers who enjoy fantasy that may well be a plus for this novel, but I found the fantastical elements such as the Titi Lan – tiny hunters who ride on the backs of Ermine – and the Hyohlu – also known as the guardians of the darkness – to be somewhat distracting in the end.

How Good was the Action?  Excellent.  There wasn’t as much action as in Guardian of the Spirit.  This book was more about intrigue, but the action that did occur was very well done.  As before, 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. That’s especially evident in Balsa’s final battle with the Hyohlu.

How Engaging was the Story?   Uehashi does a good job drawing readers into the intrigue that lies at the heart of this story – why Yuguro of the Musa clan framed Jiguro, what he’s planning to do, and how Balsa will try to stop him.  It’s a complex plot that Uehashi strings out, but I definitely found myself caught up in it, wanting to find out what Yuguro was up to.  There are a few too many characters, and I sometimes found myself forgetting who some of the more minor ones were, but the main characters are all very well drawn and believable, especially Balsa, Kassa, and Yuguro.

Overall Assessment: This is a fun, swashbuckling adventure with a strong female lead.  I didn’t find it quite as good as Guardian of the Spirit, but it was still a great read and an excellent example of top quality martial arts novel.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Yes.  Nobody dies, but people do get speared in the shoulder, have their ribs broken, and get poisoned, and there are a number of spear fights that take place.  However, none of it felt especially graphic and there was no gore.

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