Uehashi, Nahoko. Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2008. ISBN 0545005426
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit tells the story of Balsa, a spear-wielding bodyguard, and Chagum, the Second Prince of Yogo. When Balsa rescues the prince from the river, she has no idea that she has only just begun her next adventure. It’s a fast paced novel that makes great use of flashbacks and separate “parts” of the book.
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is told in three parts, an introduction to the various primary characters, a middle section where the reader learns more of the myths and background that drive the plot, and the final part that is a mad rush of climax and resolution. However, as driving as the plot is, the characters are easily the most interesting part. Whether it is young Chagum who must decide who he is as a person rather than a prince or Tanda whose quiet presence and humorous quips keep even the most dangerous situations from being too serious, the characters are continually growing. Even old Torogai, who makes several comments about being too old herself (though she argues if anyone else implies it) acknowledges that one must continue to learn and grow.
It is unsurprising, considering it has already been turned into an anime (with an English translation as well) and a manga, that in many ways Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit reads like watching an anime. Unlike many native English books where the flashbacks often seem heavy handed, they merge seamlessly into the story of Balsa. Entering and exiting the flashbacks (or myths) is more like telling a friend about your day where you relive it in your mind rather than telling a story you’ve heard but never experienced.
The greatest disappointment for me is that only the first two books in the Moribito series have been translated from Japanese. I can only hope that more of the 2014 Hans Christian Anderson Award winner’s novels will be translated.
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit would be a great novel to bridge the gap between novels and anime (or novels and manga) for teens. Since there is an English version of the anime, some teens may have already heard the story of Balsa, but not be aware that there is a novel as well. For those who are unfamiliar with the anime and manga formats, the novel (which contains similar elements) is a great introduction. Unfortunately, though Uehashi admits to using some Japanese myths, she also admits that most of her fantasy worlds are original; meaning it probably shouldn’t be used as an introduction to Japanese myths.
Cybil Award-2008 (finalist)
Mildred L. Batchelder Award-2009
Booklist—“This Japanese import features many familiar martial-arts fantasy elements: magic, nonstop action, swordplay, a puzzling myth, dangerous plot twists, and a strong-willed, flawed hero on a quest. What’s surprising is that the “hero” is a slightly wrinkled, weather-beaten, thirty-year-old heroine”
Kirkus—“While the disparate ages of the protagonists might seem unusual to Western fantasy fans, seasoned manga readers should be less surprised. Jam-packed with monstrous combat, ethnic conflicts and complex mythologies, Balsa and Chagum’s story will win many new fans for this series.”
Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. May 2008. (Vol. 76, No. 10). Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9780545005425
Sherman, Chris. Booklist. Aug 2008. (Vol. 104, No. 22). Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9780545005425