Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

by Nahoko Uehashi
translated by Cathy Hirano
First sentence: “At the moment the royal procession reached the Yamakage Bridge, Balsa’s destiny took an unexpected turn.”
Sadly, it’s out of print.
Content: There’s some fighting and the main character is 30. It’s in the teen section of the library.

Balsa is a warrior woman, who is a bodyguard for hire. She saved the life of the Second Crown Prince — he had fallen into a river — which lead her to her most recent job: guarding his life because the prince — Chagun — is carrying the water demon egg inside of him. His life is in danger, partly because his father, the Mikado, is supposed to have descended from the gods, and having a son with a demon egg inside of him isn’t the best thing for public morale. And there’s also the Rarunga — the egg eater — who will do everything it can to stop the egg from hatching.

Okay, that sounds really weird, doesn’t it?

Honestly, though, it worked. It’s a good little fantasy, ripe with adventure and fighting, mysticism, a bit of friendship-turned-romance (but just a small bit), and a crazy old lady. It was kind of like reading a novelization of a manga; not terribly linear with the storytelling, but entertaining nonetheless. Not sure I would have ever picked this up without the class I’m taking (and because this was one of a very few on the reading list; not many works in translation for kids are in my local library) but I’m not sorry that I read it. It was fun, in the end.

A Winter’s Promise

winterspromiseby Christelle Dabos
Translated by Hildegarde Serle
First sentence: “It’s often said of old buildings that they have a soul.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: The main character is engaged, but other than that there’s nothing “objectionable” (at least that I read). It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) but if a 6-8th grader is interested, I’d give it to them.

When my rep for Europa pitched this book, the first thing I told him was “the cover is awful”. Yes, it fits with the other Europa titles, but, really: what kid is going to want to pick up this book?

But it’s a huge deal in France, he countered. And it’s supposed to be sweeping and epic. So I picked up a few for the store, if only to support Europa’s first foray into young adult fiction. And then I nominated it for the Cybils, so I’d force myself to read it.

And…

Well…

I’m sorry. It’s awful.

I liked Dabos’ world building: she’s imagined a world where there are a bunch of floating “arks” populated by different families with different magical skills. I really¬† liked our main character, Opheilia’s, magical skill at reading items — she can tell the history of the owner through their items, and she wears gloves so she doesn’t accidentally read other people’s histories without their permission. But, Opheila herself was a huge pushover. I think she was supposed to be cheerily mousy, but instead I just got annoyingly wimpy. She’s been given in an arranged marriage (arranged by the heads of her family, I assume?) to Thorn, who is from the Polar ark (I think), and whose family’s skill has to do with illusion. Except, once on their ark, Sophie finds out that everyone is at each other’s throat and she’s in the middle of it.

At this point, I was more than 200 pages into a nearly 500 page book, and I bailed. It was just going nowhere too slowly for me. The only thing that was holding my attention was the world, and there wasn’t enough of that to make me care enough to keep reading. (And I thought Rowling was overly wordy!) So, I bailed.

But, I suppose, if large, very French, fantasies are your thing, then this one will be perfect. They’re just not my thing.