Moribito : Guardian of the Spirit
by Nahoko Uehashi
Moribito is set in a world much like our own, but different in key ways. It seems much like medieval Japan might have been, but with magic and gods made real. The second prince of the emperor has been possessed by a spirit. Not knowing the nature of the creature housed in his son, and needing to preserve the appearance infallibility, the emperor orders him killed. The second empress seeks a talented bodyguard to protect her son. That bodyguard is Balsa.
Balsa is an extraordinary warrior with a spear. What you might not expect is that she is a woman. She travels the land as a bodyguard, seeking to save eight lives in exchange for the eight men who died pursuing her as a youth.
Needless to say, she accepts the job of protecting the young prince — because otherwise, there wouldn’t be a story! Along the way, the pair are helped by Balsa’s friends. Tanda the Healer and Torogai, the Magic Weaver, are key to discovering what to do about the spirit inside the prince. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because this story deserves to be discovered by each reader. By the end of the story, the characters have been changed by this experience. The ending is unexpected.
I enjoyed this story very much. The characters had depth and I understood their motivations. I also liked the secondary characters and appreciated that they too were fleshed out as well. The author is an anthropology professor; perhaps this helped her do such a good job with world building.
The conflict was well thought out and described. I liked how it forced the reader to examine their beliefs. When the plot twisted, the reader had to reexamine their ideas about who was right and wrong.
The ending was believable, if a little unsatisfactory. However, I’ve since found out that this is the first book in a ten book series. With this in mind, I think I understand why the ending was open ended as it was. They have to have material for the next book!
This book has been made into a manga and an anime. I watched the first episode of it online and enjoyed it very much. It was very faithful to its source material. The anime can be found on Adult Swim in the US, and it is known by the same name as the book. The second book in the series has been published in the US, but due to poor sales, the publisher does not currently plan to release the rest of the series. 😦
I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy epic fantasy, adventure stories, and/or multicultural studies. I think teenage boys would like it as well as girls.