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Moribito cover Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Nahoko Uehashi

New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009

230 pgs, hardcover, $20.00 (CAD)

ISBN: 978-0670069651

A long time ago in the land of New Yogo, the Yakoo people believed that once every hundred years, the cloud spirit, Nyunga Ro Im, picked a guardian to protect its egg. If this egg survived, the weather would be good and crops would flourish; if the egg or the host dies, however, the Yakoo believed that drought and famine would strike the land. But, people do not believe this myth any longer – not since the ascension of the Torugaru royal family to rule New Yogo. The old Yakoo ways are considered outdated and superstitious, even radical. And then something most unexpected happens….

For 30-year-old Balsa, mystical and fantastical concerns are far removed from her day-to-day life. A bodyguard for hire, Balsa lives by her sword and trusts what she can see before her eyes. Then, by chance, Balsa saves the life of a boy falling from a bridge and begins a surprising and unexpected journey. Because this is no simple boy. He is crown prince Chagum, 12-year-old second son of the Royal Mikado—and guardian of the spirit, egg bearer for Nyunga Ro Im. To protect this boy, Balsa must learn to trust beyond the physical and accept that the intangible –the magical – is real. She must also fight the entire royal guard who has been directed to kill Chagum on the orders of his own father, the King. Because if the Nyunga Ro Im is shown to be real, if Chagum survives, then the whole ideology of the royal family, of the ruling power structure in New Yogo, could fall.  The magical beliefs of the Yakoo, dominated by the Yogo people for two centuries, would be revealed as true – not backwards or superstitious.

Winner of the 2009 ALA Batchelder Award for best children’s book published in translation, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is at once an adventure story with a unusual heroine, a wayward prince and vicious monsters, as well as a fictional re-imagining of medieval Japan full of magic, mystery and cultural transition. This is a recommended title for any YA library collection. It is exciting, engaging and – the best part – there is more Moribito to come. After the novel was originally published in Japan in 1996, it spawned several manga incarnations, a very successful anime series, and nine subsequent volumes in a Guardian series. The second volume in this series, Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness, was recently translated in English with more volumes on the way.

Highly Recommended.

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