For many years, through countless fights, Balsa has survived. The evil King Rogsam tried to kill her when she was only six. Eight assassins pursued her in the long flight that followed. But her mentor, Jiguro, protected her until his death, and then Balsa became a bodyguard herself, helping other people survive the challenges they face.
When she returns to her native country of Kanbal, she hopes to see Jiguro’s family and her own for the first time in many years. But what should be a simple visit of truth and reconciliation becomes a fight for her life when she learns that King Rogsam framed Jiguro for the deaths of the eight assassins—as well as a crime that threatens the very existence of Kanbal. With the help of two Kanbalese children, Balsa must unwind the conspiracy surrounding Jiguro and the mystery of the Guardians of the Darkness, before it’s too late.
Textured, original fantasy, a cracking good story, and a heroine you can’t help but love – the second book in the Moribito series is every bit as good as the first (if not better). These books are hugely popular in Japan for good reason!
One of my favorite parts of the first Moribito was the complicated history between Balsa and Jiguro, her foster father. In this story that relationship takes center stage – and I absolutely loved it. Balsa’s return to her native kingdom is shaped by her past, as she finds herself in the middle of the tangled mess Jiguro left behind when he abandoned everything for her. The ramifications of that sacrifice, both in the ways in which it shaded and snarled Balsa and Jiguro’s lives, and in the repercussions for the kingdom at large, are just wonderfully wrought, top to bottom, and I loved watching it all froth and churn. This story is a very, very personal journey of redemption for Balsa, and honestly the ending brought tears to my eyes. It hurt in the best possible way as Balsa finally was able to lay her ghosts to rest.
But this story isn’t all about Balsa – two young new characters, Kassa and Gina, also find themselves embroiled in the intrigue surrounding Balsa’s return, and though Gina somewhat fades away after the first third of the book, Kassa is involved until the very end. Kassa is a boy faced with a series of hard revelations – the fall of his idols, the realizations that he has been lied to and manipulated, and his dawning understanding of his place in the world – and his coming of age adds a wonderful layer to this story.
Of course, Uehashi’s world building is once again brilliant, though this story is both simpler and shorter than her first book. Still there are interesting mythical creatures and a fun new mythology to be explored in Kanbal – particularly in the mysterious ceremony that ties the kingdom above to the world in darkness below. And while the spirit world is once again present in this story, it has a much subtler – though still crucial – role to play.
Duty and honor, ambition and sacrifice, and at the heart of it all – family. There is just such wonderful substance to this story, and it has such a lovely, classic feel. I think these may be the best books you’ve never heard of – and really they cannot be missed.
Byrt Grade: A
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
Uehashi explores themes of family and honesty with rich prose and compelling characters. Powerful and loyal, Balsa is the core draw (“Although her hands were bound and she was held captive, Balsa’s eyes were filled with a fierce light, like a fighter ready to enter the ring”), but the cast of secondary characters are well developed and intriguing in their own right. Add to that some intense spear battles and a gripping finale, and this growing series has something for everyone.
Though a sequel, Moribito II stands on its own as an engrossing story of redemption, with seasoned warrior and bodyguard Balsa back in the center of it all…