One of the many fine books nominated for the Cybils in Science Fiction/fantasy, that we just didn't have room for on our short list, was Guardian Of The Spirit (Moribito vol. 1) by Nahoko Uehashi (translated by Cathy Hirano and illustrated by Yuko Shimizu). Aside from the gripping story, this is an utterly beautiful book qua book, what with all the decorative touches. So it was very pleasing to see it win the Batchelder Award last month.
Years ago, eight lives were lost so that a girl named Balsa could live. The girl grew up determined to pay back that debt, and so she honed her fighting skills and dedicated her life to saving others. Now she totally kicks ass--you could think of her as a medieval Japanese Katsa (of Graceling fame). So far things have gone as smoothly as they can for an itinerant woman warrior, but Balsa's life is about to get more complicated. For the boy she has just saved from drowning is the second prince, who has just become the morbito--the guardian of the water spirit on whom the prosperity of the land depends. And powerful people want him dead.
History is written by the victors, and in the official chronicles of this land the water spirit is an evil monster. What the histories don't say is that the true evil is the monster that seeks to kill the water spirit every time it is incarnated. So Balsa has her hands full as she leads the boy prince up into the wildlands at the edge of the realm, struggling to keep him alive (shades of Katsa again), and, in the process, beginning to question the violent course she has chartered for her own life.
Here are two other reviews, at Fuse #8 and The Ya Ya Yas.
I just learned today that the next book in the series (there are ten so far in Japan) is due out in a few months. So that is my Waiting on Wednesday book--Guardian Of The Darkness (Moribito vol 2). I hope it is as exciting, thought-provoking, and enjoyable as the first one!
Here's the description from Amazon:
"Balsa returns to her native Kanbal to clear the name of Jiguro, her dear mentor, who saved her life when she was six years old. But what should be a visit of truth and reconciliation becomes a fight for her life when she learns that Jiguro had been a member of King Rogsam's personal bodyguard. After Jiguro fled Kanbal with her, Rogsam sent the other bodyguards after them one by one--Jiguro's best friends, whom he had to kill to protect Balsa. Now, with the help of two Kanbalese children, Balsa must unwind the conspiracy surrounding Jiguro and the mystery of the Guardians of the Dark."
(editorial aside: I've labeled this one both middle grade and ya. Middle grade, because of the exciting plot and lack of Adult Content. YA, because of the complexity of the plot and the relatively mature heroine. I am not going to label it girl book or boy book, because it fits my criteria for both!)