Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi. ★★★1/2
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is an English translation of the first book in a Japanese YA fantasy series following a warrior woman named Balsa. In Guardian of the Spirit, Balsa is hired to protect twelve year old Prince Chagum, who holds the egg of the water spirit. If the egg is destroyed before midsummer, then a great drought will descend across the land.
Balsa is pretty darn awesome. She’s a thirty year old bodyguard who dedicates her life to saving others. But somewhere along the way, fighting got in her bones and now she doesn’t know how to live differently. It’s also nice that she wasn’t the only important female character in the novel.
The world building of Guardian of the Spirit was very well done. There’s two groups of people, one who conquered the other two hundred years back. The people native to the region have begun to forget their myths and legends, which creates trouble for Balsa and Chagum when they are trying to get information about the water spirit.
The book also contains illustrations! It was divided into several sections, and in the division between each section, there was a two page illustrated spread. The artwork was gorgeous. I love it when books incorporate art like this.
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is a short and fairly simple adventure story. There are some underlying complexities, especially in Balsa’s characterization and some of the ideas about how those in power shape the stories that are told, but it is a book that could easily be read by a middle school audience. The prose can be a bit simple, and it feels a tad obvious in places (too much telling and not enough showing?). That being said, if you’re older and want a lighter fantasy story, I think you would still enjoy Guardian of the Spirit.