Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi. ★★★
While it’s the sequel to Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, this book could probably be read independently. Balsa, a bodyguard, is returning to her homeland to clear the name of her mentor and foster father, Jiguro, who saved her life when she was six years old. But when she finally returns to her homeland, she finds that the conspiracy that led Jiguro to flee with her so long ago extends a lot farther than she thought.
While I tend to list the Moribito books as YA, they could easily be read by middle grade students. They’re short and not super complex, although Guardian of Darkness has continued its predecessor’s tradition of examining how history can be distorted and shaped by those in power.
I still like Balsa, a thirty year old warrior woman who continues to be awesome. None of the supporting characters from the last book reappeared in this installment, and I do not think the new supporting cast was quite as good. I particularly missed Tanda.
For a short and fairly simple book, the world felt well realized. I liked the descriptions of everyday life in Balsa’s homeland, from the clothes and food to the goat herding. The magical and mythological aspects also worked well, and I liked how that all came together.
The prose is not a strong suit. It’s functional, but it can feel too plain at times. It also feels like there’s slightly too much telling and not enough showing. This is something I noticed in the last book as well.
Overall, I’ve liked the Moribito books but not loved them. I think they would still be worth checking out if you’re looking for middle grade novels, older heroines in children’s fiction, or translated Japanese fantasy.