“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.” –from ArthurALevineBooks.com
Ever since I picked up the first Moribito, Balsa has been a personal heroine who remains very close to my heart. I think part of it is that though Moribito and now Moribito II are definitely YA, Balsa herself is very close to me in age. She’s a young woman who isn’t old enough to settle down with the childhood friend who loves her, and who still has a lot of journeying to do before she figures out what she’s doing with herself, but she also isn’t young enough to be carefree. In the first book, she started as a bodyguard to a runaway child prince, and wound up a little more maternal than I think she might have planned; in Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness, she must face her past and shoulder the responsibility of redeeming her family and her dead sensei and guardian. She walks the line between typical YA heroine and grown-up really nicely, in a way I can really identify with.
Anyway, I love Balsa, and I think by writing through a nearing-30-year-old protagonist, you’re capturing a kind of story that wouldn’t necessarily happen otherwise. I read YA partly because I love stories of teens saving the day and doing things on their own and being capable, but this has a different (and entirely pleasant) feel. That said, I wonder how Balsa comes off to a teen audience–do they care that she’s almost thirty? Would someone who isn’t 27 herself not find it different? I wonder.
This is turning into a very long ramble, but it’s because I really like this book, I love Balsa, and I find the translation really interesting. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but there’s a certain quality of storytelling in YA I’ve read translated from Japanese that I find different from American YA lit, and I don’t know if it’s just the way any Japanese prose is when translated to English, or if it’s specific to what I’ve read…but it’s always a really different experience, sort of distant but still totally engaging at the same time. Also, let’s not forget, the art was just as breathtaking in this volume as it was in the first–the whole design of the book is beautiful, and I want to shove it in the faces of everyone who owns a Kindle and say “here, look at this, can you get this on a machine?”
So, without a doubt, five stars again for you three and for Balsa!