rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve been finding this shelved as YA, but to me it had that classic children’s adventure feel, reminiscent of Lloyd Alexander in the blend of history and fantasy and adventure. Although the action mainly follows a woman bodyguard, Balsa, there’s nothing here that would make the story inappropriate for middle school. There’s plenty of martial arts, for those of you who are interested in those things, described in a way that makes sense to people like me. There’s a strong fantasy element, mainly through the young prince who Balsa has been hired to protect – the “guardian of the spirit” – complete with a fantastically creepy many-legged creature.
But what really stood out for me was the great character building – even the minor characters seem to live and breath. It looks like the next book in the series will be published in the US this year – I look forward to it, and I’m sure to recommend them to kids looking for a good new fantasy series with some meat on its bones.
Also, I don’t know anything about the challenges of translating from Japanese to English, but the prose is lovely and rich without overwhelming the story – I would say it well deserves its Batchelder Award for translation. And the production quality is great, too, with nice thick pages and plenty of decorations that add to the mood of the story.