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Nahoko Uehashi, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, translated by Cathy Hirano,
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
Scholastic, 2009.

Ages 14+

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is the first tale in a series about Balsa, a female warrior and bodyguard.  Set in the fictional world of Yogo, reminiscent of early imperial Japan, Moribito gives an account of Balsa’s assignment to protect Chagum, the second prince of the emperor.  Chagum is a boy whose life is threatened by what is mysteriously growing inside him – a creature from a parallel dimension who must gestate in a human host before being born.  Such a creature born only once in a hundred years is shrouded in mythical beliefs that portend a drought so severe that it will wreak disaster on the kingdom of Chagum’s father.  Only those who know of the ancient lore of Chagum’s forebears, the Star Readers, and the shamans of the dispossessed aboriginal peoples, the Yakoo, can help Chagum survive the ordeal of this unique, life-threatening fate of being host to this mysterious being.  The two civilizations of the Yakoo and the Yogo-ese, however, have only partial and biased accounts of past events to work with, and it becomes clearly evident that something else more dangerous and threatening is after the creature inside the boy’s body.  Balsa must not only protect Chagum from the enemies of this world but also from invisible elements from the parallel dimension from which the egg originates.

In creating Balsa and the world of Yogo, author Nahoko Uehashi has created a fantastical universe inspired by a vision she had thirteen years ago of a thirty-year-old woman protecting a child. “Into my mind sprang an image of a woman. She was dressed for traveling and carrying a short spear.  A young boy was holding her hand and running to keep up.  He seemed well-bred, but strong-willed too.  A million thoughts raced through my mind.  He didn’t look like her child.  Was she taking care of him for his mother?  If so, why?  One idea led to another, and before I knew it, the story was finished.”

From out of that seed of an image, the Moribito tales have taken root and flourished.  The series, beginning with this book, has won acclaim with Japanese readers and has recently been turned into an animated TV series as well as made into manga.  With Moribito now translated into English, Uehashi brings her imaginative vision to readers of the English-speaking world.  Billed as teen fantasy and science fiction, the story has wide appeal to both parents and children alike.  Will Balsa become the new Harry Potter?  Only time will tell!

Sally Ito
June 2009



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