It wasn’t easy, but I stepped up my reading to get this book done in record time, so I could tell you about it while I was still in a Balsa kind of mood. (The next one is several books down on the pile so don’t expect anything for a while.)
Kami no Moribito begins on a, dare I say it?, happy note. Balsa and Tanda, finding themselves with some mutual downtime, decide to go on a trip together. They have a destination in mind, but the real point of the trip is to revisit places they like with a close companion, and eat good food – you know, a vacation.
When they arrive in an inn that Tanda likes and knows the folks who run it, they are catapulted out of vacation into a very complex story. While they are there, Balsa sees a group of nomads manhandling two children and, being Balsa, ends up saving the kids. We learn that the children have had a very, very hard life, which culminated in the raiding party invading their home, killing their father and raping their mother. When their mother died, the two were kept as servants and were just, that very night, sold to slavers.
Having rescued them, Balsa has Tanda tend to their wounds and the fevers they get from them. The younger of the two, Asura, has some kind of vision, or connection, to her people’s god, and it’s not a terribly good thing, by everyone else’s standards. Tanda’s acquaintance and former military man, Sfaru, is convinced that the right thing to do would be to kill her right now.
Tanda tells Balsa not to get involved with the kids, but when he sees she can’t stop herself, warns her to get the hell out, asap. Balsa grabs the girl and takes off.
The next morning Sfaru sends his sons after her, and tells the boy, Chikisa, the story of who the god is, and why Asura is dangerous. Not surprisingly, Chikisa is not particularly thrilled to know that Sfaru is after his little sister, but he’s wounded and weak and a child, so he trusts Tanda and Balsa and waits. Balsa uses all her wits to evade Sfaru’s sons, and fights, and severly, but not fatally, wounds one when he gets too close.
She runs to a large-ish city, where she heads toward the house of someone who owes her. The old lady, Masa, isn’t thrilled to see her, but takes to Asura right away. When Balsa asks if Asura could see herself living there, for the first time in her life, Asura finds a sense of hope in her heart. Masa offers her and her brother a place to live if they should come back.
Tanda and Sfaru aren’t far behind, though. Although Tanda betrayed him, Sfaru knows that Tanda knows Balsa best and takes him and Chikisa to track down Balsa and Asura. They learn that Balsa has left the city.
Balsa gets an introduction to a guide – she has to nearly break his arm to convince him that she’s worth helping, but once she beats him into the ground, he comes around and promises to lead her and Asura where they are headed…back to New Yogo, by way of the far north.
The book ends there, with Balsa and Asura running for their lives, and Tanda and Chikisa following along with Sfaru.
Of all of the Moribito books, it was probably so far the weakest. There were long chunks of story-telling that weren’t terribly compelling, especially the history of the Taru and their eponymous founder Taru no Hamaya, and a long, excruciating sidebar about the Princes of Rota and the one that fell in love with the daughter of Taru no Tamashi. When I got to a chapter than was three pages of talking about sheep, the story simply ground to a halt.
Nonetheless, once the world building was over, the story – especially the chase between Sfaru and his sons (in which Sfaru, who is also a shaman as well as a fighter, puts his spirit into a hawk to hunt Balsa) and Balsa, who anticipates this, is excellent. Unexpectedly cute is Masa, who wins as the oldest tsundere character ever. ^_^
Also nice were the fight scenes, in which Balsa always wins, even wounded, and the magical moment when she practices spear form under the light of the full moon while the children watch.
Overall – 7
While not the most compelling story ever, I’m interested to see what happens, so definitely will be reading the second book once I get through the other 6 or so books on my pile. ^_^ Balsa’s just that cool.