Before we get to talking about Ten to Chi no Moribito: Part 1, Rota Oukoku Hen (天と地の守り人〈第1部〉ロタ王国編), I need to back the story way up. The last you heard about Balsa was in Kami no Moribito (Part 1 and Part 2) where she helped two kids escape slavers and stopped a vengeful god from destroying many people, among other things.
After that, we turned our attention to Chagum, the Prince in Seirei no Moribito, who carried the spirit within him and whom Balsa had to save from being killed thereby bringing an unending drought upon his country. It’s been 5 years since Chagum and Balsa have seen each other in the flesh. In Yume no Moribito, they met briefly on the side of Nayug, the other world that inhabits the same space as their world. Chagum’s sickly older brother has died, leaving Chagum the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of New Yogo. He now has a younger brother and a little sister.
As he turns 16, Chagum sets off on a tour of their world. This is his last chance to really experience freedom before he’s an adult and he’s taking the opportunity. In the books Kokuu no Tabibito (虚空の旅人) and Aochi no Tabibito (蒼路の旅人), we follow Chagum as he travels to, first, the southern islands, where he is implicated in a murder plot and thwarts a ritual sacrifice of a young girl and in the second, in a trip to the Sangal Kingdom’s archipelago, where he is captured by pirates and taken to the second Prince of the Tarsh Empire, who tells him that war is coming and Tarsh will rule everything in the world. Chagum is sent back, but is once again waylaid and taken to the Rota Kingdom (where Kami no Moribito took place.) I didn’t review these two books, because while Balsa is mentioned, she does not appear.
Okay, so. As Ten to Chi no Moribito opens, Balsa has taken up her old job as bodyguard for hire again, when she is found by someone with a letter for her. Do you remember the youngest of the King’s hunters who tracked Balsa and Chagum? His name was Jin. After failing to capture them he left the employ of the New Yogo royal family and became a pirate. In Aoichi no Moribito he and Chagum meet, but I never felt her was truly an ally and was working against Chagum while pretending to be friendly. (Chagum’s one sort-of ally in that book was a pirate captain, Hyuugo. Hyuugo liked the young prince and felt bad about having to kidnap him.) Anyway, Jin sends a letter to Balsa telling her Chagum is missing, presumed dead, on the way to Rota.
Balsa decided she’s going to find Chagum and bring him back home. Her adventure takes her through a bit of Sangal and into Rota, where she is tracked by soldiers, jumped by a bunch of heavies working for a local criminal boss whose ass she kicks. She was fabulously badass in this scene.
The recurring theme at this point is that Balsa, although she doesn’t think of herself as anything different, is massively famous. She literally cannot go anywhere anymore, because the moment the woman who weilds a spear arrives in town, everyone knows it’s her. There are songs sung about her and Chagum. They cannot ever be unfamous again.
While escaping from royal hunters for the Rota kingdom, Balsa meets up with Hyuugo, who is mortally wounded. He tells her everything he knows, and explains in detail that war is coming and New Yogo is doomed unless it allies with Sangal, Rota and Kanbal against the Tarsh Empire. He’s got an exceptional grasp of the politics and the veil falls from Balsa’s eyes, she knows where Chagum must be.
Balsa find herself helped by a village headwoman, and yet another long insightful conversation happens, explaining the political ramifications of the situation.
We briefly turn to Tanda, who is found and “captured” by a bunch of soldiers, but discovers they are extremely young and scared to death of the war that they know is inevitable. (We also have short scenes where we revisit Torogai, Tanda’s teacher, Chikisa and Asura from Kami no Moribito, and other characters from past books.)
Balsa makes it to Rota where she is admitted to Prince Ihan’s presence without delay. This conversation was so adult, it was almost refreshing. Ihan admitted he had had Chagum, and why he had captured the boy – he was going to hold him as insurance that New Yogo allied with them. But Chagum, who was being moved further north, was longer in his castle. And Shihana, the shaman huntress from Kami no Moribito, who had been after Asura, is now hunting Chagum as well.
Balsa heads north, finding dead bodies and broken military troops along the way. The wolves were attacking again. (The wolves of Rota get a lot of play in Kami no Moribito. They attack in massive packs and are ferocious. The first time in KnM we see Asura draw down the vengeful god is to destroy a wolf pack of hundreds.)
In the forest, shadowed by a wolfpack, Balsa is attacked by a group of men. With the wolves at her heels, she fights man and canine and is rescued, barely by a group of three men, one of whom is Chagum. The other two are killed and Chagum and Balsa are wounded. When Chagum embraces her, Balsa notes that he’s now taller than she. They find a hut to in which to hunker down against the snow and tend to their wounds. Warm, fed, and trying not to die of infections, they have an emotional reunion. And they talk about the war that is coming.
With the snow swirling around them, Chagum asks if Balsa will take him to Kanbal and she agrees, even if her bones should break, she’ll take him there.
End of book. Phew!
As with Kami no Moribito, I’m kind of surprised at the political maneuverings and details in a YA series, but I’m also kind of glad that Uehashi-sensei doesn’t underestimate her audience, and presumes they are completely capable of understanding the situation.
But most importantly – Balsa. She is now 35 and is still at the top of her game It’s obvious that she’d prefer to be a small-time bodyguard leading people across the mountains, but is neither running from nor appalled by her fame. Although she has not, she says, heard any of the songs about her. She is still quite capable of being the person who changes the course of history…and when she meets Chagum once again, it’s pretty obvious that they both think it’s inevitable that she will be. We also get a few clear glimpses at her feelings for both Tanda and Chagum. During a long, cold night while on the road, she wishes for a brief moment to be in Tanda’s arms. I think this is the first time we’ve seen that kind of admission from her.
Her affection for Chagum has never been hidden, nor his for her. He’s spoken of her admiringly in every book. When they reunite, it is with a warm embrace. We never doubted for a second that they missed each other. ^_^
Nor do I doubt for a second that they will once again change the world. Who can stand against the Ten to Chi no Moribito, the guardians of heaven and earth?
Overall – 9 Awesome, with a side of terrific. This book has it all. Chases and fights and intrigue and Chagum and Balsa reuniting. ^_^
This final arc is a three-book series. I hope to be able to complete it before we get the story in the Moribito TV series!