Well…wow. I have just finished the penultimate novel of the Balsa series and I have to say, I am really still impressed as heck with this series! I’m going to talk about this book, but I also want to take a moment to discuss the live-action series first.
If you have a chance to see the live-action series, do. Balsa and Chagum are great. Torogai is perfect, Shuga is terrific and while it’s not word for word from the books, it’s really a spectacular adaptation, except for one thing – the King. Chagum’s father is played by an actor who always plays crazy dudes, so they rewrite him into a crazy dude. It would be like putting Gary Oldman in the role, then rewriting the role to be like everything Gary Oldman ever does. He’s not crazy in the novels. He’s a decent and slightly severe king. But you have to assume he’s not a crazy asshole, or Sagum, Chagum and their siblings wouldn’t be decent people.
Other than that, I really liked the live-action.
So, just to remind us where we are in the series take a look at
Novel: 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). Balsa and Chagum are now headed to Kanbal. They have convinced Ihan, Prince of Rota, to suggest an alliance to Randal, the King of Kanbal, Balsa’s home country. (Where the second book of the series takes place.)
Before approaching the King in his castle, Balsa takes Chagum to a small house near the outer walls, and informs him that this is where she was born. She indulges in a bit of nostalgic storytelling, and Chagum is amazed to hear so much personal info from Balsa. Then they head out to meet Kamu, the natural son of her foster father Jiguro, to enlist his help. He welcomes them and the next thing they know they are waking up in chains. Kamu, it turns out, is a spy for the Tarsh Empire. (Although Chagum later realizes that he’s probably a double-agent for Kanbal.) They escape, with help. The help comes in the form of Shihana, the shaman huntress of Rota (whom we met in Kami no Moribito) and her hunters.
We briefly follow Tanda, who has been conscripted into a chain gang. When he figures out what they are building he realizes that it is meant to destroy not only armies on their world, but will hurt Nayug, as well. Using shamanic powers, his spirit escapes and heads out to find Torogai, only to find her sitting with his body when he returns.
Balsa and Chagum meet up with the shepherds, a race of small, brown-skinned people who, Balsa tells Chagum, have a different origin than other humans. They have skills similar to Torogai’s shamanic abilities. Balsa and Chagum go to see Kamu, who was wounded in their escape. He is being visited by the king’s other bodyguards, when the King himself comes. (Which is how Chagum realizes he must be a double-agent.)
Randal tells Chagum that he intends to reject Ihan’s request for an alliance, because he doesn’t want to involve Kanbal, but Chagum insists that Kanbal is not only going to become involved, by itself it is way too vulnerable. Chagum asks Randal what he can do to convince him and Randal says if the Prince of New Yogo gets on his knees, he’ll reconsider. Chagum gets down instantly, because seriously, his pride is so not important compared to the fate of the world. Randal sees this, understands Chagum’s gesture and agrees to the alliance, witnessed by Kamu and the other “King’s Spears.”
The shepherds summon the King and Balsa and Chagum to the meeting place under the mountain behind the castle (where Balsa fought Jiguro’s spirit.) Chagum can feel and smell Nayug in this place and asks Balsa to hold on to him so he doesn’t slip into Nayug.
The leader of the shepherds tests Chagum and is convinced that the Prince can see Nayug occupying the same space. He warns Balsa and Chagum that spring is coming in Nayug and when the winter passes, Nayug’s spirits will be coming to their world. Chagum is terrified of this and insists on returning home immediately, but the shepherd says he must not – Nayug’s fire will follow him. As the book closes, Balsa says she’ll go back to New Yogo and tell Torogai, Shuga the astrologer and Tanda and, if he’ll let her, the king.
Phew. Once again, there was a metric ton of politics around the action scenes. You really have to be paying attention, too, or you’d miss something that will later become important.
Balsa is getting badasser as the series goes on. She spent most of this book severely wounded, sucker punched, drugged and still managed to wound Kamu, and escape. The shepherd women note that Balsa and Chagum act like mother and son and Chagum was quick to agree. He was very protective of her throughout her fever from the wound. It was a nice set of scenes.
I am very interested to see what happens when Chagum finally does return home. Having met Ihan and Randal, as well as the Prince of Tarsh, they have got to know by now in New Yogo that he is alive.
Overall – 8
We’re heading to an amazing climax – undoubtedly one including Nayug as well as their world, but what will actually happen, I have absolutely no idea.