【Novel】闇の守り人 (Yami no Moribito) / Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness

How do you review a practically perfect book anyways? Here’s my (very lengthy) attempt at trying. The review for the first book in the series is here. Sorry for all the book-related posts lately, I’ve been kind of on a reading spree since I reserved a million books from the library.

Title: 闇の守り人 (Yami no Moribito) / Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness
Author: 上橋菜穂子 (UEHASHI Nahoko)
English Translator: Cathy Hirano
Illustrator: 二木真希子 (NIKI Mayuko;JPN ver), 清水裕子 (SHIMIZU Yuko;ENG ver)
Volume: 2nd out of 10
My Rating: 9.8/10

Summary: The second book of Uehashi’s Moribito series features again Balsa as its protagonist, but is set in a different fantasy country than the first book, and have no other recurring characters from the previous volume. This time, Balsa revisits her home country in order to face her past, and eventually entagles herself in a series of events that may result in the collapse of a country. Since this installment barely refers to the events of the first book (and when it does, a brief recap of the previous one is given), the two books are mutually exclusive in content.

Review: Wow, where should I start? I read this book with a critical mindset, enjoying everything that the novel had to offer while asking questions and looking for holes along the way, but even with such vigilance, I was wholly unable to find any plot holes, incoherent explanations, unanswered questions, or needless plot devices. Uehashi really, truly weaved an airtight illustration of her intricate fantasy world, and as a result this second book is even better than the first one. It’s really hard to believe that an author can provide such a lush picture of their own imagination while still taking the care to address every matter and leave nothing unexplained, and also provide plausible, fitting, logical and complete explanations for everything as well. Nasu should learn from this book, seriously. Compared to the other fantasy children/youth novels I’ve read before, such as Deltora Quest or Harry Potter, Moribito II surpasses both so much in intricacy, depth, and maturity that it’s going to make it really hard for me to go back to reading less substantial books than this.

Written again in third person, the first part of the book switches between two characters’ point of views, and at the end of this alternating, a lot of information is revealed to the reader and makes these characters more familiar to the reader. I especially enjoyed this part. After setting all this up, Uehashi goes into introducing the real plot and triggering a lot of seemingly seperate events that work together to change the whole flow of the book. At first, most of the events are more personal and apply to only a small number of people, but as things develop and questions are raised, more and more people get involved, and when the most crucial parts of the story, which concern a way larger plot that refers to things long past, get revealed, the reader gets to go “Ohhh” and is completely explained to the rationale for all the events that took place up until this point. This might seem like the flow of a regular work of fiction, but in Moribito, this is a lot more clearly defined, and incredibly effective at both engaging the reader and adding to the substantiality and maturity of the work. As well, the turn of events are plausible but unpredictable, and also elegantly solves problems with creative yet logical solutions.

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Speaking of the explanations, they’re not done through long monologues conceived by a single character, but is mainly presented by several characters pitching in the information and knowledge they acquired throughout the book. These explanations have a very good flow of reasoning, are easy to understand, and most of all, logical. Sometimes, a character gets more information and they themselves piece it all together, but they never formulate any generalizations or assumptions, and instead speculate according to the events they’ve experienced or heard about. A far cry from the pompous excuses for an explanation found in not-as-awesome pieces of writing.

The incredible organization of this book also can’t be stressed enough. Events big or small that took place in the beginning, some of which even I forgot happened, are brought back up again later at just the right time to make a huge difference, and it’s how all these things are put in and referred back to that make the whole plot progression seem plausible and unquestionable. Uehashi also meticulously keeps track of which characters know what, and uses the characters who have more information to progress the story by relaying their tale to other characters who will play a large role later on. It’s very hard to explain, but it’s absolutely wonderful that everything comes together so neatly in the end. While reading these parts of the “puzzle” gradually fall into place, it’s easy to marvel at how automatic everything seems, but for me, I could not help thinking how much planning the author had to do to coordinate so much. Just incredible.

As for the tone that Uehashi writes in, it’s just about the literary equivalent of Balsa’s supposed fighting style: elegant, skillful, substantial, straightforward, and economical. There is not one word that is unnecessary, and everything is described with a firm accuracy, where ellipses are very rare in both dialogue and narration – Just the way I like it. The language is immensely easy to read, but also has enough “big words” to emphasize the mainly serious tone of the book. As with the first book, the fight scenes in Moribito II were also depicted with amazing clarity and coordination. I can’t get enough of them! The conveyance of this tone was also further helped by the fact that a very capable translator, Cathy Hirano, did the work of putting it in English too, which makes me immensely thankful that Scholastic Inc. published this instead of a smaller company, since I think (?) a larger publishing press would be able to truly do this book justice in English.

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The type of content in this book is far from being just fantasy-themed, either. It also involves themes of politics, family, death, and a lot of other relatively mature concepts, and personally, I almost forgot that this was a fantasy book in nature due to the author treating fantastical elements (monsters, supernatural powers, etc) as something that’s normal for the world in the book. I highly approve of this type of treatment, it’s really not used enough in fantasy books, in my opinion. I should also mention that this fantasy world seems to be really full of life and is rich with culture. It’s littered with myths and customs, and Uehashi even describes the differences in attrire, class, and even living conditions to paint a solid picture of what life is like inside the world Moribito. The end of the story was also really, really moving, and I very nearly cried. Top notch!

The only kind of slight flaw I could find missing in Moribito II was probably the fact that, since the story and plot were given so much attention and emphasis, the characters were not quite as significantly developed or changed throughout the course of the events. All the characters gained information and displayed a variety of emotions while reacting to the events, but at the end, their personality was pretty much the same and did not gain any new dimensions despite having gone through quite a bit in the book. Nonetheless, the characters still got a lot of attention, and all of them were unique and memorable, so the very small lack of true character development does not impact at all the final impression of the whole work.

The other thing that I wasn’t too fond of was again the illustrations by Yuko Shimizu. I’m really not fond of this type of art style, which seems a little too Chinese-like despite 1) being drawn by a Japanese artist and 2) Moribito barely has a Japanese OR Chinese style theme! I’m still really disappointed that they didn’t use the original artwork in the Japanese editions.

Just a little note on packaging that the colour scheme for the books seem to change with each volume, to my immense delight. The first book had a blue cover, and the inside of the book was printed with dark navy ink. This installment’s cover had a green cover, and all the contents inside the book were printed in a dark moss green. Great attention to detail! These hardcover editions really seem like they’d be a collector’s dream. Same high paper quality as the last book as well.

Conclusion: If the above way-too-long review didn’t convey it already, this is absolutely a book worth reading, and reinforces time and time again throughout the whole book Uehashi’s incredible attention to detail and intelligent, elegant organization. It still overwhelms me that a fantasy book originally directed at children or youth can be so easy to read while having all aspects of the novel be considered and drawn together. I heard that the rest of the Moribito books are consistently this good, but I find it hard to believe that anything can top this. The only reason why this book were 0.2 points away from a full 10 was because 1) It didn’t manage to actually make me cry and 2) Character development left a bit to be desired. Nonetheless, I really can’t wait for the next installment!