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Balsa is a bodyguard who hires out her services to protect those who can pay her, but when she is asked to take care of the thirteen-year-old Second Prince of New Yogo, Chagum, she becomes swept up in events beyond her control. His mother, the Second Queen, tells Balsa that Chagum has become involved in mystical happenings connected to the founding of New Yogo, and may be possessed by a water demon that the founding king purportedly slew over 200 years ago. Chagum's possession by this demon calls into question everything that the rulers of New Yogo have always said about their divine right to lead this kingdom, and as a result, Chagum's father, the king, wants him dead. Balsa must agree to guard Chagum, or lose her life for knowing too much.

Balsa and Chagum must attempt to escape the warriors sent after them by the king and find out more about the exact details of the water spirit that has possessed Chagum. They discover contradictory legends surrounding the original water spirit, one told by the Yogoese, another told by the Yakoo, who inhabited the land of New Yogo before the Yogoese came to settle there. Either legend could be right, and both of them agree only upon one detail: if the correct path is not followed, New Yogo will suffer a terrible drought that will cause poor harvests and mass starvation.

Set in a fantasy world analogous to medieval Japan, this story sprawls through the lives and perspectives of many different characters. Though it focuses mainly on Balsa and reveals details about her own past and her reasons for becoming a warrior, it also deals with Chagum's experiences in the world outside of the palace, the perspective of a healer named Tanda, a master mystic, Torogai, and many more. These well-drawn characters are sometimes daring, sometimes afraid, yet always sympathetic.

The world of New Yogo is given remarkable texture by the layers of legend and myth that overwhelm the characters in their search for the truth. Uehashi's world is deftly rendered through these legends and the different people who tell them, and it is obvious that she has spent a great deal of time thinking about her remarkable setting. GUARDIAN OF THE SPIRIT is only the first in a series of ten stories set in this world, and I look forward to reading the rest!

Reviewed by: Candace Cunard
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on 16 February 2014
If you collect/read fantasy novels, you should consider buying these stories just for
the package. Nice cover, little details on every page, simply the best looking books in my
collection.

The story itself is very enjoyable, and unlike some other Japanese translations, you will not find
many (or no) errors.
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