I first came to Twelve Kingdoms via the animated series, which is quite different to the book in places. And, frankly the book is far superior.
Yoko is a brilliant role model for girls - she defies the gender stereotypes and moves from a weak, cowardly and lazy child to a strong, independent girl. Yet there is still plenty of sword fights and battles to keep the story exciting.
I've found it a thrilling read and have completed it in two days, whilst it can be simplistic at times (being a childrens book after all), the story is so well crafted that it is utterly absorbing.
The occassional artwork is beautiful as well, really striking black and white images.
I came across this wonderful book as Amazon recommended it to me because I had seen the series before and, as amazing as the series is, this book is far superior on so many levels.
Yoko is a Japanese student who considers herself ordinary but sadly is far from. If her red hair wasn't enough to signal her out, friends and family alike fail to be close to her because they feel that she has no distinctive personality and mistaken her for being two-faced and fickle as she strives to get along with and fit in with everyone.
After an encounter with a strange man named Keiki and a breathtakingly described battle with a demon Yoko finds herself alone in a strange world that she reaches through a portal in the sea. Here her only ally is silent and deep within her.
This world Yoko quickly learns is full of demons and fiends, people eager to sell her or kill her, blaming her for their misfortune. If that is not bad enough, Yoko seems to be the target of these monstrous demons and of a peculiar taunting monkey.
Yoko herself is a piquant lead who I never once tired of. Yes she does have moments of sorrow and doubt but that's only human, she is not like so many tiresome female leads, dependant on other people to rescue her and forever breaking into tears. Throughout this story Yoko becomes tougher, more assertive and more intelligent, fully capable of defending herself.
The story itself is simple to read and told beautifully with vivid descriptions. It is an engaging plot full of mythical beasts such as kirin, demons, half-beasts, immortal kings and more. Trust me, once you pick this up not only will you too find yourself journeying through the twelve kingdoms but you will not be able to put it down until the last page is turned.
Yoko Nakajima is the perfect daughter. She's a good student, she always does what she's told, she never complains, she never calls attention to herself -- perfect. Except for her red hair that stands out everywhere in Japan, but no one can explain that one. Aside from that, she's perfect. So, when she starts falling asleep in class, it's surprising to everyone. If it weren't for those terrifying dreams, maybe she could get some sleep at night. And then when a strange man shows up at school, and windows start exploding, and Keiko (the strange man) commands her to accept his undying loyalty... Somehow landing in a foreign world after falling through the moon seems almost normal. Except that there is absolutely nothing normal about any of it!
Yoko is attacked by monsters, gets thrown in jail, learns to steal, fights with a sword she has never learned how to use, and the only person she knows, Keiko, is nowhere to be found. All Yoko knows now is that she's the only person she can trust. And her hopes of getting home grow smaller and smaller every day. But she can't stop searching -- for Keiko, for home, for herself.
This book started with a pop, and then dropped to a slow buildup. It was a little frustrating. Yoko, as well, bothered me in the beginning. Perhaps it was more of a traditional depiction of a young Japanese girl, and having been raised to be extremely independent, I got irritated. That all being said, the end of the book redeemed everything for me. I loved where it went! I want to read more. Also, there's a lot of interesting discussion of languages and symbols and Japanese characters. I'm sure I could have learned a lot from it, if my brain had some basis of prior knowledge.
I find this book to be rather predictable, in all honesty. It's a rather standard girl is transported into magical world story. The most interesting part by far is Yoko in the forest. She's stranded in the magical world without any means to care for herself, friends or idea of where she is. She does have the means to defend herself. She soon lears that people can't be trusted to help her, that they will cheat and lie to herShe fights to make peace with the world and the idea that though people will cheat her, there are still good people and life is still worth living.
Then she defeast her deamons (figurativley and literally) and it gets a bit boring from there in, to be honest.
We move into a more typical fantasy setup. Someone helps Yoko. She travels with them, it turns out she's a very important person and once they identify that she's quickly wisked off to become saviour of the world. She has a few moments of questioningher destily as is standard but we all know she won't really turn her back on her destily so it feels a little pointless.
So, yes, starts promising but then does little with it at the end. This series does continue for several more books I haven't read, I can but hope they're modelled more on the start of them one then the end of it.