Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Uehashi, Nahoko (2009) Hardcover

by Nahoko Uehashi

Other authorsCathy Hirano (Translator), Yuko Shimizu (Illustrator)
Hardcover, ?


The wandering female bodyguard Balsa returns to her native country of Kanbal, where she uncovers a conspiracy to frame her mentor and herself.

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LibraryThing member PhoenixTerran
Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness is the second volume of Nahoko Uehashi’s Guardian series of children's fantasy novels. I absolutely adored the first book, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, so it was a very easy decision to pick up the second. Guardian of the Darkness was originally published in Japan in 1999 and was released in an English translation by Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books imprint. I own both Guardian books in hardcover since Arthur A. Levine Books' English editions, which include wonderful illustrations by the immensely talented Yuko Shimizu, are simply gorgeous. Like the first book, Guardian of the Darkness was nominated for a Batchelder Award (given to the best foreign language children's book published in an English translation). Although, unlike the first novel, it did not win but did receive an honorable mention. Once again, Cathy Hirano has provided an excellent translation, one that is even better than her work on Guardian of the Spirit.

When she was only six years old, political scheming forced Balsa to flee her homeland of Kanbal with only her father’s best friend Jiguro as her protector, guide and companion. Jiguro was the leader of the elite King’s Spears and one of the country’s most respected warriors; to leave was not an easy decision for him to make. Decades later and after Jiguro’s death, Balsa returns to Kanbal, not realizing how greatly her entire homeland was affected by Jiguro’s decision and their disappearance. The people of Kanbal have a much different understanding of the events surrounding their flight. Balsa quickly learns that there is more to the story of her and Jiguro’s shared past than she previously knew. She also discovers parts of Jiguro’s life of which she was unaware—the man she grew to admire and depend on was a much more complicated person than she realized.

While Balsa is the main protagonist, I actually consider Guardian of the Darkness to be Jiguro’s story. Obviously, Balsa is a very important part of that story—their lives were irrevocably entwined and even after his death Jiguro continues to influence Balsa. He will probably continue to do so for the rest of her life. Guardian of the Darkness allows Balsa to come to terms with this and better understand her mentor. Uehashi’s characters are wonderful. Even through the fantasy veneer of the story, they come across as real people with real problems. They make mistakes and must learn from them and deal with the results. They have goals and desires. Good intentions can be clouded by selfish motivations. There are no real villains in the story, just incredibly driven but unfortunately misguided individuals who are trying to do the best they can with the opportunities they are given.

Although some references are made to the first volume, it is not necessary to have read Guardian of the Spirit to enjoy and appreciate Guardian of the Darkness. If I had to choose a favorite, I would probably lean towards the first novel. But honestly, I truly loved both books. Uehashi is a fantastic storyteller, creating a complex world full of greys that can be enjoyed by older and younger readers alike. Because the books are aimed towards children, they are fairly easy reading and not terribly long, but this does not mean they are lacking in the depth of their characters or story. I can easily recommend both Guardian of the Spirit and Guardian of the Darkness to any fan of fantasy and even to many readers who are not. If I have one lament, it is that the rest of the Guardian series is unlikely to see publication in English; the last I heard, the series had been put on indefinite hold. I cannot begin to explain how greatly this breaks my heart, but I will continue to treasure the first two volumes and encourage others to read them as well.

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LibraryThing member madamepince
Second book in the series, even better than the first.
LibraryThing member VikkiLaw
Not as gripping as the first book, but an enjoyable read.
LibraryThing member empress8411
As with the first, this book explores the relationship between The Seen World and the Spirit World. Balsa returns to her homeland, a barren, mountain region, seeped in poverty and dependent on the King’s relationship with the Spirit world for survival.
Balsa, weary after years away and burden by guilt, is determined to return, to make amends and lay to rest the spirit of her mentor.
The beauty of this story is in how Balsa fights for the freedom of her soul and her people. Told with a realist sorrow and depth, but never straying in to maudlin prose, the reader walks with Balsa as she faces her greatest fear.
Interwoven with that is the story of a young man and his courage and his growth as a person. There is plenty of action, adventure, mystery, and humor.
I would highly recommend this book. In particularly, it would be excellent for late elementary age children, and any looking to read a story told by a non-western female author.
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LibraryThing member pwaites
While it’s the sequel to Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, this book could probably be read independently. Balsa, a bodyguard, is returning to her homeland to clear the name of her mentor and foster father, Jiguro, who saved her life when she was six years old. But when she finally returns to her homeland, she finds that the conspiracy that led Jiguro to flee with her so long ago extends a lot farther than she thought.

While I tend to list the Moribito books as YA, they could easily be read by middle grade students. They’re short and not super complex, although Guardian of Darkness has continued its predecessor’s tradition of examining how history can be distorted and shaped by those in power.

I still like Balsa, a thirty year old warrior woman who continues to be awesome. None of the supporting characters from the last book reappeared in this installment, and I do not think the new supporting cast was quite as good. I particularly missed Tanda.

For a short and fairly simple book, the world felt well realized. I liked the descriptions of everyday life in Balsa’s homeland, from the clothes and food to the goat herding. The magical and mythological aspects also worked well, and I liked how that all came together.

The prose is not a strong suit. It’s functional, but it can feel too plain at times. It also feels like there’s slightly too much telling and not enough showing. This is something I noticed in the last book as well.

Overall, I’ve liked the Moribito books but not loved them. I think they would still be worth checking out if you’re looking for middle grade novels, older heroines in children’s fiction, or translated Japanese fantasy.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page
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