Moribito, Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Huehashi (2008-05-03)

by Nahoko Uehashi

Other authorsCathy Hirano (Translator), Yuko Shimizu (Illustrator)
Paperback, 1750




The wandering warrior Balsa is hired to protect Prince Chagum from both a mysterious monster and the prince's father, the Mikado.

User reviews

LibraryThing member She-ra77
I had never heard of the book before, but I absolutely loved it! For some reason, it reminded me of one of my favorite adult fantasy series, Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey. It had the adventure (running away from pursuers); class stratification (upper class vs lower class), a love interest, and action. I will for sure want to read the other books in the series. I see also that it has been released as a DVD, so I'd be interested in watching that as well.

Moribito is about Balsa, a woman warrior who saved the life of the Queen's son, Prince Chagum, when he was flung into a raging river. Having saved his life, the Queen invites Balsa to the palace and asks her to protect Prince Chagum. Now Balsa has to protect him on his quest to deliver the egg of the water spirit to its source in the sea. As they travel across the land of Yogo, they discover the truth about the water spirit and find themselves hunted by two great enemies: The egg-eating monster of the earth, Rarunga, and the prince's own father.

I gave Moribito a VOYA ranking of 5Q: Hard to imagine it better written, and a Popularity rating of 4P: Broad general or genre YA appeal. The reason I didn't give it a 5P is because I had never heard of the book before. My feeling is a book that is a 5P rating is one where pretty much everyone knows about it and is clamoring to read it, like Harry Potter.

There were a few quotes from the book that I thought would generate discussion:

"'I know what the world is like. Nobody does anything unless there's something in it for themselves. But there are people who do more than they have to for what they get in return, and those people are kind right to the heart'" (p. 53).

"'It is strange, but once you learn to fight, you seem to attract enemies....Sooner of later, those who master the art of combat must end up fighting'" (p. 151).

"'It's much harder to help people than to kill them'" (p. 154).
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LibraryThing member LemurKat
Whilst an intriguing idea and a fascinating setting, the story itself seemed rather lacklustre. The plot moved along at a reasonable place, but the action scenes lacked tensions and the characterisation seemed rather flat. I cannot help but wonder if it lost something in the translation. The folklore was interesting, but dealt with in a way that felt like it was all just being explained to the reader, in a "this is what happened" kind of manner. Whilst the setting was interesting - I loved the rare descriptions of the landscape and the buildings, I felt the experience could have been heightened if the book were a little longer and a little more fleshed out. As it was, I felt little empathy for the characters - and thus experienced virtually no tension throughout the final climactic scenes. Somewhat dissappointing.

Read for my "U" author as part of my "Reading the Alphabet" challenge.
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LibraryThing member krau0098
I had originally watched the Moribito anime and loved it. When I saw this book at the bookstore I was very excited to read it. This was a great book. It’s a wonderful balance of history, magic, action, and coming of age story. I really enjoyed it. This is a book that is great for all ages as well. The whole story is set in a sort of feudal Japan.

I really love that this book features an older female warrior as the main character (Balsa is in her 30’s). Balsa loves fighting and protecting; being thrown into the role of caretaker for a eleven year old boy is a huge change for her. I also love that her love interest is pretty much the opposite of her in every way (bookish, wise, and patient).

This book is very much a coming of age story for Prince Chagum. He learns how to do things himself and experiences the broader world. There are elements of magic in here as well. Prince Chagum is carrying the egg of a water spirit in his chest and must safely see it through to its birth or die.

Politics are touched on as well. We see how history and myth are written by the conquerors and the true history may be lost with the people who were conquered.

The book itself is beautifully put together. The pages are thick and well bound and the illustration and ink color throughout is amazing. This is one of those books that is soo much better in paper format and definitely one you’ll want to keep around.

Overall this was an amazing story and I would love to continue the Moribito series. This book is a wonderful blend of history, fantasy, action, friendship, and coming of age. I would definitely recommend to those who enjoy fantasies set in feudal Japan.
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LibraryThing member goldnyght
This book was pretty short, but that certainly didn't inhibit my enjoyment. There was just enough plot, just enough action, just enough pages...Great!
LibraryThing member mdyewhea
4.5P, Balsa is a female samurai who saves a prince, and ultimately a kingdom, by protecting Prince Chagum from the supernatural forces (and real world forces-his father's) placing him under siege. For, Chagum carries a priceless gift from a water spirit, the egg for its rebirth; thus, he is a Moribito, "Guardian of the Spirit".… (more)
LibraryThing member isln_reads
Booklist (August 2008 (Vol. 104, No. 22))
Grades 6-9. This Japanese import features many familiar martial-arts fantasy elements: magic, nonstop action, swordplay, a puzzling myth, dangerous plot twists, and a strong-willed, flawed hero on a quest. What’s surprising is that the “hero” is a slightly wrinkled, weather-beaten, thirty-year-old heroine: Balsa Spear-wielder, an itinerant bodyguard. After Balsa saves Chagum, the son of the Mikado, following a freak accident, Chagum’s mother hires Balsa to protect him; she is certain that Chagum will be murdered because he is host to a mythical creature, a fact that belies the divine nature of the Mikado. Balsa must solve a mystery involving the creature and protect Chagum from both the Mikado’s elite forces and an otherworldly monster. Guardian will sell itself in booktalks: the story is intriguing, and Balsa is a smart, crotchety, fully realized heroine. Even the minor characters are interesting. Uehashi’s Moribito series is enormously popular in Japan, and if the remaining nine stories are as enjoyable as this one, boys and girls here will be clamoring to read them.

Kirkus Review (May 15, 2008)
This newly translated 1996 Japanese fantasy has spawned nine sequels, a radio drama, a manga comic book and an anime television series in Japan. In New Yogo, a magical land that vaguely resembles medieval Japan (as a typical Western fantasy vaguely resembles medieval Europe), children and adults work together to save the nation from ravenous demons. The wandering spear-fighting heroine Balsa is hired as a bodyguard for the Mikado's 11-year-old son. Prince Chagum is possessed by a water demon, and his mother is afraid that the Mikado will have the boy killed. Balsa spirits the boy into the woods where she spends a winter teaching him independence and martial skills. Balsa, 25, with her tragic past and love story, is the real protagonist here, with Chagum's coming-of-age playing second fiddle to her heroic adventure. While the disparate ages of the protagonists might seem unusual to Western fantasy fans, seasoned manga readers should be less surprised. Jam-packed with monstrous combat, ethnic conflicts and complex mythologies, Balsa and Chagum's story will win many new fans for this series. (Fantasy. 10-12)
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LibraryThing member madamepince
I love this series! A 30-ish female protagonist who kicks butt! She's great!
LibraryThing member gjchauvin504
I have not read for pleasure in about 8 years (excluding manga), but I picked this book up on a whim at the library. Wow, I was blown away! It took me three days to read it from cover to cover (248 pages). This is coming from a person who gets easily distracted and frequently gets bored to sleep just from the act of reading. This heartwarming tale is about loyalty and how cruel fates can affect commoners and royalty alike. However, a strong will on all accounts can overcome these fates.… (more)
LibraryThing member HepzebahRoland
Engaging read. This has a strong female protagonist and an inventive story with a strong female hero. This is a great book for young women.
LibraryThing member jfeucht
4Q 3P, I felt that this book was well written. When I looked at the cover and read the back, I was not too excited about it, however, the more I read of it, the more I wanted to read. The characters were well-developed and their relationships grew as the story went on. The language was a little difficult to follow, for example the two dimensions are Sagu and Nayugu. Sometimes it is a little difficult to remember which is which. It is wonderful how the author weaves legends of the past into current events in the story. I especially loved the character of Balsa. She is a traveling bodyguard nd a formidable warrior yet she meets up with this young prince and is amazingly understanding of his challenges and helps him along when she didn't need to. Overall, I enjoyed the story very much. The only reason I gave it a 3P is that I thought it may take some coaxing to encourage young adults to read it, but I think most of them would like it once they decided to read it.… (more)
LibraryThing member VikkiLaw
Not as gripping a martial arts novel as Louis Cha's (translated) works, but still engaging. I especially appreciate the repeated recognition of how those in power twist and turn legends and histories for their own purposes.
LibraryThing member shswang
5Q 4P
This is a stunning, very well-constructed story about, well, many things. The main foci are power relations between the dominant and the dominated, a boy's coming of age, and a woman's confrontation with her troubled past. It wasn't hard to guess where the plot was heading, but this is usually the case for me when I read.
The author took great care to construct the worlds where the story is set, with details like dialects and cultural traditions that adds vividness to the fantasy world. Comparable to the Lord of the Rings, Moribito is a good piece for both young adults and adults.
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LibraryThing member SROgden
VOYA: 4Q 4P. Moribito is well-written and will appeal to a fairly broad audience, perhaps larger if suggested to students.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is an engaging story that really picks up steam once Balsa (the Bodyguard) and Chagum (the Second Prince) leave the royal palace behind. Interactions with peripheral characters work wonders on both characters both in terms of the knowledge they gain and a better understanding of the characters for the reader.

As a fan of of the fantasy genre this book was very enjoyable. At first I found it to be somewhat dry and felt distanced from the characters but found that I became more engrossed in the story and fond of the characters as I continued to read. I especially liked that the story dealt with the aftermath of a conquered land and the assimilation of the old ways (legends, bloodlines, etc.) into the new. I think the author dealt with this in a diplomatic and careful way by pointing out the follies of both groups. I definitely look forward to continuing the adventure in Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness and checking out the anime adaptation.
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LibraryThing member hreilly
"Morbito: Guardian of the Spirit" follows the perilous journey of Balsa the former warrior and Prince Chagum. The prince has a spirit living inside of him and his father (the emperor) has assassins on his trail. In order to remedy her past, Balsa feels she needs to save as many lives as she has taken. For this reason she takes on the task of being the prince's bodyguard and proves herself as the warrior she is. This is a great story with a female hero as the centerpiece. Balsa is a strong and impressive warrior that captures the imagination of the reader. This unique children's story has obvious appeal to an older audience because of this. I don't know if I will read the rest of the series but I may check out the anime series to hear the rest of the story.… (more)
LibraryThing member Lomilia
I thought the translation was quite smooth and the story was addicting due to the threat of danger and adventure. I give it a 4Q because some of the story set-up is a bit weak. It's a fun story but also somewhat predictable and at times a bit cheesy. The development of the main character Balsa shows her making intelligent decisions instead of just saying she's smart. Her back-story is over-done and overly dramatic but in the here and now of the story, she's relatable and sympathetic. I also enjoyed the mystery and discovery of the truth of the country's history.

I think the main characters of Balsa and her charge are well-developed and interesting. The sense of adventure, danger and mystery would help this story to appeal to many readers but the names of locations or some of the people may deter readers who are unfamiliar with the sounds of the romaji words. Readers of super heroes, adventures, and magical fantasies will enjoy this but it isn't for everyone, which is why I give it 4P for popularity.
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LibraryThing member sarahtaylor3
A talented woman bodyguard, Balsa, is hired to protect a young prince, Chagum, who was chosen to hold an egg, which if hatched or not will determine if his country goes through a drought or not. Balsa and Chagum, along with others must determine the true history behind the egg and how best to protect the prince from the hunters from the kingdom who wish to kill him and the mythical egg eater who also wants the destroy the egg.
Strong female characters are presented in a land reminiscent of ancient Japan.
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LibraryThing member aspirit
A genderswapped adventure fantasy set in a fuedal land where gods and demons are real. Balsa is pressed into protecting the young Prince Chagum, who's mysteriously pregnant with a "creature" of great power and being targeted by the Mikado, his father, for it.

I first saw the amazing anime then read about Balsa's background in Moribito II thanks to a friend. I'm grateful to a nearby library for maintaining a copy of this first book in its collection.… (more)
LibraryThing member DanielleJones
4Q, 4P After several attempts on his life, a young prince is placed in the care of Balsa, a bodyguard. Something mystical and uncertain is inside the prince, and Balsa must do everything in her power to protect him from those that are trying to find them, and other mystical forces at prey.
This book is strong on plot, and those that like reading epic battle scenes, will delight in the vivid imagery of Uehashi story. I tend to be drawn to books with fleshed out characters, so I struggled connecting with this book as most of the characters came out a little flat. Balsa, a female body guard bad ass, in the physical world, seemed to be devoid of too much personality, though there were physical things that she did that were awesome in the plot base of the story. Even though this book wasn’t a book I connected with strongly, I do think that it is one that teen readers who like a lot of action and mythical elements will really enjoy. It seems that readers that like fantasy tend to be drawn to world building and story, and Uehashi is fantastic for both.
I think that teen readers will identify with the struggle of the young prince who finds himself forced into responsibilities he didn’t ask for, nor does he want to shoulder. Sometimes it seems so appealing to be something else, rather than to face our given situations.
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LibraryThing member PhoenixTerran
I first learned about Nahoko Uehashi's Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit while perusing a list of Batchelder Award winners and nominees looking for Japanese entrants. Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit won the award in 2009 and in 2010 it's sequel Moribito: Guardian of the Darkness was listed as an honor book. Moribito is actually the first book of a ten volume Japanese fantasy series aimed towards younger readers; only the first two books have been translated into English so far. The first novel was made into both a manga series (not currently licensed in English) and an anime series, which I'll definitely be watching. There is also a radio drama adaptation. Originally published in Japan in 1996, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit was subsequently released by Arthur A. Levine books, an imprint of Scholastic, with an English translation by Cathy Hirano, who also translated the second book.

Despite being a woman and an outsider, Balsa has gained quite a reputation as an exceptional body guard and a master of the spear. When she saves the life of Prince Chagum, Balsa is brought to the palace by his mother, the Second Queen. She suspects that multiple attempts have been made on her son's life and have been made to look like accidents. The boy appears to be possessed by some sort of spirit and is seen as a threat to the country's stability. Balsa agrees to act as the prince's protector and flees the city with him. The two are not only pursued by elite human agents, but by supernatural beings as well. The only chance Balsa has to save Chagum is to understand what exactly it is that's inhabiting his body--knowledge that has been lost over time and forgotten as myth.

Balsa is so awesome. Next time someone tells you a woman nearing middle-age can't kick ass, just point to her. She has been training for most of her life to be a proficient fighter and while she has some raw, natural talent, her skills are mostly the result of hard work and practice. Uehashi has written some great action and fight sequences that are easy to follow but are still very exciting. Realistically, people get hurt and have to deal with the consequences of their injuries and healing, something that is often forgotten in other fantasy novels I've read, especially those written for younger readers. Another thing that Uehashi has done very well is that none of the characters are inherently good or bad--they're simply people. They've all made mistakes and done stupid things, but they also all have redeeming qualities. Thrown into a situation where their actions are dictated by what society requires as opposed to what they truly want or desires as individuals, they are dealing as best as they can.

I absolutely loved Moribito. Levine's production values and presentation of the novel is simply gorgeous and includes beautiful illustrations by Yuko Shimizu (which I believe are unique to the English edition). Hirano's translation is also spot-on, using slightly formal and archaic sounding language that fits the story well. Although it is a contemporary novel, I felt as though I was being told a tale and legend much older. Moribito has a very definite ending so I have no idea where Uehashi plans to take things next. But I was so impressed by the first novel in the series that I immediately went out and bought the second volume. If any of the following books are even close to being as good as Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, I truly hope that Levine will publish the rest of the series.

Experiments in Manga
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LibraryThing member pwaites
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is an English translation of the first book in a Japanese YA fantasy series following a warrior woman named Balsa. In Guardian of the Spirit, Balsa is hired to protect twelve year old Prince Chagum, who holds the egg of the water spirit. If the egg is destroyed before midsummer, then a great drought will descend across the land.

Balsa is pretty darn awesome. She’s a thirty year old bodyguard who dedicates her life to saving others. But somewhere along the way, fighting got in her bones and now she doesn’t know how to live differently. It’s also nice that she wasn’t the only important female character in the novel.

The world building of Guardian of the Spirit was very well done. There’s two groups of people, one who conquered the other two hundred years back. The people native to the region have begun to forget their myths and legends, which creates trouble for Balsa and Chagum when they are trying to get information about the water spirit.

The book also contains illustrations! It was divided into several sections, and in the division between each section, there was a two page illustrated spread. The artwork was gorgeous. I love it when books incorporate art like this.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is a short and fairly simple adventure story. There are some underlying complexities, especially in Balsa’s characterization and some of the ideas about how those in power shape the stories that are told, but it is a book that could easily be read by a middle school audience. The prose can be a bit simple, and it feels a tad obvious in places (too much telling and not enough showing?). That being said, if you’re older and want a lighter fantasy story, I think you would still enjoy Guardian of the Spirit.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page.
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LibraryThing member ashleytylerjohn
Not a huge fan. It was okay, but felt very much like a novelization of a manga (apparently in reality it went the other way). I was hoping for something more evocative of a time and place (to keep with the Asian theme, say, like Bridge of Birds and apologies for lumping all Asia in the same hypothetical pot), but it pretty much read like any other swashbuckling quest-like fantasy. The characters were not particularly interesting, the plot was somewhat repetitive and tortured, the mythology almost constantly discussed and yet never really explained ... disappointing.

(Note: 5 stars = amazing, wonderful, 4 = very good book, 3 = decent read, 2 = disappointing, 1 = awful, just awful. I'm fairly good at picking for myself so end up with a lot of 4s).
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LibraryThing member kakramer
5Q 5P
Wandering warrior woman and well-known bodyguard Balsa saves the second prince's life, and is hired by his mother to protect him. An unknown spirit lives within the prince, causing his father to order his death. Prince Chagum and Balsa barely escape the assassins as they head to the mountains in search of safe harbor and the wisdom of Torogai, the magic weaver. What follows is a dangerous quest to protect the egg within Chagum from both assassins and the terrible egg-eating monster Rurunga, or the life-giving rains will never return.

Translated from the original Japanese, Moribito is an amazingly written book, the setting of which is an alternate, historical, and magical Japan. The pages are seeped in the culture, and what few necessary cultural explanations a reader might require is skillfully worked into dialogue and description. The plot steadily drives the characters forward, as they struggle between duty and morality.
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LibraryThing member empress8411
Having seen and greatly enjoyed the Anime, I was delighted to find the book at a Library Book Sale. Often animes are taken from manga but this one was taken from a book – and faithfully rendered into film. The book brings alive in the mind this fantastic story. With a deft hand, the author gives us the world of real and spirit clashing and the people in our world that must fight to protect it.
While the language and vocabulary are of no particular difficulty, the subject is not simple. The author touches on the how different cultures mix, and in particular, who writes history – and why it might not always be true. This would be an excellent story to start a discussion with elementary age kids about critical analysis of historical reporting. Can you always believe the history books? How do you know what is and isn’t true? Why do people lie about history? It isn’t told in a heavy-handed moral sort of way either, but simply a presentation of the story that would lead to good thoughts and good discussion. This is also an excellent book about another culture from a non-western author. If you are looking to get kids reading non-western authors, this must be on your list! Happy Reading!
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LibraryThing member amy.rosenberg
4Q4P. Set in a fantastic world that echos medieval Japan, Moribitu is the story of Balsa the gifted and bad-ass female bodyguard for hire and her charge, the prince Chagum. Chagum's father, the Mikado, wants to kill him because he believes that he is possessed by a water demon that will bring drought and famine to New Yogo. Moribitu is the story the adventures they have while Balsa is attempting to protect Chagum from his father and the demon Rarunga.
This is my first time reading any sort of Japanese fantasy. It's a rich story and very gripping and action packed, but I felt like the characters were a little flat. I never felt very connected to the book or the characters. Despite the lack of character depth, I think this will appeal to teens, especially the ones who are in to Manga.
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8.43 inches


0545160227 / 9780545160223
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