I didnt have any particular expectations for this book when I received it, since I knew absolutely nothing about it other than what was on the back cover. So I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I even re-read some pieces after I finished it, and thats something I dont generally do (you know, too many books, so little time thats my mantra.).
The Sea of Shadow is the first of seven novels in the Twelve Kingdoms series. Over 15 million copies have already been printed and enjoyed by readers, but this is the first time the series has been made available in English.
The storyline itself is pretty straightforward: a teenage girl living an ordinary life is suddenly pulled into a completely different world where she has to fight for her life at every turn and soon discovers that she is the new ruler/savior of the land. I can name a few books (and Im sure you can too) that have something similar to that same basic plotline. But this book takes that premise and really runs with it, making it feel special and new again.
Yoko Nakajima is a sixteen-year-old high school student in Japan, living a very ordinary life. She is a careful girl, always trying to fit in and hasnt made any deep connections with anyone, including her parents. Then one day, a mysterious strange young man with brilliantly golden hair comes to her at school. Telling her very little and calling her master, he asks Yoko to accept his fealty so he can save her from danger that is fast approaching.
She has no idea what is going on and soon finds herself in gory battle with a sword she doesnt know how to use in her hand. Too fast for her to even know what is going on, she wakes to find herself stranded, alone in a strange new world that is not exactly of the Earth she knew, with absolutely no idea of why she is there. Keiki, the golden-haired man, is gone. Joyu, a strange demon-thing, is attached to her, but does not speak to her.
But Joyus presence is the only thing that saves Yoko after she is attacked again and again by demons that range the gamut from flying predatory monsters to wolf-like creatures to everything in-between. The once quiet good girl soon finds that she cannot trust anyone, but must rely on herself for survival as seemingly good Samaritans betray her again and again.
Then, at her very lowest of low, when she is completely spent and sure to die, she meets a wee rat beastling named Rakushun. He takes her in and nurses her back to health and even sets off with her on a journey to the next land in the Twelve Kingdoms, where foreigners are known to receive help. Still, she is not sure she can trust him.
It isnt until they become separated and then re-united that Yoko finally comes to understand that Rakushun is a true friend. Soon after, in the land of En, Rakushun and Yoko unravel the mystery of her arrival in this strange land: she is the new Glory King of Kei, one of the Twelve Kingdoms. They must gain an audience with the Ever King (the king of En) and figure out what to do to save not only Yokos life, but that of Keiki and the people of Kei.
Okay, this has already turned into quite a long review and I know that I have left out huge gobs of information. I havent talked about the mythology of the lands or the battles that Yoko has to face, or what the journey is really like. I havent described to you the grueling tasks that Yoko has to face or any of the history of other foreigners that have arrived. But, I have to leave some things for you to discover on your own.
And this book is an excellent discovery. Yoko is an admirable heroine: conflicted, confused, and honest. She is both weak and strong at the same time. The lands of the Twelve Kingdoms create an interesting and well-developed fantasy-world that readers (if youre anything like me) will eat up. This is not your typical sword & sorcery fantasy by any means.
Fuyumi Ono weaves a bewitching tale of strength in adversity, bravery despite fear, courage above all, and trust in yourself and in others. I highly recommend this one to readers aged 14 and up. While some 12 and up could also enjoy this one, there is quite a bit of blood and gore in the battle scenes, so those who scare easily might want to wait a year or two before enjoying it.