by: Ester Friesner
Spirit’s Princess is the story of Himiko, a legendary Japanese empress (Of whom I know nothing; the afterword states that she’s somewhere between myth and fact.)
It takes place in the 3rd century, when Japan was not a country but a collection of clans, somewhat isolated. Himiko is the daughter of chieftain, just starting out in life – I think she’s about 8 or so when the book starts. The book follows her through up until she’s 16 or so, as she begins to learn what her calling is.
It’s all in first person, so be prepared to deal with a character who is a young child – somewhat whiny, a little bratty, can be annoying. It never bothered me, because, hey children are like that, but I could see how others would dislike it. Eventually, she grows out of it and becomes more sure of herself and aware of how her actions affect others. Eventually.
One of the things I really liked about this is that Himiko’s character development isn’t tied to a romantic interest or storyline, even as she goes through puberty and her younger teen years. Often, characters this age have stories that are centered around young love (especially female characters). Himiko, on the other hand, has a small crush and a couple of conversations about marriage with her family without being defined by a significant other. I definitely feel like this is a teenage experience that is underrepresented in young adult fiction.
I can’t speak to the book’s historical authority (there are some reviews on Good Reads that are not afraid to) but I can say, that compared to the mangas and animes I’ve read or watched, it does feel more than a little American. Or maybe Western in general. It definitely didn’t feel terribly foreign, though the historical part was more or less convincing. (Not terribly convincing, but I’ll buy it.)
It’s not a great book, overall. It was interesting, and I liked watching Himiko’s character develop but I was never so engrossed that I couldn’t put it down or was dying to know what happened next. Himiko’s relationship with her older brother was nice, though he was a little too dependent on the nice, older brother stereotype. There were a lot of side characters and more than a few of them weren’t developed beyond a name and one or two personality traits.
Her father was supposed to be a complex character: a good leader, a misogynist, someone who fell deeply in love, and someone who keeps his household in fear of his temper. It doesn’t quite work – he just comes off as a giant asshole whom everyone submits to because he can yell really loud. (In other words, a bully.) We’re told all the time that he’s not all that bad but we never see it.
It’s not a great book, but if you like Friesner’s writing or if you’re looking for a female character who never falls in love, I’d say it’s worth reading the first chapter or so in the bookshop. If you’re at all invested in historical and cultural accuracy or if you’re not a huge fan of magic and shamans, then I would give this book a pass.