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Familiar Diversions

I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.

Currently reading

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The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol. 2: Sea of Wind (book) by Fuyumi Ono, translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander

The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Wind - Fuyumi Ono, 小野 不由美, Akihiro Yamada, 山田 章博, Elye J. Alexander, Alexander O. Smith

I loved this book when I first read it in 2010, and my recent reread of it didn't disappoint. Although I reviewed it when I first read it, I decided I'd write a brand new review for my reread because 1) my reviewing style has changed since then and 2) I had some new things to say.

My first read of Sea of Wind took place several years after reading the first book. This time around, I read it right after finishing Sea of Shadow, and this had a definite effect on my understanding of what was going on and my feelings about it all.

Sea of Wind is set several years prior to Sea of Shadow and has a tighter focus. At the start of the book, we see a little boy who has been sent outside into the snow as punishment for what his grandmother believes is a lie. When he feels a gust of warmth and sees an arm beckoning him, he goes to it, and is taken to the world of the Twelve Kingdoms. The boy is told his name is Taiki and that he is the kirin of the Kingdom of Tai. He doesn't really know what's going on, but he feels safe around Sansi, the lamia that was born to protect him until he reached adulthood.

The entire book deals with Taiki adjusting to life among the oracles at the Brush-Jar Palace. Although they tell him he's a kirin, he doesn't feel like one, and he's worried that he'll never be able to do what these nice people expect of him. He can't shift into his kirin form, he can't see kirin auras, he can't pacify even the tiniest of demons, and he's sure he'll never have the revelation that is supposed to help him choose the next king of Tai.

 

After Yoko's grueling journey in Sea of Shadow, Taiki's story was a breath of fresh air. He desperately wanted to be loved and to please those who cared about him. While in our own world, he couldn't do that: his grandmother found fault with everything he did and made his mother cry, his little brother didn't like him, and his father sided with his grandmother. In the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, he was adored by everyone around him. Seeing him move from the one life to the other gave me warm fuzzies, even though I felt sad about what it must have been like for his mother in our world when he suddenly disappeared.

Unfortunately, Taiki wasn't used to getting unconditional love. He fretted over his inability to do the things the oracles expected of him. The oracles, in turn, protected him from the full knowledge of the importance of his existence and duties. Taiki had no idea that, even as he spent each day enjoying the love and attention of the oracles, the people of Tai were suffering and would continue to suffer until he finally chose a king.

I don't think I realized until this reread just how sheltered Taiki was, and just how precarious his position was. As powerful as Taiki turned out to be, his will was incredibly weak. He was timid and filled with self-doubt. As a kirin, Taiki would be expected to advise his king, but I couldn't imagine him 1) finding the courage to voice his opinions or 2) being able to defend his opinions even if he did manage to voice them. While I very much enjoyed the book's ending, it didn't change how I felt about Taiki's future. Knowing that Taiki and his king were declared either dead or missing only a few years later, I couldn't help but feel a little ill despite the book's fairly happy ending.

One of the nice things about rereading this book so soon after rereading the first one was that I could see more of the connections between the two. For example, in Book 1 Enki stated that the kirin is a pitiful creature. Book 2 gave a much better sense of what he meant. Taiki was used to the idea of free will, so it took him a while to wrap his brain around the idea that he literally could not go against the mandate of Heaven. Because he was young, he didn't seem to realize the implications of that. The kings, who have no say in being declared kings, have more choices than the kirin do, even if one of those choices happens to be death.

It was nice seeing more of Keiki in this book, including a tiny bit from his perspective. In the first book, he appeared to be stiff, cold, and seriously lacking in empathy. This book allowed me to warm up to him a bit more. As it turned out, Keiki had exceptionally bad people skills, to the point that even the oracles chided him. He had no clue how to deal with his current king (the “Lady-King” who ruled just prior to Yoko) or the very sensitive Taiki. I now wish that Sea of Shadow had shown a bit from his perspective. I imagine that at least a part of him must have been worried about repeating some of the same mistakes he'd made with his first king with Yoko. It was lucky for him that Yoko turned out to be stronger and more flexible than his first king. (It feels kind of weird referring to two women as “kings.")

I'm glad this reread went so well. Although Yoko made for a stronger and more complex protagonist than Taiki, I still found myself preferring Book 2 to Book 1. The story was gentler, and the world and its rules were more clearly presented.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)