Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Twelve Kingdoms: Skies of Dawn - Fuyumi Ono

Title: The Twelve Kingdoms: Skies of Dawn (Fourth in The Twelve Kingdoms series)
Author: Fuyumi Ono
Publisher: Tokyopop, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 642 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult: Fantasy
Started:March 23, 2010
Finished: March 25, 2010

From the publisher's website:
After a year of depending on her ministers to govern the kingdom of Kei, Yoko follows Keiki's advice and descends the mountain to live among her people, eager to learn how to be a better leader from the village’s wise-man, Enho. However, when Enho is kidnapped, Yoko finds herself thrust into an all-out war between the kingdoms. Friendships and alliances are put to the test during the Battle of Wa Province. Can Yoko summon the strength to take up her responsibilities as king?

Since very few people are familiar with this series aside from myself and my highly geeky friends, I'll give you the crash course on The Twelve Kingdoms. A series of novels originally published in Japanese, The Twelve Kingdoms is high fantasy that bridges the gap between young adult and adult readers (in Japan, the distinction between young adult and adult anything is slightly blurred since adults enjoy things made for kids and vice versa). The novels inspired an animated series of the same name, which was released in North America before the novels were licensed for distribution in English.

The Twelve Kingdoms begins in modern Japan with a 16-year-old girl named Yoko, who discovers the existence of another world parallel to ours that's set up like medieval China where the kings and queens of the kingdoms are chosen by heaven-sent human/horse hybrids and where babies grow on trees. No kidding. Keiki, the Kirin (heaven-sent human/horse) of the Kingdom of Kei brings Yoko to the world of the Twelve Kingdoms and tells her she is the queen of Kei and that she must assume the throne or her people will continue to suffer the calamities that happen when a ruler's throne is left vacant. After many battles to rightfully claim the throne from a false-queen, as well as fighting with herself over whether she believes she can do what's asked of her, Yoko becomes Queen Kei and with Keiki as her advisor they begin to rebuild the kingdom. The first novel deals strictly with this plotline, the second and third installments deal with secondary characters and plots that are part of the bigger world of The Twelve Kingdoms. The fourth novel, Skies of Dawn, deals with corruption among the ministers in the kingdom of Kei and how Yoko goes about proving her authority and gaining the respect of her court and her people.

This series is amazing, but it's not something you can just pick up in the middle of the series and immediately know what's going on, you really need to start with the first book (Sea of Shadow) and go from there. The world-building is unlike anything I have ever seen in any book, movie, you name it. This series may as well have a glossary the size of a small dictionary with all the terminology unique to it, but once you read the first book that explains everything, you're pretty much set. The stories are engaging, very creative, but are also very heavy on politics (which is why I say it's less of a young adult book even though the protagonist is a teenager), so if you can't follow a political plot line, these might not be for you.

The only complain I have with this volume in particular is that there are several errors that I caught throughout (grammatical, spelling, continuity) that I don't think were present in the previous volumes. I don't know if they will be corrected upon further printings, but it was annoying having to go back a few sentences and having to correct things in my head when I realized they referred to a character by a completely different name and being confused by who was really in what scene. Aside from the editorial errors though, the translation's very well done on all the books, and it's not hard to understand (once you know the terminology of the series). I highly recommend watching the animated series in conjunction to reading the books, it really helps to put things in perspective and visualizing certain events. I watched the entire series a couple years before the books were released starting in 2007 (one book per year), and I usually go back to the episodes that relate to that particular book and watch them after I've read the book just because it helps put things together in my head. The series can get a little complicated sometimes and watching it visually always helps me with that.

If you're looking for something fresh in a fantasy series, give this a try. Remember to start with volume 1 (Sea of Shadow) if you've never read these before. Though the English release is targeted for young adults, the material itself is decidedly more adult than what most of our youth are used to in their novels, not in the inappropriate sex/vulgar manner, but with it's violence, open-ended questions on morality, and politics. Now that I think about it, there's no sexual content at all in these books (not even a romance sub-plot). I would probably recommend this for a much older teenager and adult readers.

Thoughts on the cover:
Good continuity for the covers so far. The covers for all the books are done with bright turquoise and orange-red colour schemes with the image for the volume integrated in similar shades of those colours so that only skin tone and hair colour really stand out in the image.

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