Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol. 2: Sea of Wind (book) by Fuyumi Ono

I really enjoyed this book. That's Taiki on the cover, by the way - when I first picked this book up, I thought it was kind of odd that a supposedly modern boy would have such long hair, but it made more sense when I read the book. It turns out that Taiki needs to have long hair, because his hair is actually his mane, and it looks funny if it's short when he shapeshifts.

I read the first book in this series several years ago. I had completely forgotten about this series until I saw a blog post on Sakura of DOOM that mentioned this book. I requested this via ILL and will eventually do the same with the third book. Although I don't remember being all that wild about the first book, this second one was enjoyable enough that I'd like to continue with the series.

In theory, my synopsis will spoil things for you if you haven't read the book. However, my synopsis is probably so confusing that it may not matter. Read at your own risk. And feel free to scratch your head in puzzlement. I found it extremely hard to coherently explain how this world works (so much fantasy jargon...), but I swear it makes more sense when you actually read the book.

Synopsis:

In the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, the ruler of each kingdom not only rules their kingdom, but also acts as the kingdom's anchor. Each king is chosen by a kirin, although, really, it is Heaven that chooses, and not the kirin. The kingdom of Tai does not currently have a ruler, but that's soon to change. Sansi, lamia for the soon-to-be born kirin of Tai, has been born and, along with the oracles of Brush-Jar Palace, watches over the kirin's egg-fruit. In ten days' time, the kirin will be born from the egg-fruit. Unfortunately, the kirin's egg-fruit is torn from its tree and tossed into our own world, where it lodges in the womb of a woman. Sansi and the oracles are bereft, not knowing where the kirin, Taiki, has been sent.

In our own world, a boy is standing in the snow. His grandmother won't allow him inside again until he apologizes for lying. The boy didn't lie and doesn't want to tell his grandmother that he lied, because that would be a lie. Unsure what to do, the boy continues to stand in the snow, until he sees a white arm beckoning him from a place surely far too small for an adult to fit. Curious and cold, the boy goes to the arm and the warmth that comes from its direction.

The white arm belongs to Sansi, who has not stopped searching for Taiki in the 10 years since he disappeared. The boy, "renamed" Taiki in this new world, is confused about everything everyone is telling him, but he at least feels safe around Sansi and Yoka, the oracle who was supposed to help Sansi care for him. Sansi and the oracles dote on Taiki and try to reassure him, but Taiki is deeply worried that he'll never be able to figure out how to do the things he's supposed to be able to do as a kirin. He can't seem to change into his other form, and he can't even pacify the tiniest and most pathetic of demons. Even worse, as the kirin of Tai, Taiki is supposed to be able to identify the next king of Tai. The rulers of the kingdoms are incredibly important - the well-being of a kingdom's lands and its people depends upon its ruler. Taiki needs to find Tai's ruler, hopefully a good, strong ruler, who can overcome the excesses of the previous one.

Taiki doesn't actually need to do anything, though - everything comes to him. Keiki visits Taiki (actually, he's encouraged to visit him, since Keiki isn't really enough of a people person to think to do that on his own) and tries to teach him how to do the things a kirin does. Keiki isn't terribly successful, since it's hard to teach someone to do something that should just come as naturally as breathing, but Taiki at least makes a new friend and learns a bit more about what he should be able to do. All the prospective kings make the dangerous journey to Taiki, hoping that he will look at them, speak to them, and have a revelation. Again, Taiki makes some new friends, in the form of Lady Risai and Lord Gyoso.

Everyone is disappointed and surprised that Taiki doesn't have a revelation about Gyoso. Gyoso is so well-loved that it's just assumed he'll be the new king. Although Taiki is somewhat drawn to Gyoso, he's also frightened of him. As Taiki spends more time with Risai and Gyoso, though, he begins to become a little more relaxed around Gyoso. Taiki even gets the oracles' permission to accompany Gyoso and Risai on a suugu hunt (a suugu looks a bit like a tiger, only with shimmering fur). Unfortunately, the hunt goes badly, and instead the group is attacked by a t'ao-t'ieh (a big, fierce demon?).

All kirin have a deep aversion to blood, so deep that it can make them weak and sick. When Sansi fights a man in order to protect Taiki, Taiki's aversion to blood turns out to be so strong that he can't be around Sansi for quite some time after the fight. Despite his very gentle nature, when Risai and Gyoso come under attack, Taiki tries to protect them from the t'ao-t'eih by distracting it with his gaze (part of the demon pacification process involves the kirin staring into the demon's eyes). To everyone's surprise, Taiki manages to pacify the t'ao-t'ieh, a being Gyoso hadn't thought even a kirin could pacify, and calls it Gohran.

All of the prospective kings get ready to leave, including Risai and Gyoso. Taiki finds that, despite having had no revelation about Gyoso and still occasionally fearing the fierce man, he is deeply upset at the idea of Gyoso leaving and never returning. Taiki goes after him, managing to evade Sansi and Gohran and finally shifting into his other form. When he finds Gyoso, he declares him the next king and pledges to serve him. Gyoso accepts.

Now Taiki is miserable. He is convinced that he has committed a heinous crime, selfishly declaring Gyoso as king, even though he never had a revelation, just because he couldn't bear the thought of Gyoso leaving. He doesn't want to tell anyone of his worries, but Gyoso senses that something is wrong anyway and, in the midst of cleaning up the mess the previous king left behind, calls for Keiki to come visit Taiki. After Taiki tells Keiki what he did, Keiki leaves, and Taiki is sure that his crime will soon be revealed to all.

There's no sign that Keiki told Gyoso anything, but in a couple days Keiki, another kirin, and the Ever-King of En all come for a visit. Taiki is told that he must bow before the Ever-King and tries desperately to do so, not wanting to offend him, but his attempts cause him pain and come to nothing. Finally, Enki, the kirin of En, takes pity on Taiki and puts a stop to all of this. The Ever-King explains that it's not possible for a kirin to choose a false king - Taiki couldn't bow before the Ever-King because he wasn't his king, but he could bow before Gyoso. Keiki further explains that a revelation is different for everyone and that a kingly aura may not necessarily be visible to the naked eye, even a kirin's eye. Taiki's fear of Gyoso was actually awe, and he couldn't bear for Gyoso to leave him because a kirin dislikes not being around his or her king. Taiki's revelation was when he chose Gyoso as the king. The terrible weight has been lifted off Taiki's shoulders, and Gyoso's coronation is a happy event for all.

Commentary:

Was Keiki the kirin from the first book? Does the first book take place after this one? I don't know - I kind of feel like I should reread the first book, but I didn't really like that one as much, so I think I'll just rely on the anime to remind me of how things went (although I know the anime changes a few things). Anyway, things are bad between Keiki and his ruler, a former peasant girl who's not adapting well to her new role. He's too cold towards her and, I think, when Taiki teaches him to thaw, she begins to fall in love with him. If this is the person I'm thinking of, she becomes jealous of all other women around Keiki and kills them off or sends them away. When Keiki becomes sick because she lost the path, she kills herself, rather than allow him to sicken and die. Then Keiki finds his new ruler (if I'm right, Yoko, the main character of the first volume of this series), who basically has to go through hell.

Although Taiki (named Kohri at the end of the book) doesn't actually do much, I enjoyed this book because so many wondrous things happened. It's just cool that he was able to pacify that awesome demon (love that scene!!) and change into a black kirin. It's always good when an author with an amazingly complex world like this one chooses a main character who knows nothing, because then the reader can learn about the new world through them - and there was a lot to learn about here, what with the main character discovering that he's not even human.

I was kind of amazed about a few things. Despite a bit of homesickness, Taiki adapted amazingly well to his new life, including the revelation that he's a different being altogether. It was good that he didn't quite believe he was really a kirin, though - I wouldn't have either, if I had been in his position. Taiki seemed to be completely unaffected by the revelation that he apparently has no free will - basically, if he does things, it's because he was meant to do them, and that's totally ok with him. Because he chooses a king, that's the person who was supposed to be chosen. Confusing? Yeah.

Although the artwork didn't entirely appeal to me, I did appreciate that the novel included a few pages of illustrations - I'm not sure I would've been able to picture Sansi or some of the other beings in the book very well, otherwise. Unfortunately, the reproductions of the illustrations don't appear to be very good quality - the lines in the artwork are somewhat pixelly.

Overall, I liked this book. Taiki appealed to me much more than Yoko, the main character of the first book - although, to be fair, Yoko's introduction to the other world was much harsher than Taiki's. Whereas Taiki was welcomed with open arms and lavished with care, love, and attention, Yoko was repeatedly betrayed and attacked. From what I remember, there are very few kirin appearances in the first book, so this second book really made up for that - I loved getting to learn more about them. I have no idea what the third book is about, but I can't wait to find out. I'll also have to make sure to watch my DVDs sometime soon - I wonder if Taiki shows up in the TV series at all, or if it just focuses on the events of the first book?

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Pet Shop of Horrors (manga) by Matsuri Akino; Pet Shop of Horrors (anime TV series) - Count D is a mysterious pet shop owner whose pets aren't the sort you could find anywhere else. When cared for properly, these pets can bring their owners contentment and companionship like no ordinary pet ever could. However, there are potentially horrific consequences when Count D's pet care instructions are not followed. Officer Orcot, an American policeman, goes to Count D's shop to investigate after the strange and unexplained deaths of several of Count D's former customers. This series has the feeling of a bunch of short stories - different chapters feature different pets, and the pets and their owners tend to be the focus. Although this series has very little in common with Sea of Wind, some may like the manga volume (sorry, can't remember which one) and anime episode that features a kirin.
  • Fushigi Yuugi: Mysterious Play (manga) by Yuu Watase; Fushigi Yuugi: Mysterious Play (anime TV series) - Miaka is an ordinary 15-year-old girl who wants nothing more than some tasty snacks and to be accepted into the same high school as her best friend (who, unfortunately for Miaka, has much better grades than she does - getting into the same high school is going to be tough). When she visits the National Library with her friend, she stumbles upon the book The Universe of the Four Gods and literally gets sucked into the story. She becomes the priestess of Suzaku, protected by her Celestial Warriors. If she can find all seven of her Celestial Warriors, she will be able to summon Suzaku and go home. Those who'd like something else with a similar historical-feeling setting that's filled with fantasy elements might like this. Miaka, like Taiki, has no idea what's going on, even though she's been told she has an important role in this new world she finds herself in.
  • The Story of Saiunkoku (anime TV series) - Shurei has always wanted to become a government official, so that she could have the power to make the people of Saiunkoku's lives better. She's a princess whose family has fallen upon hard times, so when she's offered a large sum of money to become the young emperor's temporary concubine, she accepts - not only is the money nice, she figures this is probably the closest she'll ever get to achieving her dream. Little does she know, Shurei will get to achieve her dream and more, if she can survive the political machinations going on around her. Those who'd like something else with a similar-feeling setting (kind of "China of the past," with a few fantasy elements?) might like this.
  • Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace (book) by MaryJanice Davidson and Anthony Alongi - Jennifer Scales thought she was just a regular girl, until her body started changing in totally unexpected ways (scales, claws, and other things...) and her parents finally admitted to her that she's half weredragon. Even for a weredragon, though, Jennifer's changes don't seem to be quite normal. Somehow, she has to try to figure out what's going on and protect herself and her family from deadly ancient enemies. It's been a while since I read this one - if you're familiar with MaryJanice Davidson's writing, I assure you, this is much more appropriate for teens than her books for adults (which some might consider appropriate for older teens, but probably not younger ones, considering the sex scenes). Those who liked reading about Taiki learning about being a kirin might like this book.

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