Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review: Spirit's Chosen - Esther Friesner

Spirit's Chosen by Esther Friesner
Series: Spirit's Princess #2
Genre: YA, historical fantasy
Published on April 23, 2013
Published by Random House
Pages: 496
Read From: 7.15.13 - 7.19.13

Himiko's world is falling apart. An attack by the Ookami clan has left many from her tribe dead or enslaved. And those who remain in the ransacked Matsu village are certain they've angered the gods. Himiko cannot give in to the chaos and fear. Instead, she devises a plan to save her beloved tribe. Tapping into all she's learned as a shaman, she also must become a leader and warrior. Then, just as it seems her plans will succeed, the Ookami capture her. 
Enslaved, Himiko starts to realize that not everyone in the enemy tribe is against her, and perhaps each step of her journey has prepared her for something greater than she ever imagined. Though she may not see her path as clearly as the spirits seem to, there's more adventure - and even unexpected love - for this unconventional princess.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Despite the character impersonator, I don't mind the cover all that much. It's a side profile and of course, it's indicative of the book's setting.

Characters: I've said this before, and sadly it hasn't changed: Himiko is not nearly as likable and awesome as Nefertiri from Sphinx's Princess and Helen from Nobody's Princess. While Himiko doesn't come across as spoilt in Spirit's Chosen, like she did in Spirit's Princess, she still seemed much younger than her actual age. And it made it very difficult to take her seriously when she tried to present an authoritative persona. That said, Himiko is brave and by the end of Spirit's Chosen, she finally seems a mature young woman (in other words, her age). But the problem is that for the majority of the story, she acts young. I tried to like Kaya, but her excessive spunk and forceful nature got old after a time. And what potential Ryu showed as a good villain were very quickly demolished when I met his mother, Lady Sato. Now, Sat was (most of the time) a nasty lady, but villains lose serious face when their mothers are constantly henpecking and insulting - or worse, belitting. Fathers can get by with this to an excent, but as soon as you introduce the villain's mean mother . . . There was also the fact that in the end, Ryu didn't conquer and enslave other clans because he was a bad dude. He did it simply because he knew no other way to help his clan thrive. So he was mean because he was ignorant . . . Kinda makes him a pathetic villain.

The Romance: Not nearly as prominent as I thought it would be, and therefore an enjoyable aspect of the story. There is a bit of a love triangle, but it's the type that I actually don't mind all that much. Rinji likes Himiko, but Himiko quite obviously doesn't like him on that manner, and never did. Her attachment to Daimu is one hundred percent, so there is no flipflopping in her affections. But of course, the romance isn't without its problems. I liked Daimu well enough; he's kind and patient and selfless - all those great qualities. And I ever liked Rinji. He was lovably awkward and shy. But the moment Himiko rejected him, I knew his was an affection that would cause problems. And really - couldn't Himiko have tried harder to tell Rinji that there was no love love between them? I realize some people just can't take a hint - at all, - but she really didn't do a good job of assuring him beyond a doubt that there was no hope of her returning his affections. And she should have never kept her feelings for Daimu hidden from Rinji. So while Himiko cannot be accused of intentionally leading Rinji on, she definitely didn't do a good job of dissuading him. And it's not like she didn't know.

Plot: The Ookami clan has destroyed Himiko's clan. Enslaving them, killing her father and oldest brother, and taking her younger one Noboru hostage, so that her people will not rebel. But Noboru's captivity has sent Himiko's mother over the edge mentally, and when she tries to kill her sister wife's son, she is sentenced to death. Himiko begs the elders to give her until harvesting season to fetch Noboru from the Ookami, whose presence will undoubtedly cure her mother's madness. Together, Himiko and her best friend Kaya set out to rescue Noboru, encountering other clans enslaved to the Ookami along the way. And then Himiko's plan goes horribly wrong when she and Kaya are captured by the enemy. The only way she can hope to survive is to rely on her shaman powers. Spirit's Princess was slow, but I enjoyed how it set up Himiko's world and relationships for the promised second book. And with Himiko undertaking a daring rescue mission in Spirit's Chosen, I just knew that the second - and final - book in this two-volumed series would not disappoint. Well . . . It did and it didn't. For the final volume in a mere two-book series, this should have been much faster paced. But it takes the same sedate path as its predecessor, and doesn't much change. Even after Himiko's clan recovers a bit and she leaves on her quest. And on further reflection, a lot of the plot aspects are the same as Spirit's Princess. Shaman training, facing down chauvinistic elders, enjoying the pristine Japanese countryside (don't get me wrong; I think Japan is gorgeous. But I've already sat through one book of it), and spirit dreams. She and Kaya also meet very few hostile and dangerous people/animals/circumstances in their travels. The few that they do (a snake, and a tagalong guy who just wants to rape Kaya and break her bowstring) play short and unimportant roles. Even when Himiko and Kaya are enslaved, they share a pleasant and friendly camaraderie with the other slaves, and Himiko isn't treated all that terribly. No more so than Cinderella, and even Cinderella sometimes went to bed hungry. It's almost like the Author was afraid of making the book too unpleasant. But don't let all my negativity put you off the book. As a sequel it disappointed; as a story separate from Spirit's Princess, it was relatively enjoyable. The plot's overall structure was good, with warring clans and slavery - and a chieftain at odds with his shaman, creating a battle for control and power.

Believability: I don't know a whole lot about ancient Japan - okay, I know nothing. So no inaccuracies stood out to me personally. However, if you happen to know a lot about Japanese history and ancient culture, this book might be to you like a badly researched Victorian novel is to me: unbelievably painful. But I don't know because I'm ignorant about Japan.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. As with all of her books, the Author's style paints beautiful and vivid pictures of the scenery and setting.

Content: None. When Kaya is almost raped, the assailant doesn't get beyond simply pinning her down.

Conclusion: When the Ookami's shaman Daimu takes a shine to Himiko, and she to him, Ryu does everything in his power to undermine Daimu. Amid this power struggle between clan shaman and clan chief, Himiko begins to receive terrible visions of death and destruction at the hands of a fearsome, fiery creature. The end is definitely eventful and the Author pulls a twist so sad that it almost makes up for the general lack of nasty people and genuinely perilous situations. Almost. Even with the sadness, the Author manages to throw in good feelings and a "in the nick of time" scenario that had me thinking, "This was more timely than Gandalf arriving with reinforcements at Helm's Deep." And that's not good. While I enjoyed the overall idea of Spirit's Chosen and the writing, this isn't my favorite Esther Friesner book - or even series. Himiko grew as a character and all that good stuff, but there is one problem: she never really demonstrated how she was the world's most powerful shaman. She never did anything beyond healing and delivering a prophecy no one obeyed. But the end was exciting, and sometimes all you need to make a book good is a satisfying conclusion.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fourteen-and-up, good for fans of historical fantasy.

Others in This Series:
1)Spirit's Princess
2)Spirit's Chosen

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