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Books: Fuyumi Ono's "Twelve Kingdoms" beyond fantasy

By Dennis Lowrey
On June 2, 2008

Fuyumi Ono is likely an author you have never heard of. This is because she is a japanese author and has only fairly recently had any literary exposure in America. Her most notable works, the "Twelve Kingdoms" series of books, are popular enough in Japan to both spawn an anime and get translated and brought over to the US by Tokyopop.As for the books themselves, the novels are a bit difficult to classify, beyond being fantasy. Overall, they're character driven stories, often with a fair bit of political intrigue to go with them. Always written from a third person perspective, the reader is limited to what is known by the characters themselves, never revealing events behind the scenes until it is revealed to the protagonists.

The first book that has been released in the US, dubbed "Sea of Shadow," follows the story of a girl named Yoko, a Japanese schoolgirl with unusually reddish hair and a tendency towards trying to please everyone, as she gets pulled into the world of the Twelve Kingdoms. Finding herself under assault by strange beasts and hostile natives and looking different than she did in Japan, she finds herself pressed to survive and hopefully find out why she was brought over in the first place.

Throughout her journey through this world, we find it to be more primitive than Earth's civilizations, being more like a fantastic, magically influenced ancient China, with twelve seperate kingdoms, each with its own beauracracy, imports, exports, and national quirks, as well as kings and queens granted immortality by the forces of heaven itself, which they can only lose by abdicating, being excessively cruel to their subjects, or meddling too deeply in the affairs of other kingdoms.

The longer a king lives, the more prosperous the country is. However, kings are not able to have children, and if they had children before becoming king, their children have no chance of attaining the throne at their death, for succession is not chosen by blood right or some other form of relation, but instead by a creature called a Kirin, the conduit through which heaven chooses a king.

This is only the tip of the iceberg in regards to the wonderful complexity of the world of these novels, with interesting differences between our own world both in terms of the world itself, as well as the social structures of the world.

All in all, it's a read I personally recommend, but the writing style may be offputting to some.

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