Spirit's Princess (Spirit's Princess, book 1)
By Esther Friesner
Expected publication April 24, 2012 by Random House Children's Books
Himiko is the beloved only daughter of the Matsu clan chieftain in ancient Japan. Her birth was marked by strange events, though no one will share the details with Himiko herself. Though her father would like to see her marry and lead a normal life befitting a princess, destiny may have a different future in mind for Himiko.
Quite some time ago, I read Friesner's first "Princess" story, Nobody's Princess, which imagines the childhood of Helen of Troy. I was drawn to it because I thought it was an interesting idea but, in the end, I was underwhelmed and wished it had covered Helen's entire life instead of breaking the story into two books. I picked up this newest "Princess" story at Midwinter and figured I'd give Friesner another shot. This time, the book appealed to me because it takes place in a time and culture that I know absolutely nothing about - ancient (according to the summary 3rd-century) Japan. Being completely ignorant of this time period and culture, I can't speak to the accuracy of any of the historical information that Friesner includes but, if reviews I've read are to be believed, almost nothing about this story is accurate. Like I said, I don't know anything about this history so I'm not going to spend any time on this in my review. The part I feel qualified to review is the story itself and, I have to admit, I'm underwhelmed. This is a pretty long book - over 400 pages - but not much is happening. It's a very flat plot with a lot of unnecessary scenes randomly inserted throughout the book. I can't imagine this going over well with it's intended audience. Additionally, I'm not entirely sure who the intended audience is supposed to be - her other titles have been geared toward teen readers, but Himiko starts this book very young and there is almost nothing in here that I would consider "teen content." Himiko does age quite a bit during the course of this novel (though the passage of time is not consistent and difficult to gauge), so I can see why that would drive this toward a teen audience. I don't imagine this book holding their interest, though. As I said, there are a lot of superfluous scenes throughout that add nothing to the story, though there isn't really a terribly interesting story to begin with. Himiko is supposed to be a great heroine, but I found myself underwhelmed by her as well. Too often, her strength is belittled by her constant need for approval from her male relatives - and perhaps this is tied into the culture in which the novel takes place - but it doesn't make her a very convincing princess. There are moments when it appears as if she's finally going to stand up for herself but usually, she ends up running away from the problem instead. Additionally, the cover for this is incredibly deceptive - it depicts Himiko as a fierce warrior woman when, as I said, she is often undermined by her own desire to appease her family. Overall, this book did not really work for me and I'm very disappointed.
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.