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The Twelve Kingdoms (7 books edition) #1

The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow

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For high-schooler Yoko Nakajima, life has been fairly ordinary--that is until Keiki, a young man with golden hair, tells Yoko they must return to their kingdom. Once confronted by this mysterious being and whisked away to an unearthly realm, Yoko is left with only a magical sword; a gem; and a million questions about her destiny, the world she's trapped in, and the world she desperately wants to return to.

464 pages, Hardcover

First published June 1, 1992

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About the author

Fuyumi Ono

136 books287 followers
Kanji Name: 小野 不由美.

Fuyumi Ono (小野 不由美, Ono Fuyumi) is a Japanese novelist who is best known for writing the Twelve Kingdoms (十二国記, Juuni Kokuki) series, on which a popular anime is based. Her name after marriage is Fuyumi Uchida (内田不由美, Uchida Fuyumi), but she writes under her maiden name.

Ono was born in Nakatsu, Ōita, Kyūshū in 1960. She graduated from Ōtani University in Kyōto with a degree in Buddhist Studies, and in 1988 was employed by the publisher Kōdansha. Her debut story is titled Sleepless on Birthday Eve.

Ono is married to Naoyuki Uchida (内田直行, Uchida Naoyuki), a mystery novelist who writes under the pseudonym Yukito Ayatsuji (綾辻行人 , Ayatsuji Yukito).

Before she started work on Twelve Kingdoms, Fuyumi Ono wrote The Demonic Child (魔性の子), a horror novel about a boy from another world. She later worked certain events from this novel into the Twelve Kingdoms series. Short stories set in the various kingdoms include: Kasho, Toei, Shokan, Kizan and Jogetsu. In February, 2008, the first new Twelve Kingdoms short story, Hisho no Tori (丕緒の鳥) was published in Shinchosha's Yomyom magazine.

According to an interview at the Anime News Network, she is "currently rewriting a girls' horror series (she) wrote long ago."

- Wikipedia

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 205 reviews
Profile Image for Minh Ha.
8 reviews7 followers
March 9, 2011
The book is fascinating , despite a somewhat too ordinary beginning.
However I'm a bit disappointed at the English Translation by Alexander O. Smith. It seems that he constantly removes Yoko's thinking voice , marked by the italic font, as he wants.

let's take a few paragraphs from "Sea of shadow" and compare it with the French translation:

La pluie tombait comme de fins filaments qu'une main géante aurait semés du ciel. Yôko restait étendue, la joue posée dans la flaque, incapable due moindre mouvement, incapable même de pleurer. Elle entendit soudain derrière elle un bruit d'herbes froissées.
Il faudrait que je me mette à l'abri...
Mais soulever sa tête était au-dessus de ses forces. Quelqu'un approchait. Un habitant d'un village avoisinant? Un fauve? Un démon-yôma?
...bah, ça n'a pas d'importance...Qui que ce soit, qu'est-ce que ça change? ...qu'un humain m'arrête, qu'une bête féroce ou un yôma me saute dessus et m'égorge, ou que je reste affalée dans la boue, cela ne changera rien au résultat...

which can be roughly translated to

The rain fell down like thin threads that a giant hand sowed from the sky. Yoko stayed sprawling, cheek on a puddle, incapable of smallest movements, incapable of even cry. She suddenly heard a noise behind her from the creased grass.
I must seek cover...
But raising her head was beyond/above her strength. Someone was approaching. A habitant of a neighboring village? A fauve? A demon?
pfff, it's of no importance ( it doesn't matter)... whoever it is, what does it change? ... a human arrests me, a wild beast or démon will jump on me and slit my throat, or I stay sprawling in the mud, that won't change anything to the end result

The English translation is :
The rain fell endlessly, like thin silken threads cast streaming from the sky.

Yoko was lying on her side, cheek in a puddle, unable to get up, unable even to cry - when she heard a rustling in the underbrush behind her. Her instincts screamed at her to seek cover, but she could barely raise her head to see what was coming
A villager? A wild animal? A demon?
Of course, she thought, no matter what it was, the end result would be the same. Whether she was captured, attacked, or simply left to lie here in the mud, she would wind up in the same place

I don't have the original Japanese version here so I can't conclude anything, but it's quite obvious that the English version is a summarized/synthesized and worse one, while the French one retains much of the original material. When you consider that the French version was translated by Fumihiko Suzuki and Patrick Honnoré, whilst there was only one English translater, who was non-japanese, you would clearly see why. therefore, I suggest getting the French version, or any other version if possible, but if you can't get those, or can't understand any other language, you should understood that what you read may not be as good as the original.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
80 reviews11 followers
September 30, 2008
Yoko Nakajima is a Japanese high schooler. Her main defining trait seems to be that she wants to make everyone happy, which leaves her with all the spine of a wet noodle. After being dropped into a fantasy country with the clothes on her back, a sword, and a spirit that lets her use it, this personality trait is not going to help her out.

One reason I really liked Sea of Shadow was that Yoko showed a great deal of character evolution through the book. Her journey teaches her to both become self-reliant, and allow herself to rely on others without just becoming what they want to see. The lack of knowledge Yoko has of what exactly is going on is well handled, when her guide, Keiki, disappears later on.

My one critique of the book is that the ending feels rushed. Once Yoko figures out why she was brought to the Twelve Kingdoms, and comes up with a plan to rescue Keiki from imprisonment, the last couple of scenes feel rushed, like the author felt like they weren't as important as the inner journey Yoko went through.
Profile Image for Eugene Woodbury.
Author 15 books7 followers
February 7, 2018
With the Twelve Kingdoms series, Fuyumi Ono has created a high fantasy universe on a par with the more familiar medieval European milieu. Her "Middle Earth" springs out of ancient China, and boasts a highly complex cultural and political system, interwoven with the "rational" use of magic.

At the same time, the trilogy of novels covering Youko's adventure is a classic exploration of the hero's journey (or "monomyth"). The moral evolution of her character, symbolized by her encounters with the harassing id of a monkey spirit, builds towards a profound and satisfactory resolve.

On a more technical note, I laud Shadow of the Moon, a Sea of Shadows in particular for the author's disciplined use of a single POV narrative, something rarely done this well.

My comments are based on the Japanese editions. I've put together a bibliography of some of the other available English translations (the TokyoPop versions are out of print).
Profile Image for Ro.
135 reviews24 followers
May 31, 2015
This book was on my shelf for about a year, taunting me with it's width and bright blue dust jacket. I had this particular attachment to it, that I can't really explain or understand. It had the familiarity of walking into the room and seeing my cat curled up on the couch. Whenever I picked it up and looked at it's cover, I'd wonder why I noticed it so much and why, because of this, I still hadn't read it yet.

Well! I can wonder that no longer!

I'll have to admit that because of this weird wonderment I experienced for nearly a year before finally reading this, the book fell a little short of my expectations. However, it was still a great read, and was actually a lot different than what I had expected. I don't think it's fair to compare it to Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away (my favourite movie), because they're presented in two different mediums and are their own respective works, but there are notable similarities. The biggest similarity (and much to my delight) is the character growth of the main characters.

Yoko grows SO MUCH in this book. And I love it. I don't mind a main character that starts out as a sniveling, annoying brat, as long as you can see them progress as their journey does. They don't even have to become a good person; as long as their actions and experiences shape them, it's... exquisite *kisses fingers and gestures in the Italian fashion*.

This book (or books? it seems Tokyopop combined two in translation) is very much a foundation for the series (so I assume, anyway), but it doesn't feel like one long prologue you have to begrudgingly sit through only to know what the heck is going on for the rest of the series. It is a pretty long book, but you're rewarded with little drawings every 60 pages for a little break and a refresher of where the characters are at in location and looks.

Also refreshing: no instalove. There aren't even any crushes. That is mighty refreshing in a young adult book. Granted, there aren't really any characters that stick around long enough for a relationship to build, but I've seen YA books that introduce a male character only to take him away again, with the heroine helplessly in love and doing anything in her power to see him again.

All in all, good book. I will continue to the series as soon as I get my hands on the next book. Tokyopop only translated the first four (*cough*they went under and left me with SO MANY UNFINISHED SERIES*cough*), but thankfully there seems to be a French company that translated the entire series, and I am conveniently fluent in French (thanks mom)!

It's becoming increasingly harder to get copies of these books, so for any of you who are interested in reading this series but don't know French or don't have the resources to get the books in print, there are online translations of most of the books in this series and its side series. Conduct a simple Google search and it should be one of the first results. You didn't hear that from me, though!
Profile Image for Bibliothecat.
607 reviews59 followers
July 26, 2021

“She fought, cleaned her sword, and moved on.”

I took a bit of a gamble here: I don't start series that I can't finish, and The Twelve Kingdoms doesn't meet that criteria for more than one reason. The series was never completely translated to English and those volumes that did make it over are out of print and thus ridiculously overpriced. Yet it came recommended to me by a friend who also reckoned Sea of Shadow can work well enough as a standalone. Now I can breathe easy, for this costly book did not disappoint.

Sea of Shadow begins, as most portal fantasies do, with the introduction to our main character Yoko in her perfectly ordinary life. I was a little surprised to see some of Yoko's darker sides right from the start; she's introduced as a goody-two-shoes - a good student and obedient daughter. And yet, there she is, not only turning a blind eye but even borderline participating in bullying. While it's great to have flawed characters, I didn't expect to see it so soon, and Yoko's conflicting morals are a constant theme throughout the story.

Of course, the real story starts once Yoko is whisked off to fantasy land, in this case, the Twelve Kingdoms. Now, she didn't stumble over a portal by accident but rather was brought over by Keiki who, unfortunately, goes missing the moment Yoko realises she's in another world. She's stuck in a world she knows nothing about and with no one to guide her, indeed she doesn't even find a companion once she sets out on her journey.

The journey makes up most of the novel, and it's less adventure than one might expect. Her goals being to find Keiki and a way home, Yoko's travels are surprisingly realistic and pretty much an ordeal. The world is very medieval, she's got demons on her trail, she's a fugitive and locals betray her left and right. She stumbles through the wilderness, avoiding humans and monsters alike, and nearly starves along the way - multiple times. It's actually a really slow read which makes me believe that it's likely not everyone's cup of tea - if you just want action and adventures, this is not the one. It's really a slow and wearying journey, but there's something very satisfying in the way it's done so realistically.

The battle scenes are also surprisingly gritty but it fits in nicely with the overall atmosphere of the book. Yoko's circumstances and the constant stream of demon assaults soon begin to alter her personality, or rather, enhance what is already there. She reflects a lot on her old life, questions her passive ways of how she used to try and please everyone, and then in turn compares it to her new life in this foreign world. She decides that she can't trust anyone and would rather be the betrayer than the betrayed. She spends almost as much time battling her inner demons as she does real ones. She is very relatable character, all the more so with all her flaws.

There are plenty of mysteries to keep the slow pace of the story going: why was Yoko brought to this world? Who is Keiki and what became of him? Why does she understand the local language? Why do demons target her deliberately? Not to mention figuring out how this new world fuctions. As the name suggests, this world consists of twelve kingdoms and Sea of Shadow only touches on some of them. The world-building goes into great detail and does indeed set up for several stories yet to come. Still, Yoko's story is perfectly readable on its own. The ending comes somewhat abruptly but it is satisfying enough.

As I have only read the English translation, I can't say how well it's been translated. There are a few typos but in terms of prose, it's well readable. I've seen that people aren't very happy with the translation, so chances are, the original is more elegant in it's writing. At the very least, I felt that the English edition was very much to the point. There wasn't much flowery prose more often than not, things were written just as they are. That being said, I felt that this style went well with the often times bleak atmosphere of the book. I'm sure it's not the best translation, but I wouldn't say it gets in the way of enjoying this novel.

Although I will likely never be able to read the entire series, I am thankful that my friend - coincidentally also named Yoko - has recommended this series to me. I love portal fantasies and this one is both captivating and unique.
Profile Image for Marguerite (M).
773 reviews566 followers
August 23, 2021

The entire Twelve Kingdoms saga is by a mile-long one of my absolute favorite fantasy reads. I have all the books and I also have every DVDs of the anime version.


I remember coming home from school when I was in middle school. My mom owned a bookstore and we used to live upstairs. The absolute dream for a bookworm, I would come home, chose a book, and go up in my room -and very often barely go back downstairs to have dinner.
This day, I chose the first book of The Twelve Kingdoms. Back then, only the two first volumes had been published in France and I would like to think it was the first time a light novel for teenagers was. The format was different, smaller than a pocketbook, the illustrations beautiful, and the blurb amazing for my young experience.

It was dumb luck. But today, I still worship these books and I would still watch the series. I have shown the animated version to many people and they all loved it. And from today's discussion, my mom would watch it again.

The Twelve Kingdoms is the epic journey of many different characters that will learn along the way who they are and that the world is not only black and white but many shades of grey. Whether they come from Earth, whether they are destined to be leader, whether they are simply a soldier or a scholar, their personal quest will lead them to one another and help them become a better version of themselves. But more than just the characters, it also manages to reach the reader.

A must-read for any fantasy lover.
Profile Image for Jessica Severs.
19 reviews3 followers
May 19, 2008
There’s a lot of fantasy fiction out there, mostly consisting of orcs and elves and manly heroes. Problem is, who wants to read “World of Warcraft” when you can play it instead? And some authors seem stuck on emulating J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythology.
Fuyumi Ono, however, creates an unchartered world for our imaginations to explore. She introduces us to Yoko, a studious high-school girl who obeys her parents and her peers. Only problem is, she’s having a recurring nightmare that intensifies with each passing night.
That, and her natural reddish hair sticks out like a Hell’s Angel at a Republican convention, causing her teachers and fellow students at her all-girls school in Japan to gossip. So when an oddly dressed young man with a mane of golden hair pulls her out of class and tells her she must come with him, she’s horrified what people will think. At least, until the creature attacks.
Before she has a moment to think, she’s whisked off to a world of god-kings and demons and left to fend for herself with nothing but a sword and a spirit who’s been “attached” to her to aid in fighting off demons. And if that’s not traumatizing enough, the strange folk of this mystical world seem to have it out for her.
Where it could fall into cliche and predictability, “The Twelve Kingdoms” scratches out a path of its own, constantly surprising the reader. This book is the first of a seven-volume epic, and it concentrates on developing naive, hapless Yoko, who almost wishes for death, into a strong-willed survivor set on defining her own destiny.
It’s incredible how fast 459 pages can turn.
Profile Image for Maya.
260 reviews85 followers
April 25, 2012
Sometimes a publisher wanting to cash in on a popular genre is actually a good thing. The author of the Twelve Kingdoms series, Fuyumi Ono, is usually at home in the genres of horror and mystery, which maybe explains the detailed gorey descriptions during the fighting scenes. Her editor suggested to her to visit the fantasy genre, because it was popular at that moment, and Ono ended up creating one of the major works of modern Asian Fantasy.

At the beginning, main character Yoko is very annoying. She is a real ... wimp? Not a brat, but a crybaby and extremely passive. She starts out as an obedient, shy girl, who cares for mundane stuff like watching her favorite TV series and her biggest problem is doing her school homework. She just doesn’t want to stick out in any way. Too bad for her, she was born with naturally red hair in a country where everybody has black hair and dyed hair is considered rebellious behavior of delinquents. In response Yoko just tries to fit in even more, by being a model student. She is unable to stand up for herself and even less for others. But then she gets thrown into the magical world of the Twelve Kingdoms, all alone and in constant danger.

Sea of Shadow is very much Yoko's story. As said, she is annoying in the first chapter. In the second, luckily, there are already the first hints that she will develop, since she slowly starts acting instead of crying. Her character development continues over the whole book, as she comes to terms with herself and grows a backbone. I liked the fact that Yoko at first behaves not heroic at all, but like a scared, lonely girl. The standard “quest journey” is also handled rather differently here, since it doesn’t work out as planned, Yoko is not prepared for it at all and doesn’t get her own “fellowship” to travel with. She is all on her own for a large portion of the way.

The writing doesn't feel very polished (even though I had the impression that it got better as the story progressed), and the pacing is far from perfect. For me, the story only got really interesting in the second half, once the other major characters are introduced. As the reader we start out the same as Yoko, thrown into the unknown and understanding nothing about the world of the Kingdoms. We get information at the same time as Yoko does on her journey. There is a number of big, main questions to be answered, and the author takes her time to reveal things. But when she does, I did find the answers very interesting and creative. There is also some social criticism in connection with Yoko's changes, concerning uniformity, hypocrisy and self-confidence.

All in all, I love the world of the Twelve Kingdoms. Despite the main character being a Japanese girl, the fantasy setting and world-building is actually inspired by Chinese history and mythology, and it is so wonderfully different from everything else I have encountered in the fantasy genre. I've also grown fond of the different characters, a varied cast among which you find half-beasts and unicorns. Rakushun is adorable, Keiki a likeable snob, Rokuta and Shoryu a hilarious combo, and since I started out hating Yoko, I’m amazed at how much I like her now.

In the end, Sea of Shadow is little more than an introduction to the setting. The main focus lies on Yoko’s journey to self discovery, accompanied by a lot of fighting for her life. Therefore, a bit of patience is probably needed until you get to the second half of the novel, but for me at least, it was well worth it. Highly recommended for anybody who likes Asian Fantasy, talking rats or unicorns.

Sea of Shadow can be read as a stand-alone novel.
April 13, 2020
[I wrote this review back in 2014 and have decided that I still feel pretty much the same way about the book, although I'm upgrading my overall rating from 3.5 stars to 4. And I'm still hoping for a license rescue for this series. I'd love to see official translations of the books Tokyopop never got around to publishing, and I'd definitely rebuy the books I already own. Heck, I own multiple copies of Taiki's book as it is, just in case one falls apart and I need a backup.]

The Twelve Kingdoms is one of my top favorite Japanese light novel series, although it's not without its problems, and it took reading the second book and seeing the anime for me to start feeling that way. I wanted to finally read the fourth book, but it's been four years since I read the second and third and more than six since I read the first, so I decided that it'd be best to start from the beginning.

This book introduces the world of the Twelve Kingdoms via Yoko Nakajima, a high school student in Japan. When we first meet her, Yoko is as bland and inoffensive as she can make herself. Pretty much the only thing that makes her stand out and that she refuses to change is her hair, which is red enough to look like it's been dyed. She prefers to wear it long, even though it looks redder that way, and even though her mother keeps pushing her cut or dye it so she'll blend in better.

Then one day a man with strange clothes and golden hair appears at Yoko's school and tries to take her away. She refuses, at first, until terrifying creatures she'd previously only seen in her dreams suddenly attack. The man, Keiki, hands her a sword and tells her to fight. When Yoko protests that she doesn't know what to do, Keiki tells Joyu, a jellyfish-like creature, to attach itself to her and help her, forcing Yoko to kill for the first time in her life. They escape to a strange new world and are soon separated. All Yoko wants is to go home, but first she has to find Keiki and figure out how to survive in a place where everyone and everything seems to either want to kill her or betray her.

I had vague memories of not really enjoying the first book, but also not hating it so much as to cross the entire series off my TBR list. I liked it more this time around, because I had a better understanding of what was going on and what it was all leading towards, but it wasn't exactly an enjoyable read. This book is 459 pages long, and over 300 of those pages featured bad things happening to Yoko. She was betrayed multiple times, forced to kill demons every night, tormented by visions of home, and taunted by a blue monkey that seemed determined to throw all her worst thoughts and actions in her face. She'd have died of her wounds, starvation, and exhaustion multiple times over had it not been for a jewel that Keiki gave her.

Like I said, not pleasant, and it didn't help that Yoko wasn't very likeable either. When she was in Japan, she said nothing when a group of students bullied another girl, because she was afraid of being their next victim. She also lied to others in order to avoid confrontation. She spent her first days in the world of the Twelve Kingdoms refusing to allow Joyu to fully help her, because the bloodshed horrified her. As her experiences wore her down, it became harder and harder for her to trust anyone, to the point that she contemplated stealing from or even killing someone who had previously helped her. While I could sympathize with some of Yoko's thoughts and actions, dealing with them for 300 pages was a bit much.

The good thing is that Yoko was forced to take a long, hard look at the person she'd been and who she'd become. While she wasn't given a choice about her role in the Twelve Kingdoms, she at least got to decide how she wanted to proceed. One of my favorite moments was when she met Keiki again and he realized how much she'd grown as a person since the last time he saw her. He'd named her his master because he'd had no choice, so his more complete acceptance of her by the end of the book was nice. Keiki was barely in this book, so I think the second book may have colored my perception some. Although it deals with a different set of characters, it provides a closer look at

The writing didn't work for me, for reasons I can't explain. However, I found the world of the Twelve Kingdoms to be fascinating enough to make up for that. Whenever Yoko spent more than a few minutes with anybody, she usually received a lecture on some aspect of the Twelve Kingdoms. It should have been boring, especially on a reread, but I ate it up. I loved learning about life in the kingdoms of Kou, Kei, and En. Rakushun, a hanjyu (half-beast) with the form of a rat, was a fount of fascinating information. I loved him for that, as well as for being incredibly nice.

All in all, this was definitely worth a reread. During my first read, I was as clueless about what was going on as Yoko. Having a better understanding of the world meant that certain scenes had more impact for me this time around. I admit, though, that I'm now even more disappointed at the way Ono structured the series. While this first book reunites Yoko and Keiki, by the end Yoko is still in danger, the false ruler is still in power, and the king of Kou is still out there. And instead of continuing the story, the next two books take readers to earlier points in the world's timeline. It's frustrating. The anime does a better job of tying those loose threads up before moving on.

(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
Profile Image for branewurms.
138 reviews39 followers
May 29, 2011
This book was a BLAST, omg.

On the downside: the prose was a bit flat and clunky (once again, no idea if this was a matter of translation or not), but it wasn't too bad. The decision to just... skip the whole battle scene at the very end was completely inexplicable - really, I cannot understand why the battle wasn't shown. That was just a bizarre decision that made the ending a bit anti-climatic. Info-dumps were present, but remained engaging enough, and honestly I don't know how they could have been avoided. Yoko's angsting got repetitive from time to time - it's not like I didn't understand and empathize with her feelings, it's just that they didn't need to keep being reiterated.

On the upside: EVERYTHING ELSE? Ugh, I am terrible at enumerating good points, BUT TRUST ME IT WAS AWESOME OKAY. It's wildly entertaining - it just sort of pulls you along and you can't stop. Believable characterization, non-stop action, some really fantastic worldbuilding... Some of the ideas and imagery were so gorgeously bizarre (the eggfruit trees! the cloud-sea!) that I almost want to put this on my "weird" shelf, but the narrative itself was enough of a traditional hero's journey that I'm not sure it belongs there. (Otoh I am a tiny bit irritated to find that my idea of has totally been done, lol.)

Well anyway, suffice it to say, I'm picking up the second book at first opportunity.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,357 reviews795 followers
September 4, 2022
There was a time in my life when I imbibed gargantuan amounts of Japanese comics and Japanese cartoons, known respectively (and sometimes contemptuously) as manga and anime. Chances are good that I don't remember even most of the ones that would be worth revisiting even in my older days, but this work occupies the fortunate position of not only having survived the sands of my memory, but also having first existed as a written work before it was illustrated and then animated. The second made it feasible for me to acquire a copy during my usual book sale sojourns without having to rely on a more often than not stunted section, if it existed at all, for comics, while the first sustained my interest long enough for me to see the worth in acquiring this copy when I did. Now, coming back to this at my age meant finding the prose rather simplistic and certain choices in plot and characterization awkwardly paced. However, my adult self is also a great deal more invested in the concept of the 'Mandate of Heaven', alongside theories of good governance and systems of cultural enrichment, so to have that presented alongside some good old fashioned magical kingdoms and bildungsroman engagement was quite the treat. I have enough qualms, some of less narratological sort, for me to not rate this a perfect work, but it is still one of the most intelligently crafted fantasies I've ever come across, and the fact that it can engage younger audiences makes even more worthy of note.

When I first committed to reading as many of the four to six (depending on your definition) of the Classic Chinese Novels, I wasn't expecting much of a payoff beyond my personal pride garnered in certain circles of readers and/or literature. What I'm beginning to discover, though, is when one spends 2000+ pages following the trials and tribulations of a cast of characters struggling with the 3000 year old political philosophy known as the Mandate of Heaven, one builds up not only familiarity with the whole civilization-shaping enterprise, but also a healthy amount of respect. Still, this is hardly the easiest or even most accessible way of engaging with it, especially when one is stuck on the other side of a sociocultural/ethnolinguistic divide that today's politicians and money-grubbers artificially exacerbate so as to keep profits and power in their stagnating place. So, to see it applied in the classic style of narrative where a 'normal' young person is spirited away on a fantasy adventure in a manner that is all the more engaging for its credibility is truly something special. Now, the prose generated by this translation isn't the greatest, and the narrative pushes the limits when it comes to sticking to its measured buildup until the grand cathartic payoff is finally reached. There's also the matter of the fraught relations between Japan and China, and I'm not entirely sure about the author's intent when the narrative was using examples of regional architecture to juxtapose 'civilized' (aka Tokyo) kingdoms with those less so (aka Chinatowns). Still, one must note that this translation has received criticism elsewhere, so the remedy to some of my quibbles may be me paying more attention when choosing editions of future volumes. Of course, the question of the availability of other editions and volumes of this series is a whole 'nother bag of worms, so the best thing may be for me to be satisfied with how this particular read went and be in no rush to binge the rest anytime soon.

The foundering of the translation of the full seven volumes means that it's just as well that I've only come across the first entry, but it was enough to remind me full force how much of a joy the work is. Much as I love Tolkien, the latest half assed revivals of his work by soulless corporations of Mammon demonstrate how saturated the ideas market of fantasy is with his work, and this particular work with its mix of modern presentation and ancient belief systems is the perfect antidote to the copy-paste-to-death antics of the venture capitalists of culture. Of course, the fact that this work functions in such an original fashion probably contributes to why adaptations to other media and languages ran out of initiative and/or funding before completion, but the nice thing about the obnoxiously grasping bowels of the Internet is how easy it is stumble across something worth reviving and pulling others across the globe into getting the project off the ground. It's something I would spearhead myself I had the knowledge or the means, which should give you an idea of how poorly my four star rating can encompass my feelings of how important it is that this piece and its incarnations exist in ways that folks in my own culture can interact with and derive worth from. Until then, I await the day when various published genres in my part of the world get a real infusion of insights whose seeming freshness doesn't discount the fact that they have been tried and tested for thousands of years by minds willing to take responsibility and hearts willing to care even when it isn't 'profitable' or convenient. It's not only good reading, but a necessary ideological framework in this day and age, and if it happens that the first four volumes that have been thus far translated into English show up on the shelves that I manage as a librarian, what can I say except that, what's the point of the work I do if I can't nudge the readers here and there?
Profile Image for Jennifer Wardrip.
Author 5 books486 followers
November 26, 2012
Reviewed by Carrie Spellman for TeensReadToo.com

Yoko Nakajima is the perfect daughter. She's a good student, she always does what she's told, she never complains, she never calls attention to herself -- perfect. Except for her red hair that stands out everywhere in Japan, but no one can explain that one. Aside from that, she's perfect. So, when she starts falling asleep in class, it's surprising to everyone. If it weren't for those terrifying dreams, maybe she could get some sleep at night. And then when a strange man shows up at school, and windows start exploding, and Keiko (the strange man) commands her to accept his undying loyalty... Somehow landing in a foreign world after falling through the moon seems almost normal. Except that there is absolutely nothing normal about any of it!

Yoko is attacked by monsters, gets thrown in jail, learns to steal, fights with a sword she has never learned how to use, and the only person she knows, Keiko, is nowhere to be found. All Yoko knows now is that she's the only person she can trust. And her hopes of getting home grow smaller and smaller every day. But she can't stop searching -- for Keiko, for home, for herself.

This book started with a pop, and then dropped to a slow buildup. It was a little frustrating. Yoko, as well, bothered me in the beginning. Perhaps it was more of a traditional depiction of a young Japanese girl, and having been raised to be extremely independent, I got irritated. That all being said, the end of the book redeemed everything for me. I loved where it went! I want to read more. Also, there's a lot of interesting discussion of languages and symbols and Japanese characters. I'm sure I could have learned a lot from it, if my brain had some basis of prior knowledge.
Profile Image for Andrea Peterson.
59 reviews4 followers
October 8, 2011
This story is spared from Fushigi Yuugi-esque cheesiness by the fact that Yoko is dumped in this strange world completely alone and in the dark about the larger political/worldspanning plot, having to fend for herself and learn the language. Yoko's character development was pretty amazing -- I was shocked at how quickly and naturally she went from crybaby to badass. I liked the illustrations too -- much nicer than the stuff you usually see in Japanese light novels.
Profile Image for Courtney.
28 reviews21 followers
September 4, 2009
The Twelve Kingdom series are the books that the anime is based on. So, if you loved the anime, which I did, then you will love the books! The books are a little more in depth than the anime, which is a plus. I was happy to see that the artwork included in the books, is the art style used in the anime, so all the characters look familiar.
Profile Image for Majo.
252 reviews131 followers
March 18, 2015
Es la primera vez que leo una novela ligera (light novel), siempre me causaron curiosidad ya que muchos animes y mangas famosos se basan en ellas, pero el término “ligero” me daba mala espina. Tenía la sensación que sería una novela “licuada” demasiado sencilla y aburrida.
No es así, al menos en este caso. Tal vez si tenga pocas descripciones (de paisaje o lugares) pero abundan las reflexiones de la protagonista y las escenas de acción. Es una novela sumamente dinámica, plagada de aventuras y mundos exóticos.
Youko, nuestra protagonista, comienza la historia como una estudiante conformista, que busca complacer a todo el mundo (sus padres, maestros y compañeros de clase), por lo que se muestra sumisa y obediente, ni siquiera tiene personalidad propia, solo sigue la corriente y nunca cuestiona nada.
Molesta y patética.
Y por eso mismo, su transformación es impresionante. El viaje por ese territorio extraño y hostil que es el reino de Kou transforma a Youko física, mental y emocionalmente, hasta convertirla en alguien valiente, resuelta y honrada. Al final del libro, la misma Youko dice que desea ser una mejor persona y no se siente apta para reinar, y justamente son esos atributos (el querer y poder crecer) los que la transforman en una magnifica emperatriz para Kei.

Del resto de los personajes, vale la pena nombrar al Rey Eterno de En, Shoryuu, y a su Kirin, Enki. Son maravillosos, los adoro. Más allá de ser quienes ayudan a Youko a recuperar el control de su reino, son de lo más divertidos, los que le aportan a la situación un toque fresco. Este dúo que lleva gobernando En desde hace más de quinientos años, tienen una dinámica incomparable, se comportan como dos hermanos y se la pasan peleando, ¡son hilarantes! Cada uno tiene un comentario sarcástico para hacer en el momento más inesperado, que me hacía matar de risa.

Rakushun, además de salvar a Youko cuando está al borde de la muerte, es el encargado de enseñarle más sobre este complejo mundo, aconsejarle en momentos difíciles y devolverle la confianza (en sí misma y en los demás). Es la voz de la razón. De a poco, se convierte en su primer amigo verdadero y es simplemente imposible no cogerle cariño a esta mitad demonio rata.

Otro personaje sumamente importante es Keiki. Aunque solo aparece al comienzo (llevando a Youko a los Doce reinos) y al final (al ser rescatado), muestra una personalidad diametralmente opuesta a la del anime (donde es centrado, frío y rara vez demuestra sus sentimientos). En el libro Keiki es cínico e impertinente, y aunque es leal a su ama, demuestra que no estaba del todo convencido de su decisión al comienzo.
Una gran diferencia entre el anime y el libro, son los compañeros de clase de Youko: Sugimoto y Asano. Ella apenas es nombrada en el libro (él ni eso) y mucho menos viaja a los Doce reinos, lo culpa es un alivio, porque no la soportaba.

Es un libro grandioso, como debe ser una fantasía épica, plagada de lugares exóticos, reyes, dioses y demonios. Una lectura fresca, divertida y sería también ligera si no fuera por la cantidad de términos nuevos (Taiho, kirin, taika, ranka, etc.) a los que prestarle atención. La autora construye algo completamente original de cero, un mundo con sus propias leyes, jerarquía, sistemas político, territorial y social (¡incluso el modo en que nacen los bebes es original!). Realmente es un libro fantástico que, además, viene acompañado con unas bellísimas ilustraciones estilo manga que complementan la historia.
Creo que lo único que le falto a la novela es la resolución de lo sucedido en el reino de Kou, que será de Kourin y del Rey de la Colina, pero como este libro sigue a Youko, no cuentan nada más sobre ellos. Tal vez en los libros siguientes se mencione si Kourin contrajo o no el shitsudou.
Profile Image for Claire.
411 reviews45 followers
January 8, 2020
2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge: a book with an at least 4-star rating on Goodreads

If there's one trope I love even more than a slow-burn romance, it's slow-burn character development. Seeing our protag Yoko grow from wimp to badass in such a realistic, hard-won manner is one of the most deeply satisfying character arcs I've seen in quite a while. I feel like I've read a lot of YA where the hero protag is just awesome and beloved for no real reason, so Yoko as a lead was refreshing.

This was the main selling-point for me with this book, but the world-building is nothing to sneeze at either. If Narnia is a Euro-centric idea of what a fantasy world created by God would look like, then the Twelve Kingdoms are a similar thing, except Asian-centric. It was a little hard at first to wrap my head around a world where all living things come out of magical eggs that grow on trees (that goes for humans too), but it grew on me after a while.

Docked a star for a rather rushed ending and a bit of info-dumping in places, even if the in-story reason for info-dumping was slightly more justified than in most cases.
Profile Image for Toni.
25 reviews8 followers
October 21, 2008
This is quite a surprising, whirlwind read. After having viewed the first half of the anime, I did not think I was going to like the main character, Nakajima Yoko any more in the novel. However, I was very impressed at the level of detail and rich history that Ono Fuyumi has woven into this story of the Twelve Kingdoms which spans over seven volumes (only the first two have been translated into English thus far).

Ordinary schoolgirl Nakajima Yoko gets drawn into a world of demons, danger, mystery and folklore when golden-haired warrior, Keiki shows up at her school one day, swears loyalty to her and tells her that she is grave danger. With the help of Keiki, Joyu (a creature that attaches itself to her to allow her to wield the sword of her destiny), Kaiko and Hyoki, Yoko fends off attacks of strange flying creatures only to be drawn into the alternate version of her world against her will. It is there that the battle for her life and sanity really begins.

This was quite the page turner and I am very much looking forward to Volume 2, Sea of Wind.
Profile Image for Nate.
45 reviews1 follower
November 12, 2008
I recently watched the animated television series based on these books, and really enjoyed it. I soon found out that the books (a seven book series originally written in Japanese 1991-2001) were being released in English. So I decided to picked up the first in the series. I was hoping for more content and story than presented in the TV series, but the TV series followed this first book closely. However, the TV series does leave a few loss ends, and the books are suppose to resolve them; however, only two of the English version books have been released. I will likely not be able to tie up those loose end for quite some time. The publisher will be releasing a book every year...sigh...sometimes I don't like series.

Well if you are into Chinese mythology or action packed books this is the "unfinished" series for you.
Profile Image for Kat.
7 reviews9 followers
September 20, 2012
12K has been consistently awesome re: politics, gender roles, race, and class. Kudos to you, Ono Fuyumi!
Profile Image for Corinne Morier.
Author 2 books38 followers
October 28, 2019
It took me a while to figure out my rating for this one, but I think I'm putting it at 3.5 stars.

Why I Read This Book: I am trash for books set in, or that talk about, Japan. I used this one as my "Year of Asian Stories" prompt during my Lord of the TBR game in October, 2019

TROPES THAT NEED TO DIE: I should make a whole video about TROPES THAT NEED TO DIE because here, we start off with one of the worst ones ever... THE DREAM SEQUENCE! We get an awesome action-y sequence that could be a great lead-in to learning how she came to this new world and what's going on, only for her to wake up in a cold sweat in her own bed, while she's still a normal Japanese high school student. Dream sequences suck because they're fake-outs. You're leading the reader to expect one thing, and then all of a sudden it's like "JUST KIDDING! IT WAS ALL A DREAM!" You can literally put ANYTHING in a dream sequence and then just cancel it out. And the stupidest place to put a dream sequence is in the FIRST CHAPTER OF THE BOOK WHEN THE READER HAS NO IDEA WHAT TO EXPECT.

And not ten pages later, we have a second dream sequence, this time when she's sleeping in class. Here's an idea: rather than having her dream things all the time, why not have her be in class and get the willies that something is coming to get her? But then she looks out the window and everything is normal, and yet for some reason, she's really restless and can't shake her sense of foreboding.

Yoko also spends half the book "nodding" and "smiling." This is such weak writing because if your characters just nod all the time, they're going to be bobbleheads. Why not instead give her a unique tic that she does instead of nodding, like sucking on her braid or something? All I know about Yoko from spending 475 pages with her is that she is "the girl who nods."

While we're on the subject of weak writing, this book really suffers from repeating headword syndrome. "Yoko did this. Yoko's head hurt. Yoko did that. Yoko walked over there." Every other sentence started with "Yoko" and it got really annoying and repetitive.

And on the subject of the writing aspect, if you are someone like me who likes their books to be free of typos and errors, you might not enjoy this book as much because there are several typos. Then there's a scene later in the book that takes place on a terrace. Page 444, Yoko is standing on a terrace with Rakushun, a half-beast who is her traveling companion. His "slight figure droop"s, then he starts pacing around a bit, all while Yoko can still see him. He raises an eyebrow at her. Obviously he can see her. But then in the VERY NEXT LINE, she "turned around to see Rakushun standing on his own shadow." The "standing on his own shadow" part makes NO sense, but I don't even care about that because she wouldn't need to turn around in the first place if SHE COULD ALREADY SEE HIM!

To this book's credit, once I hit chapter two, the reading experience really improved and I breezed through an entire two hundred pages. Except for one part that tripped me up at page 125, when another character writes what Yoko describes as "the characters for good and elder sister": 達姐

which, to me, who has studied Japanese and knows how to read it, I wouldn't really translate the first character as "good." Its meaning is more along the lines of "to arrive at, to attain," I breezed through a whole 200 page section. From pages 55 to 288, I was just dashing through, loving everything that was happening--Yoko arrives in a new world but Keiki, the strange man who brought her here in the first place, is gone. So now she has to find a way to survive in this new world. Her foreign origins make her a fugitive, and every time she meets someone who might be her friend, she is betrayed, to the point of becoming disillusioned when she meets someone who is kind to her out of the goodness of his own heart. It was just a very pleasant reading experience.

Then we hit page 288. Oh, boy. It would have been one thing to have Yoko hold this belief but then be proven wrong later in the story. Apparently this is nihilism, but it reads less like that to me and more like the author is trying to suggest that atheists don't have any morality because they don't believe in a god or deity.

There was no such thing as a godsend in this world, no such thing as luck, no good fortune to hope for. That was why the people took any chance they could to make money, even if it meant selling out a friend.

The one who thinks this is our main character, Yoko Nakajima. But these incorrect beliefs of hers never get questioned. She never meets someone (aside from Rakushun, but even his existence doesn't make her think that she was wrong) who doesn't believe in a higher power but still has moral values and does nice things just for the heck of it. As an atheist myself, I got pretty offended after this point and put the book down for a good 24 or 48 hours before coming back and finishing it.

(BTW, atheists DO have morality, and lots of it. If you're curious as to where we get our morality, my favorite Youtuber BionicDance has a few good videos talking about it.)

Only about forty pages later, we get another sh*tty trope, and that is, THE RESURRECTION TROPE.

Going to remain vague here to avoid spoilers. A certain character is dead. Like, 100%. There's no question about it. Yoko examines their body very closely and notes "there's too much blood just to have come from the kochou (attacking demons)." Vaguely she realizes that they could still be alive and snitch on her, but they're dead. No question about it. They're dead.

Forty pages later, we see this character again. They're alive, with no visible scars to show that only a month ago, they suffered grave injuries that nearly killed them. Plus Yoko has just spent about a month on a ship traveling to the next place, only to find this character has beat her to this place, having not only traveled the entire way on foot, but they've been there for several days already just waiting for her ship to arrive. (also note that her ship is a fairly advanced passenger vessel with talented crewmembers who could still sail even with no wind, so "the winds were against her" doesn't get to be an excuse.)

A few pages later, another character tells Yoko to make sure to meet with the taiho, explaining that this is a term for a minister to the king. It takes Yoko FOREVER in book time to remember where she heard this. Meanwhile I'm sitting there yelling at her, "KEIKI USED THIS PHRASE WHEN YOU FIRST MET HIM!! HE SAID IT LIKE A BILLION TIMES!! WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO REMEMBER WHERE YOU HEARD THAT WHEN YOU SHOULD ALREADY RECOGNIZE THAT????"

Damn, Yoko is one of the stupidest protagonists I've met.

Oh, and speaking of contrivances, Yoko meets THE VERY DAY SHE WRITES A LETTER ASKING FOR AN OFFICIAL AUDIENCE. How contrived is that?

First off, how did he even get her letter? He wasn't even the one who had received it. The letter was addressed to his taiho, not him. According to the narrative, he wasn't even in the area when the letter arrived. Second, how did he get there so fast to be able to meet with her? Even though he's mentioned to be essentially , he still wouldn't be able to use any sort of magic teleportation power. And yet mere hours after she sends her letter, her problem is solved for her! He just believes her entire story without ever questioning it!

The whole last twenty or so pages of the book made pretty much no sense. They're off to battle the king of the neighboring country, but the reasons for them needing to fight in the first place aren't well-explained. The reminds Yoko that the only advantage they have will be the element of surprise; the odds are against them. The army travels to Iryu, but we don't know how Iryu is important in terms of the overall story (eg. why would capturing Iryu give them a political advantage? I thought they were heading for Sei).

It seems as if the author just wrote the scenes she thought were interesting and skipped over the "boring battle" scenes. An early example of this is when Yoko is traveling alone through the mountains and spends months on the road. She apparently fights demons daily, but she "fought, jwiped her sword and moved on." Which, I could technically understand. We've seen her fight demons before, so there would be no point showing us another demon battle unless it was plot relevant. But then the author just CUTS THE ENTIRE FINAL BATTLE SCENE. For ten or so pages, Yoko and her friends are gearing up for a huge battle, but there's not much book left, so you wonder if the book is going to end just before the battle begins and Book Two will start with the battle.

Nope. The entire battle scene itself was skipped, even though Yoko (our POV character) would have witnessed and participated in it. Her main role in the battle was to storm the castle, sneak inside, and free the imprisoned Keiki. This entire major plot point was simply written off in one sentence: "Deep within the castle, past all the battlements, Yoko reached Keiki's cell."

Um, I thought the odds were against them? And how did Yoko manage to sneak through an entire castle, where ostensibly every corridor is full of demons fighting each other? And how did she know where Keiki was being held? The final ten or so pages are just a complete head-scratcher, earning this book its designation as a "WTF ending."

To its credit, I still did enjoy most of the story, and would be willing to reread it, even though that reread is sometime far off in the future probably. And I might pick up Book Two and see where it's going, though it's not really a priority for me at this point and there's so many other books I want to read.

This book was a part of my Year of Asian Stories challenge. You can view my full Asian Stories TBR blog post using the link below:

Year of Asian Stories Announcement
Profile Image for Kim.
18 reviews2 followers
October 16, 2021
around two thirds of the book is an extremely sad girl crying and barely surviving alone in the woods after being isekai'd into a cruel fantasy world. and it rocks. it rocks hard.
185 reviews3 followers
November 18, 2019
시리즈물의 1편이라서 다양한 설정을 설명하기 위한 이야기들이 진행되다보니까 답답하고 지루한 면이 많았다. 장강명 작가가 구독지수를 높게 주지 않았다면 진작에 책을 덮을 뻔했다. 책 후반부에 설정들에 대한 설명들이 나오기 시작하니까 세계관이나 설정이 제법 매력적으로 보이고 후속편들을 읽어보고 싶어졌다. 세계관이 참신한 것이 좋은 것 같다.
Profile Image for Aaron.
832 reviews31 followers
December 11, 2015
A beautiful tome. THE TWELVE KINGDOMS is high fantasy that isn't too proud to reveal how weak, foolish, or arrogant its characters are (or become) in the face of overwhelming responsibility.

I have read and reread this book a handful of times and am always amazed at Ono's use of poetic language to articulate such vastness, violence, and indecision of the heart. Ono's characters are an infrequent breed of reluctant heroes who know their fate and never aspire to it, feeling themselves unworthy. It is then the reader's task to encourage them, sometimes chidingly, to be a better person . . . because the consequences of not being your best far outweighs remaining "an incomplete person," as the main character Yoko states.

THE TWELVE KINGDOMS's hazy use of shadows and inward frowns cloaks what other fantasy novels would otherwise conjure as pure villainy. In this novel, as well as the whole series, there is no clear villain -- there never is. In fact, the darkness of the heart is often the greatest threat to a character's success and the stability of the relationships they pursue. This is Ono's greatest achievement as well as her most amusing hindrance, I suspect, because high fantasy is often predicated on a clear delineation of that which is good and that which is not. But a reader's inability to recognize this as such is not the fault of Ono, it should be noted.

Yoko is an incredible character. This first novel only scratches the surface of her struggles to curb her displeasure at being thrust into the position of being a responsible monarch. The girl's dazzling red hair and venomous sword skills are a tremendous, complementary visual to that of a young woman on the edge of maturity -- a girl becoming a woman in a foreign land with foreign ways of being. But she conquers it all.
April 11, 2023
"The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow" was an absolute delight to read! As a fan of both fantasy and Japanese comics, I was drawn to this book after watching the anime version, and I was not disappointed.

The world-building in this book is simply phenomenal. The author has created a rich and complex fantasy world that is truly unique. From the different kingdoms to the magical creatures, everything about this world is intricately detailed and well thought out. The attention to detail is impressive, and I found myself completely immersed in this world.

The story itself is captivating and full of intrigue. The protagonist, Yoko Nakajima, is a high school student who finds herself transported to the mystical world of the Twelve Kingdoms. In this world, she discovers that she is the rightful queen of one of the kingdoms and must fight to claim her throne. Along the way, she encounters numerous challenges and obstacles that force her to question her abilities and push her to her limits.

What makes this book truly exceptional is the depth of the characters. The author has taken the time to develop each character, giving them multiple layers and nuances. Yoko, for example, is not just a typical hero, but a flawed and complex individual struggling to come to terms with her new reality. The supporting cast is equally well-crafted, with each character possessing their own unique backstory and motivations.

Overall, "The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow" is a must-read for anyone who loves fantasy and Japanese comics. It is a beautifully written book, full of adventure, magic, and unforgettable characters. I highly recommend this book, and I cannot wait to read the rest of the series!
Profile Image for Selenita.
370 reviews4 followers
February 5, 2017
Un libro genial y muy recomendable para quien le guste la fantasía.

Se desarrolla en un mundo fantástico de corte más o menos medieval se hace muy original porque está basado en la mitología oriental, por lo que resulta nuevo e interesante; algo que se potencia porque está bastante bien construido. Tiene sus fallos y reglas demasiado convenientes (como la geografía de los reinos o la forma en que se eligen les gobernantes) que simplemente tienes que aceptar, pero a nivel general está currado y resulta verosímil, lo sientes realmente vivo.

La historia no se queda atrás. Pese a que parte de un planteamiento tópico se las arregla para subvertirlo. Tenemos a la prota normal que resulta ser algo especial y es llevada a otro mundo, pero no es ninguna Mary Sue elegida para salvar el mundo; lo que le pasa es casualidad, sus habilidades son las de una persona normal a menos que reciba ayuda y es humana en todo el sentido de la palabra, con defectos y virtudes. Además, tiene una evolución creíble y bien llevaba. Y también tenemos al chico guapo y misterioso que lleva a Youko a otro mundo, pero no es el interés amoroso porque (¡aleluya!) no hay romance (odio que metan romances por calzador cuando no viene a cuento y aquí no venía ya que Youko está demasiado ocupada sobreviviendo en un mundo desconocido y hostil) y, al final, es el que tiene se ser salvado. Lo único es que a veces peca de tirar de casualidades demasiado idóneas para que avance la trama, pero es aceptable.

PS: Aunque sigo sin entender por qué hay sexos si les bebes nacen, literalmente, de un árbol. ¿La deidad que creó el mundo les dio genitales específicamente para disfrutar la sexualidad? Hubiera sido interesante desarrollar eso.
Profile Image for Salimbol.
492 reviews6 followers
October 27, 2012
I watched the anime adaptation of this years ago, and as I found that so impressive, this has been on my to-read list for ages now. A teenage girl being transported to another world is a real staple of Japanese fantasy, and sometimes it can be genuinely magical and at other times it's workmanlike at best. This story falls squarely into the former category - primarily because of the focus on the main character Yoko's inner journey. She starts out quiet, demure and eager to please, and then she passes through the fire of some genuinely harsh experiences. I love that this story allows its lead female character to have selfish, violent impulses; that it allows her to get to the point of introspective maturity where she can recognise that before she was unfinished and incomplete as a human being; that it says that traditional tropes of feminine behaviour can be limiting and even dangerous. I also really enjoy the crafting of the Chinese-flavoured 12 Kingdoms universe, and how we are slowly introduced to all its weirdness (children really *do* grow on trees here!). The translation is, for the most part, solid, though I find the way Rakushun's speech patterns have been represented is a bit off-putting. However, they've definitely done well incorporating and explaining the Japanese and Chinese language elements. Very enjoyable, and I will be hunting for the next book for sure (and re-watching the anime :-).
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,447 reviews1,111 followers
November 11, 2011
A great book based on the anime series Twelve Kingdoms (or the series was based on the book, I am not sure which to be honest).

This story focuses on a young girl named Yoko. A standard Japanese girl who works hard to fit in with others. One day a man appears before her, along with Fantastical beasts. She is whisked away to a different world by this man called Keiki. Before she is whisked away she is told it is for her ow safety and those around her and that she can always be returned home later. However, upon arriving in this new world she is alone and persecuted by the locals.

This book follows her journey, which is one that is hard and full of mistrust in others. She wanders the land searching for a way home and learning of this new world and why she was brought here. This book has some differences from the anime (such as in the anime 2 classmates were brought along) but the story is well written, and a good pace filled with information. I loved how different class of people had original titles and laws that governed them. I hope to be able to find and read the second book in the series.
Profile Image for PandaRanda.
4 reviews7 followers
May 4, 2014
I've watched the anime before, and although it's my all time favorite anime series, I can say without a doubt that the book is better! Being thoroughly in Yoko's head (as it is in the book) removes the need to have pointless characters to create the conflict needed to show viewers/readers Yoko's character growth (as it is in the anime). I felt so much more for Yoko being able to directly experience first hand her progress from a helpless, pathetic coward governed by fear, to a hardened survivor, characterized by her distrust of all humanity following months of isolation, betrayal, abuse and every living thing seemingly wanting her dead.

I admit I shed a tear or two for Yoko, for the loss of her innocence, and for when she reclaimed her faith in people. I love that feeling of being so connected to a character that you bawl over them when they're losing their way! Honestly, I cannot stress enough how much I love this series! Coming back to read the novels after watching the anime years ago was definitely a good call! Seriously, the world of the Twelve Kingdoms is beyond amazing!
Profile Image for Xin.
100 reviews4 followers
April 1, 2016
It is my coming of age book, a book which has reached and changed a whole generation of teenage girls in East Asia.

I still remembered when the books came out, it was the early stage of WWW. Young girls and women created our own online forums and pledged to live by the values conveyed by the books: 1. We shall always love ourselves. 2. We shall always respect ourselves. 3. We shall always believe in ourselves. 4. We shall always keep on improving ourselves. 5. We shall always stand up for ourselves. 6. We shall always protect and save ourselves, instead of waiting for a prince on a white horse.

The books have made such a deep impact on some of my friends that it was the only book/anime they read/watched during their pregnancies--because they want their daughters to be born with these values imprinted in their genetics.

For me, this is the ultimate accomplishment of any YA writers.
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