Even though it takes place before events in Sea of Shadow (the first novel), Sea of Wind is the second book in The Twelve Kingdoms series by Japanese author Fuyumi Ono. Of the seven books in this young adult series based on Chinese folklore, three have been translated into English with the fourth translation due to be released in March 2010. Since I loved the anime series, I was excited to hear that they were available in the United States.
This book is the story of Taiki, the kirin of the kingdom of Tai. The twelve kingdoms are each ruled by a king or queen chosen by the kirin. The sole purpose of kirins, beasts that can shapeshift into a human form, is to select and advise the ruler the Emperor of Heaven has chosen for their respective land. Since Tai has no king, a lamia hatches to care for the imminent kirin of Tai. Yet before Taiki himself emerges from the tree fruit that contains him, he is carried away to another world by a storm, leaving everyone to mourn his loss.
However, the lamia and the oracles of Hohzan are not prepared to give up on Taiki and continue to search for him even when he has been unaccounted for longer than any kirin in history. Ten years later, they find a boy in Japan who is the missing kirin and return him to Hohzan where he learns his true identity. It immediately makes sense to him since he has never really felt like he belonged with his family, but it is still not easy for him to understand how he will know the rightful king of Tai or even how to shapeshift into a beast like all the other kirin.
Like the previous book in the series, this novel starts off a bit slowly with an overabundance of background information. Since Taiki does not know how anything works in the new world he has been brought to, there are a lot of conversations in which the other characters explain how the Twelve Kingdoms differs from Japan. I find the Twelve Kingdoms a fascinating place but at times all the explanation does get a little tiresome, especially since it can be very repetitive at times. It doesn’t always move quickly since someone answers a question posed by Taiki, then Taiki often repeats back what the person just said to him as a question, and honestly, Taiki seems rather slow on the uptake quite often during these discussions. For instance, when he is told there are eleven other kirin in addition to him, he then wonders if that means there are twelve in all.
In spite of this, Sea of Wind is a charming story once it gets going just like its predecessor. It reached a certain point and I just wanted to find out what happened to Taiki and the ending was very satisfying. Taiki begins as a fairly weak protagonist since he is very apologetic and cries a lot, not at all like the typical kirin. By the end, he has undergone some growth as a character and learned a lot about himself and what it means to be a kirin. I really enjoyed reading about his journey and actually liked this book a little bit better than the first one because of it. It was very similar in a lot of ways since the girl Yoko was also from Japan and had to come to understand the Twelve Kingdoms – and she also ended up much stronger by the time the final page was reached.
Although this is a prequel of sorts to the actual first book, I would recommend beginning with book one. Keiki, a significant character from the previous novel, does make an appearance in this one and I think having previous knowledge about him makes these scenes with him and Taiki far more fun.
Sea of Wind has too much exposition at times and was not at all complex, but it’s a fun novel set in a fantastic universe influenced by Chinese mythology. After the first half, it was hard to put down since I was rooting for Taiki’s success and I really wanted to find out how his story concluded.
Where I got my reading copy: It was a gift from my husband.
Reviews of other books in this series: