Dragon Sword and Wind Child is the first book in the Tales of the Magatama trilogy by Noriko Ogiwara, who won the New Writer’s Award from the Japanese Association of Children’s Writers for this book. This novel and the middle volume, Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince, both have English translations by Cathy Hirano, but the third volume is only available in Chinese and Japanese right now. Having not yet read it, I can’t speak for the second book, but the first one seems like a complete story and stands well on its own. The next book does take place long after the end of the first book and follows different characters.
Once there was one god and one goddess, who together created the heaven and the earth and many gods to inhabit it. When the goddess gave birth to the fire god, she was so horribly disfigured from his fire that she ran away and hid in the underworld. Upset by the loss of the goddess, the god destroyed the fire god and sought his companion where she had fled. However, when he saw how different the goddess was from before, he could not stand her presence. He returned to the above world, making sure to barricade the entrance so the goddess could not join him. Thus began the war between the Light and Darkness, who remain in their separate realms.
Aside from her recurring dream of the fire that killed her parents and being chased by demons, Saya has always felt like a normal girl. She lives with her adoptive father and mother and worships the Light as all decent people in her village do. Yet she is discovered by some travelers come to perform at a festival, and they inform her that they have been searching for her for years. She is the reincarnation of Princess Sayura, the Water Maiden, who is close to the Dark and the guardian of the Dragon Sword. They ask her to join their side of the war, but Saya is horrified by the idea of war in general, and particularly horrified by the thought of joining the side opposing the son and daughter of the God of Light she worships. She declines and runs into the forest weeping, realizing she does not belong to the village she grew up in.
While she is crying, she is met by Prince Tsukishiro, the son of the God of Light himself. He also recognizes her as the Water Maiden and asks her to go back to his palace as a handmaiden. Serving the prince or princess as a handmaiden is the highest honor, and of course Saya happily agrees to join him. However, as she learns more about the Light and Dark, she discovers the war between them may be more complicated than she thought. As both the Light and Dark vie for Saya to do as they wish, she will have to choose – and this choice could turn the tide from repeating the course of history, which always ends with the Water Maiden tragically taking her own life.
Dragon Sword and Wind Child was a very rare impulse buy for me – I had never even heard of it before seeing it at one of the Borders closing sales. It sounded interesting and it was fairly cheap so I decided to take a chance on it and buy it. I’m so glad I did because it’s a great story.
According to the afterword, Noriko Ogiwara decided to write Dragon Sword and Wind Child in the tradition of the common British and American fantasies based on Celtic mythology, only using Japanese mythology from the Kojiki as the basis for her tale’s myths. It does have a fairy tale/folktale flavor with gods walking among humans and a world heavily influenced by the actions of the gods that resulted in the long-lasting war between Light and Dark. This mythological foundation for the story was my favorite part of the book, and I just loved the differences between the two sides. The Light is led by the son and daughter of the God of Light, the two immortal warriors Prince Tsukishiro and Princess Teruhi, who strive for the return of their father. The Dark opposes the Light’s destruction of the gods of the earth and the effects it will have, including the death of humanity. While the key players for the Light remain young and cannot die, the important people belonging to the Dark keep dying and being reincarnated. Once the people of the Dark return, they have no memory of their previous lives and often follow the same path, repeating the same mistakes in life after life. I like how it treated the gods and raised the question of whether or not an immortal could feel compassion or understand what it was to truly fight for one’s life.
In spite of the emphasis on war, Dragon Sword and Wind Child is a somewhat quiet novel, focusing more on the world and the people involved than actual battles. In particular, it is about Saya, who has to overcome her prejudices and learn to accept the fact that she is a princess of the Dark despite the fact that she loves the Light. Even though Saya has been raised in a village where the Light is revered and the people of the Dark are looked down upon, she still is always drawn to the Light in each life where she tries to belong in the Palace of Light – only to end up taking her own life. While she’s not a particularly deep character, Saya is still well-rounded. However, she does sometimes veer into characterization through telling instead of showing because of her inner conflict over whether or not she should be on the side of Light or Dark. Despite her role as guardian of the Dragon Sword, she’s not Saya Warrior Princess, but someone whose strength is in having a calming influence. Yet she’s not dull and compliant, either, often exhibiting a mischievous streak and inappropriate behavior, such as her response to an elderly lady-in-waiting charged with dressing her suitably for a handmaiden in the Palace of Light. Saya insisted on eating before seeing the Prince, as she had not eaten all day, and was chastised for her lack of proper decorum:
“Well!” The lady-in-waiting broke off abruptly and, leaving the room, ordered a servant to bring a tray of food immediately. Returning, she continued, “How childish! You’re not in the least attractive. I can’t imagine how you managed to catch the Prince’s eye.”
She was silenced, however, when Saya retorted, “And I suppose your attractiveness has caught his eye?” [pp. 55]
Saya also shows lots of bravery, especially when concerning those she is loyal to. She’s not reckless since she has a good reason for any risks she takes, but she will definitely take risks if she feels it’s necessary. Most of the other characters are not as fleshed out, although some of them are still very interesting – Lady Iwa with her vast knowledge, the Prince and Princess with their love/hate relationship, and Chihaya. Like Saya, Chihaya is a bit of an outsider who doesn’t follow the path and expectations others have for him.
This novel managed to take me completely by surprise and go in an unexpected direction, and I loved it all the more for that. At the beginning, I thought I knew where it was going with one particular storyline. It kept confirming my suspicions, only to suddenly change the meaning behind them. I had been expecting there to be a lot more romance in this story, and while not completely devoid of romance, it’s not the type of romance full of brooding looks or angst-filled conversations. It’s a relationship that develops gradually and starts with friendship between two people who are very different but also very similar.
The writing is a bit simple, and at times I didn’t think it flowed quite as well as it could have. As I read more, I became accustomed to the style and came to appreciate some of the uncomplicated but beautiful imagery:
With his white robes, he looked like a bird that had alighted from above, and his long black hair flowed like a river of night. [pp. 127]
Dragon Sword and Wind Child is not be for those looking for an action-packed, turbulent book, but I highly recommend it to fans of quieter stories enriched with myth. It reminded me of reading a great fairy tale novelization, except it wasn’t one of the typical stories I was familiar with. It was enchanting, and I’m definitely planning to acquire the second book in this trilogy.
My Rating: 8.5/10
Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.