One of my favorite anime series is The Twelve Kingdoms, which is unfortunately a series that never tied up all the loose ends. After I watched it, I was disappointed to find out the novels the anime was based on had not been translated into English so I could read the series (even though the books are also incomplete – the anime is only supposed to only cover events in the first four books out of seven that are currently out, though). Earlier this year Tokyopop released Sea of Shadows, the first novel in the Twelve Kingdoms series by Fuyumi Ono, and my fiance was nice enough to get it for me for my birthday this year. I heard that Tokyopop plans to release one Twelve Kingdoms novel a year, and the next, Sea of Wind, is supposed to be out next March.

Sea of Shadows is a young adult novel which contains rather simplistic writing. The story is at times a little slow, but at the end it was getting much more interesting (which didn’t surprise me since the anime also started out a little slow and got interesting around the same point in the story the book did). There is a lot of somewhat repetitive self reflectiveness (some might call it whining) contained in the pages of this book – I personally don’t mind reading about a character’s thoughts, but in this book the repetitiveness did annoy me a little at times. Everything was spelled out for the reader pretty clearly, but then, it is a young adult book. The story itself, however, is quite charming and I did enjoy reading a fantasy book that used Chinese mythology instead of the generic Western fantasy elements that are prevalent in a lot of the fantasy books available in America.

Sixteen year old Yoko Nakajima is essentially a goody-two-shoes who tries to please everybody. She gets along with her classmates, teachers, and parents and always does her homework. One day at school, a man Yoko has never seen before appears and tells her that her life depends on accepting his allegiance. Not knowing what to do with the chaos caused by his arrival and the strange creatures with him, Yoko agrees and ends up leaving with him. This man, called Keiki, takes Yoko to another world via a powerful shoku, a storm which allows people to cross over from Japan into the world of Twelve Kingdoms. Here, Keiki and Yoko are separated and Yoko must find her way in a strange new world on her own.

As a kaikyaku (a person from Japan who has been brought to the Twelve Kingdoms through a shoku), Yoko soon finds she is an outcast since she is seen as a bad omen. Chased by the authorities and demons, she does not know what to do and is somewhat naive when the occasional person shows her kindness. After being taken advantage of a few times, Yoko becomes quite bitter and is afraid to trust anyone. All she knows is she must find Keiki and find out what is going on.

I absolutely love the mythology in the world of the Twelve Kingdoms – the link between the king and his kirin (a benevolent creature who chooses the king and then acts as his advisor) and the balance between the perfect kirin and the imperfect king, the different creatures, babies that grow on trees and can be part beast/part human. Learning about the new world Yoko has entered was the most fun part of the book for me.

At first, Yoko is a bit annoying as a character since she does become very suspicious and a bit whiny. She develops throughout the book, though, and at the end I rather like her, particularly since I can relate to her original naivete and being a “good girl” who never wants to let anyone down. Reminds me of myself at that age, other than being dropped into the middle of a strange world and chased by demons, of course!

Sea of Shadows could be a little repetitive at times, but it was definitely hard to put down later and I suspect the next books will get even more interesting. It was a charming, enjoyable book, particularly when delving into the world of the Twelve Kingdoms.