“Spirit’s Princess” by Esther Friesner is a Spirit-Filled Coming-of-Age Story Set in Ancient Japan

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I just had the pleasure of reading a lovely coming-of-age story by author Esther Friesner, who is best known recently for her Princess of Myth series. Spirit’s Princess is the newest book in this series, and it delivered an interesting and compelling story of a girl growing up and the trials that led her to become an influential leader in 3rd century Japan.

Humiko’s life from the start was destined to be unique. Born during an earthquake, and being the only daughter of her clan’s chief, her upbringing was a level above the regular peasant. She always felt a connection to the spirits, and as Spirit’s Princess begins a life-changing event brings all her beliefs into question and sets her on a path to greatness. But like most things worth having, the path her life is now on is riddled with challenges, not the least of which is her controlling father. Enjoy Himiko’s journey as she grows from cheeky girl to a strong-willed, powerful, and influential teen.

My first thought on reading this book was that it was a Japanese fantasy version of Clan of the Cavebears by Jean Auel. If you haven’t read that book, it’s a meandering story of the life of a Neanderthal girl. And this is just what Spirit’s Princess was like. It seemed at first to just be a random accounting of various experiences in Himiko’s life starting from when she’s just a little girl of around eight or so. With most books I read lately, the action and plot are thrust in my face and don’t let up the entire book. This story had a gentler approach (albeit with some suspense pretty early on), and for a good while into the book I wondered what the point of the stories being told to me was.

It’s a testimony to Friesner’s writing that the book kept my attention and curiosity as to where the book was going. The characters were well developed and interesting, and though there were times where the story seemed irrelevant or pointless, my curiosity of the overlying tale kept the pages turning. And what a nice treat to get to the end and see the purpose in all the little details that didn’t slap me in the face with their obvious intention at the beginning.

But so many fascinating things happen to Himiko! She has quite the interesting life, and from the beginning of the book I was captivated by her home life and family, the culture of their community, and the strong spiritual presence that was there the entire story. Without giving any details away, I can simply say that the book only gets better as she grows older and develops an independent spirit.

This book was a pleasure to read from beginning to end. It was a lovely coming-of-age tale rich in Japanese culture and themes. Anyone with interests in history, ancient cultures, and spirit magic will like this enjoyable story.

This was the first Princess of Myth book of Esther Friesner’s I have read, so I was quite surprised to come to the end and see the author’s notes detailing the real person this story is based off of. All the better! I can’t wait to see where the story goes next, and I hope this isn’t the end of Himiko’s tale.

Spirit’s Princess hit stores April 24, 2012.

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