Himiko the beloved daughter of a chieftain in third century Japan has always been special. The day she was born there was a devastating earthquake, and the tribe's shamaness had an amazing vision revealing the young girl's future—one day this privileged child will be the spiritual and tribal leader over all of the tribes. Book One revolves around the events of Himiko's early teen years—her shaman lessons, friendships, contact with other tribes, and journey to save her family after a series of tragic events. Once again, Esther Friesner masterfully weaves together history, myth, and mysticism in a tale of a princess whose path is far from traditional.
I have loved Esther Friesner’s series on historical figures (Cleopatra and Helen of Troy) and I was very excited when I heard she was doing Japanese history next. However, after having read the books I’m not exactly sure I’d put Spirit’s Princess alongside Nobody’s Princess or Sphinx Princess. Not that it’s bad. On the contrary, Spirit’s Princess is excellent. It’s just not similar. Where Sphinx and Nobody were about girls being repressed by being forcibly married and having romance, Spirit’s Princess is about a girl learning to live in her family and her repressive culture. Spirit’s Princess also covers a much broader set of time (by my guesstimate it’s about a decade?) so there’s much more character growth and adaption.
I loved watching Himiko learn to work with and around the rules her father and society create for her rather than fighting against them all the time. Himiko’s relationship with her mother and her father’s other wives was interesting, and I like how even-handed Friesner was with the traditional relationship and not judgmental over something that was done and made to work in the past. Instead we are shown the ups and downs of living in a family that has more than one wife and many children. I also very much liked Himiko’s relationship with her brother, Aki, but I wasn’t too happy with the portrayal of the other village girls as only jealous, conniving waifs with no interest in anything other than marriage and family. It does give the book an air of classism, as if only the ruling elite are able to broaden their minds beyond their daily life. However, this is a small complaint, and I was able to overlook it in the grander narration. I loved diving into Himiko’s life, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series!
A copy of this book was provided to me through NetGalley for free in exchange for an unbiased review.