Moribito: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi

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Okay, I am so excited to review this book. This is the sequel to Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, which is also the the basis of the anime, Seirei no Moribito. I read the book and I watched the anime back in 2015, and I fell completely in love with both. I got distracted since then, which was why it took me so long to pick this book up even though I bought both books at the same time. I really regret it, because… you guys… this book is beyond amazing!

Overview

After the events of Guardian of the Spirit, Balsa decides to return to her homeland of Kanbal, from which she and her foster-father were forced to escape due to a cruel conspiracy by the late King Rogsam. She wishes to find closure from her past and believes that returning to her homeland to find it is the best idea. However, upon her return, she finds herself once again entangled in another conspiracy, possibly still a continuation of the one that had led to her flee in the first place.

Rating: 5/5

My Thoughts

Oh my gosh, you guys. I really want to applaud this book for being a children’s book but not shying away from really tough situations. I’m not talking about X-rated, cover-your-eyes type of situations, but complicated themes like death, revenge, shame and honour. I know that these themes already often occur in books that are geared for older audiences, and because they occur so often, they are rarely relegated sufficient thought and exploration. But in this book, you really get to see how these themes affect a person’s humanity.

What I love about this book first and foremost is the clever political intrigue. There was political intrigue in the first book as well, but this took it to an entire level altogether. Everyone was so smart, and you can feel the motivations of the characters, even those who had been corrupted by the first conspiracy.

The second thing I love about this book is the emotions. It might use simple, middle-grade level vocabulary to communicate, but oh man, that does not at all prevent the emotions from coming through. I was sitting on the train yesterday to work and trying not to cry during the climax because of that freaking plot twist.

Ah yes, the plot twist. The plot twist that was foreshadowed from the very first chapter and yet I still completely MISSED, until I was reading it. I could feel my heart stop. And I just want to bawl my eyes out. Oh Balsa. Poor, poor Balsa and poor, poor Jiguro.

Just like in the first book, the magic in this book does not really follow a system. It’s based on tradition and what “experts” in the magic tell you, and you must take it at face value. As someone who loves magic systems, this kind of magic is a little underwhelming, but you can tell that the story isn’t *about* the magic. It’s about the people who are just trying to make the best of their circumstances, and if those circumstances happen to deal with magic, so be it.

This book follows the same bittersweet ending that the first book did. Balsa may have accomplished her goal, but sometimes she needs to leave good friends behind and go on to have a different adventure. She is such a lonesome soul, I really want to know if she can find a place she can comfortably call home.

The only thing I really, really missed in this book was Tanda, her friend from the first book. Tanda was my favourite in the first book. However, that said, it was very heartwarming to see Balsa think of Tanda whenever she needed hope and warmth. It broke my heart when she thought of visiting him as a spirit in case she dies. I just… these two just need to get together already!

Writing Woes: My Bad Habits as a Fanfiction Writer

It’s July! That means it’s Camp NaNoWriMo for me! So far, I’ve been lucky to find the time to write so that I am, on average, hitting my word and plot goals. This month I plan to finish off the first draft to my novel, and I’m trying to do that in around 50,000 words.

The first two times that I participated in NaNoWriMo (the official one last November, and the camp version in April), I tried to employ the techniques I used as a fanfiction writer to churn out words and get my story moving. As you know, I have been writing fanfiction for 13 years, so I thought that if I had been able to write for that long, then I must have been doing something right.

I don’t think I was wrong in assuming that. But I think I was wrong in thinking that all the techniques I used to spin out story after story would apply to original fiction. Comparing how much better I’m doing in my third NaNoWriMo to the first two, I think I’ve sorted out which habits I used for fanfiction writing that aren’t translating very well to my original story.

1. Show, Don’t Tell

Yup, you read that right. This is such a common advice that is supposed to make your story better all the time, but I find that this isn’t the case for me. At least, it isn’t the case right now in my first draft.

I know why people duke out this advice all the time. I’ve read my fair share of books that just aren’t immersive. The best reading experience is when you feel, as a reader, that you’re part of the world you’re reading. To give this experience, writers must “show, not tell.”

The catch with this advice is that, IMHO, you really should not be showing all the time. This is a technique that I used as a fanfiction writer so that I could churn out those 15,000 word chapters that are so popular in fandoms. The more words you write, the more material your readers can engage in. That’s what they like. And fanfiction chapters are no big commitment to readers; they’ll gobble the stuff up at midnight, and wait (impatiently or patiently) for the next chapter.

So to beef up my chapters, I used to show everything. A character walking up the stairs? Yup, I’ll show how he took one step and the next, and I’ll probably describe what kind of internal conflict is prancing to the beat of those steps. I once read a fanfiction that described someone slipping and falling in so much detail, that it took more time for me to read the passage than for the character to fall.

While I think this is excusable in fanfiction, in the first draft of my original story, I realized that it’s holding me back. When I need to advance the plot, in the grand scheme of the story I want to tell, does it really matter what the characters are eating for breakfast and how they’re eating it and what they think about it? Do I really need to spend a page describing said breakfast? Because really, that’s what showing means. Showing is supposed to bring the readers along for the ride, and how can readers be immersed in the experience of breakfast if I don’t describe it?

The thing about writing that I’m finding out rather quickly is that not everything is important. If something is not going to make a very big impact in your book, or it’s not going to advance the plot or the characterization in some way, it’s probably best if you keep it out. Hence, it’s totally okay to just say, “Bob and Bill had breakfast, and then drove away.”

Because this is an advcie that I see everywhere, I’m still trying to get used to the idea that I can just “tell.” But for the first draft, I know that I can always plump up my scenes later after I’ve established what exactly is important or not.

2. Resort to Introspection

I love, love, love introspective fanfictions. All those times we’ve wondered what a character was actually thinking in a particular scene? Or perhaps I’m reading an AU and I want to see how their mind works in this new world? Introspection is one of my indulgent guilty-pleasures.

So naturally, when I write, I tend to resort to introspective scenes quite often. I do it primarily to fill up my word count in a show-y kind of way (as I mentioned above), but I also do it to open the characters’ minds up to the readers. My one-shots are usually full of introspection; my multi-chaptered fanfictions that have overarching plots have less introspection, but they are still noticeably there.

And here’s why I think too many introspective passages won’t work so well in original fiction: you want to leave some of those inner dialogue up to the reader. There’s a reason why I’m attracted to introspective fanfiction, and it’s because I didn’t get them in the canon material. But depending on what kind of story you’re writing, the main job of the canon material is to tell that story effectively in a limited number of space; the thing is, you’re not always going to have the luxury of giving a blow-by-blow account of what your character is thinking, and chances are, there are more important parts to the story you should be writing instead. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am primarily geared towards character-driven stories moreso than plot-driven. All I’m saying is that we don’t always need to be in their minds all the time. Sometimes, it’s sufficient to just see through their eyes.

That said, I totally understand that there are novels out there whose primary job is to get us into a character’s head. Mrs Dalloway, anyone? But considering that I’m writing a children’s fantasy adventure story, there are other things that I might need to be developing.

(Late reminder, but from now on, when I say “story,” assume I’m talking about genre fiction at the very least, or more specifically, fantasy fiction.)

3. Write 10,000 word chapters

A natural result of the first two, padded stories always lend themselves to extremely long chapters. Each of my fanfiction chapters have at least 3 scenes in it, whereas an average chapter in a real book probably deals with one scene at a time (not all, but mostly).

I realized how much this held me back in writing my original story, because I wouldn’t feel comfortable ending a chapter within, say, 1000 words even though I’ve already written what needed to happen in that scene. And I’d go, “How can I make this longer?” And so I would resort to #1 and #2. That meant I was spending time not advancing the story in any meaningful way. Ironically, because I was so used to padding my chapters with #1 and #2, I didn’t think about writing more effective scenes in their places. I would feel “stuck” on a chapter, because that other scene that would advance the plot obviously belonged to the next chapter, and I would keep postponing it. Terrible habit.

4. Take Weeks To Write a Chapter

And this definitely follows from the first three. As a fanfiction writer, I set my goal for finishing each chapter within two weeks. For 10,000 words, this seemed reasonable, especially because I’m a commuter and I work full-time. But sometimes, even when nothing is happening in a chapter, I would wait out those two weeks and try to churn something.

It took me a while to convince myself that I absolutely don’t need to spend two weeks on a chapter. I could write whatever I can today, and if tomorrow I feel like there’s nothing left in a chapter to work on, I could move on.


Well, when I started this last week, I think I had more example of bad habits on my mind. Now that I am finishing up, I realize I can’t think of anymore. So why don’t I take some advice from myself, and it this post right here? =)

2017 May Reads

Alright, in an effort to liven up this blog from my incessant writing woes posts, I’m going to take a moment to talk about some of the books I’ve read this month so far. I think if I read really quickly, I might be able to read one more book before the month is up.

27833542 Story Genius by Lisa Cron

I’ve been having a lot of difficulty writing the first draft of my story, mostly because I had a hard time really writing from any of my characters’ perspectives. This book was recommended to me in response to that.

I think the most valuable lesson I learned in this book is how every story that captivates readers sufficiently is ultimately a character-driven story. I’ve read many writing books before, and some of them distinguish between “plot-driven” and “character-driven” stories. In Story Genius, Lisa Cron explains why any kind of meaningful story is actually character-driven, no matter if the plot has tons of exciting things going on.

I know, it’s not a ground-breaking concept. Even in my own reading experience, I tend to gravitate towards books where I sympathized with characters the most. And I think her explanation brings home why this is so: an event in a story (in other words, the actual plot) has very little meaning unless the character gives us a context in which to make sense of that event. So really, even your most plot-driven story, if it’s good, is actually anchored by the protagonist.

Other than that, I feel like this book doesn’t offer anything else that is truly unique that sets it apart from other writing books. I think if you’ve read other writing books before, the bulk of the book after the first several chapters would feel achingly familiar. I’ve also seen other reviewers point out that they would have liked to see actual neuroscience explored in this book. I have to agree that the title and subtitle give off a more scientific vibe than what I got. Most of the time, the author would only say things like, “it’s brain science!” or “our brains are wired to look for this and that.” Now, while that was sufficient for me, because all I wanted was to learn writing techniques, I can understand why others might be frustrated about it.

The Queen’s Thief Books 4 & 5 by Megan Whalen Turner

It’s difficult for me to review these books, because there’s just so much to say. I feel like I’m not going to say anything that haven’t been said before, which is unfortunate, because this series is my absolute favourite, and I feel as if I should be able to say something more personal about it. But I can’t, not succinctly anyway.

In A Conspiracy of Kings, we follow Sophos, the heir to the throne of Sounis, as he is sold into slavery by rebels. This book is my 2nd most frequently reread book in the entire series (yes, even more so than The Queen of Attolia, which I know is the favourite of many many fans of the series). But there’s something about Sophos’s character that just calls to me. I mean, Eugenides is impressive and amazing and I love reading about his tricks and cleverness. But Sophos feels so much more human in comparison, and more relatable in that aspect. His earnestness and even his naivety made me root for him throughout his entire journey. And I feel that because he doesn’t begin as this awe-inspiring figure in the same way Eugenides had always been, Sophos’s character arc then becomes more pronounced. The climax of this book is one of the best things I’ve ever seen, and I almost keeled over seeing how Sophos manoeuvred the difficulties of his situation.

Thick As Thieves is the much awaited (and I mean 7-year-wait) fifth book of the Queen’s Thief series. Similar to the two previous books, we have a brand new protagonist in this book: Kamet. Many people would remember Kamet from his little stint in The Queen of Attolia as the slave and secretary of the antagonist, Nahuseresh. Thick as Thieves follow Kamet’s adventure as his life as a slave is turned upside-down when he finds himself fleeing for his life from the Mede Empire. This book echoes The Thief moreso than the other three books in narration style and the types of twists that had been pulled. Much of the book is about the adventure, and very little political intrigue, unlike QoA, KoA and ACoK. Since this is just my first time reading this book (and I’m sure that like the other books in the series, this one can only get better in rereads), I have to say I’m a little underwhelmed by Kamet as a protagonist. I think I say this, because I read TaT almost as soon as I finished ACoK. And like I said above, Sophos is so, so dear to my heart, and Kamet just had very big shoes to fill. I found myself reading more for the sake of Kamet’s companion (I believe it’s a spoiler if I reveal who it is), than I did for Kamet’s sake. That said, I believe that eventually I’d warm up to Kamet like I did to Costis in KoA.

2017 Jan – Apr Books Read So Far

Ahh, well, I guess my plan of getting back into writing book reviews in the new year sort of fell through. That’s okay though, here’s a combined post of everything I’ve read so far.

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The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
This one is a reread. The Queen’s Thief series is my favourite books series ever, but the last time I read this book was a few years ago. Because of the new installment in the series next month, I’ve joined the read-along over at Sounis.

The Thief of Eddis is captured by the Queen of Attolia when he was spying for his queen. After suffering a cruel punishment, Eugenides struggles with his identity amidst the onslaught of war and the possibility of… uhm, I don’t want to spoil it for you guys. This is a terrible overview of the plot, but each book in the Queen’s Thief series in general is difficult to summarize, because of the risk of revealing crucial plot twists.

Since my last reread, I’ve forgotten much of the intricacies of the plot. That’s why it’s probably not much of a shock that I found myself reacting to Attolia in much the same way I initially reacted to her. I hated her at first, and then by the end of the book, I just wanted to cuddle her up. I think it’s a testament to Turner’s amazing writing skills that I could undergo this transformation as a reader, not just once, but twice.

The Reader by Traci Chee
I reviewed this book in this other blog post.

Continue reading “2017 Jan – Apr Books Read So Far”

Thick As Thieves ARC Contest

Oh gosh, I hope this would not come across as a school essay. The prompt for this entry is, “Why I should have an ARC.” I think I will echo most of the other entries in saying “I really need one” and “I really want one!” Hehe. But I think I will also customize my response by saying how The Queen’s Thief series in general has affected me as a person.

QT was one of the reasons I became a better reader, writer and artist. Yeah. As someone who didn’t really read much as a teen, reading QT and participating in Sounis really improved my reading skills. I used to be the kind of inactive reader who wouldn’t think twice about certain lines, and so I always missed subtle twists or nuances in stories. QT changed that. I learned how to read better, where to find clues, and how to check my perceptions. In the end, I learned how to enjoy stories all the more because my experience with QT reminds me that there’s more to discover if you just know where to look.

Becoming a better reader also made me a better writer. Even though I mostly wrote fanfiction, QT inspired me to take chances with twistier plots. And because twists require that you actually have some idea of your story’s plot, I really had to learn how to map out my stories before hand. Which is a good thing, because I used to be the kind of writer whose characters would inevitably die by tripping into plot holes. Moreover, I realized the importance of subtlety. Whereas before, all I really cared about were long, flowery internal monologues or commentaries about weather, I now enjoy writing with deceptive simplicity. And I think my stories are better when there’s actually stuff going on, not just a boastful list of thesaurus-based vocabulary.

And finally, to top off this hamburger-style essay, I would say that QT made me a better artist. Well, not even better, but I would say, it made me an artist. I wasn’t an artist for most of my life. I enjoyed drawing every now and then, but it wasn’t until I stumbled upon the QT fandom (and many other book fandoms) that I felt the need to take drawing more seriously. I really love looking at fanarts, but for many small book fandoms, there aren’t many fanarts at all. I realized that just like with fanfiction, if there’s something I wanted to see but nobody else is creating it, it’s up to me to do it! The problem was that I was a very bad artist at first. So I really had to push myself to learn art. Because if I want to see a picture of Eugenides and Irene kissing in that infamous Queen of Attolia tent scene, well too bad, nobody else would give it to me! Or how about a dandy Gen striking a really awesome pose? A buff Sophos? Gen and Irene just being dorky? These images were always in my head, and I wanted to see them manifest in real life. I wanted to share them, and squee with other fangirls about my ideas. I don’t think I would have worked half as hard at being an artist if it wasn’t for QT.

I don’t know if any of these things really justify why I deserve an ARC, haha, and I definitely don’t think I deserve one any more than other fans. But I guess I just want to say that I love, love, love this series so much, not only because of the wonderful characters –who now seem a little more than just imaginary friends — or the amazing plot twists, but also because of the positive influence it had on me.