Spirit's Princess and Spirit's Chosen, by Esther Friesner

After writing everything from poetry to TV novelizations to books with titles like Witch Way to the Mall and Fangs for the Mammaries, Esther Friesner has expanded her résumé yet again, embarking on a series of YA books inspired by famous princesses from history and mythology. Previous books in the series have featured Helen of Troy and Nefertiti, but her latest effort focuses on Himiko, a shaman queen of ancient Japan.

Himiko's story begins in Spirit's Princess, set in the late 2nd century. She is introduced as the slightly spoiled only daughter of the leader of the Matsu clan. When Himiko's mother arranges for her to study with the clan's shaman, Himiko feels like she's finally found her place—one that takes full advantage of her uncanny ability to connect with the spirits. In the sequel, Spirit's Chosen, Himiko's clan is attacked and enslaved, and it takes all of her intelligence, patience, and shamanic gifts to free them.

Friesner's duology is entertaining and educational, but I frequently found myself wishing that the author had chosen a more consistent genre. Considering how little information is available about the “real” Himiko, Friesner had an opportunity to go hog-wild with her imagination. Himiko's story could have been written as a straight-up fantasy (where she rises to power using magic) or a re-imagined history (where she rises to power using intelligence and cunning). Instead, Friesner chooses a tasteful but less-challenging middle ground, wherein most of Himiko's adventures take place in the real world, but her bacon is periodically saved by supernatural forces. The end result is still plenty readable, but might have been even more enjoyable if the author had committed to a particular style.

Reviews based on publisher-provided copies.
Posted by: Julianka


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