This is a pretty good fantasy, seemingly aimed at the 13-16-year-old audience ... except that in the U.S., something aimed at that age group usually wouldn't feature a warrior who changes sex frequently (although there was Dr. Occult/Rose Spiritus in the original Books of Magic, come to think of it ...) and female frontal nudity from the waist up. Takiko Okuda, an older teen (there's considerable confusion about her age, but she seems to be about 17) in early 20th-century Japan, is having an unhappy life. Her mother is gravely ill, her scholarly father neglects his family for his work, and a recent move from Tokyo to the country has landed Takiko in a new school populated by hicks who resent her. A strange series of events lands her in the middle of the story described in her father's latest book, with Takiko now in the role of the heroine: the priestess of Genbu who must gather the seven Celestial Warriors to save a nation that Takiko never knew existed.
I'm enjoying the story and am interested in how it will all turn out, but I don't feel terribly passionate about it.
Once I got over the initial shock of the bare breasts that show up frequently - not to mention the interesting folk remedy of lowering someone's fever by pressing one's bare torso to that of the patient, which turns Takiko's charitable impulse early in the first volume into an embarrassingly close encounter with a handsome but raffish young man (the aforementioned sex-changing warrior) - this really did turn out to be very much in the mode of Susan Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising" series, with some darker twists that recall Phillip Pullman or the more serious Diana Wynne Jones books. There is considerably more romance - it is aimed at teenaged girls - and the mysticism is Chinese/Japanese rather than Arthurian/Celtic, but we have the reluctant, bewildered, somewhat passive young protagonist and a sort of Plot Coupon quest (find the seven warriors rather than find the six signs, but the resemblance remains). The one thing that seems to be missing is the wise old mentor: instead, Takiko learns from the warriors as she collects them and from several female storyteller types: the mother of one of the warriors, for example (finally - a role that I might plausibly cosplay!), and a couple of different tiny, doll-like oracles.
I have a number of questions that I hope will eventually be answered. Does Limdo/Uruki's sex-changing ability have any significance beyond the fact that it really helps him disguise himself? Why are all these female mystics little tiny girls? Who is this mysterious (and rather sexy!) half-blind guy, Hagus, who's trailing Takiko and her party, and collecting the Celestial Warriors' powers as he goes? And why does Takiko end up taking a bath several times in every volume? (OK, that's a slight exaggeration ... but not much!)
Aiside from Hagus - who's still too much of a cipher to be an emotional favorite - I like Uruki and Hikitsu (a Celestial Warrior with a magical eye that's usually hidden under a patch) best, and I'm developing a fondness for Uruki's sensible servant Soren. Uruki and Takiko are very much in lu-u-urve, and some of their scenes do generate a little heat. Takiko's not a complete ditz, and she does have some basic weapon skills (with the naginata) but she also spends an awful lot of time being rescued. On the other hand, I don't know that she spends any more time in that position than does young Will Stanton in The Dark Is Rising. It's easy to blame her passivity on the fact that she's female, but I think it also has to do with the particular type of role she's playing.
Anyway, this is fun, and I'll certainly keep reading. But I don't find myself, when I finish a volume of this, immediately going back to re-read and revel in my favorite bits. And that's what I've found myself doing with the manga series that are my favorites.
Note: Edited to correct the name of the Books of Magic character mentioned in the first paragraph.