The latest volume of Twelve Kingdoms once again picks up the story of Yoko, the former Japanese schoolgirl who becomes ruler of the Kingdom of Kei. It also introduces two other female characters of roughly the same age: Suzu, who had just been sold into indentured servitude in the Japan of the past when she tumbles into the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, and Shoukei, daughter of a tyrant who is killed by one of his ministers. All three spend most of the volume learning and evolving.
Yoko is not being taken seriously by her ministers, and she herself realizes that that she is making poor decisions. Like many rulers of legend, she decides that a sojourn in disguise as a citizen of her new land will teach her more about what's really going on. Suzu, after some some quickly summarized misadventures, ends up as servant of a whimsically cruel oracle who mistreats her. Although Suzu manages to escape, it's very much a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire. Meanwhile, Shoukei is removed to a remote village where she is given a new identity as an orphan. Unfortunately, her true identity as a tyrant's child is not kept secret enough, and her life becomes a torment until she, too, escapes.
For the first half of the book, I was actually quite exasperated with both Suzu and Shoukei - which is, I think, intentional. Ono does not shy from putting her characters through nastily realistic horrors as transformational experiences. Kinder methods might have eventually worked similar changes in both Shoukei and Suzu, but not as quickly. By the end of the story, the three young women are testing their new skills and outlooks in a dangerous political situation that eventually brings them together
The translation remains awkward, and everyone involved in quality control for this volume deserve a big slap in the face. There are typographical errors - especially toward the end, as though the editors had been running out of time - and one entire line has all the words run together so that it's almost unreadable. At least Ono's illustrations are as charming as ever.
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