Centered on a world heavily influenced by Chinese mythology, and rife with civil and political upheaval, The Twelve Kingdoms is a phenomenally rich and detailed world. Reading these stories is a treat and pleasure, if you enjoy well-built and fully fleshed characters.
Volume four of Fuyumi Ono’s seven-volume epic is set to be released here in North America on March 2. It is going to be released by TokyoPop under their “PopFiction” imprint, which means that the book could very well be located in the fiction section, as well as the manga shelves. If you either have read the previous three volumes that have been translated from Japanese, or if you have seen any episodes of the anime series that was based on the books, I would suggest checking it out.
The synopsis: Yoko, after a year of depending on her ministers to govern the kingdom of Kei, follows her advisor Keiki’s recommendation and descends from the palace to live among her people. She hopes to learn from them what it will take to become a better leader and is eager to learn from one village’s wise-man, Enho. However, Enho is kidnapped, and suddenly Yoko finds herself thrust into an all-out war between the provinces of her very own kingdom which she was unaware had been fomenting.
Skies of Dawn is the basis for the storyline that was depicted in episodes 23 through 39, and the television series follows the main storyarc closely. The book though, as is often the case, contains oh-so-much more detail. After thoroughly enjoying the television series, being able to re-visit the lands of the Twelve Kingdoms has been a distinct pleasure.
The volume, however, is not an appropriate place for newcomers to come onboard to this richly imagined and intricately detailed fantasty world. Familiarity with the terms and concepts of the Twelve Kingdoms (ie: the way the rulers of the kingdoms interact with their mystical Kirin, what hanjyu are, what the youma are, and more) is expected, as the basic concepts are only rarely reviewed. This book focuses more on the character development and political upheaval than on the world-building that prior books did. Start from the beginning, and you won’t be sorry.
If you are familiar with, and enjoyed, the storyworld from either the television series or the previous books, I would highly recommend this fourth volume. Also, as a nice surprise, the book continues the practice of beautiful ink illustrations sprinkled throughout the pages.