VIZ Media, a major publisher and distributor of manga translations in the English-speaking world has a new imprint, Haikasoru, dedicated to introducing the best of Japanese fantasy and science fiction to English audiences. One such novel is Dragon Sword and Wind Child, an epic fantasy rooted in a mythic, ancient Japan.
Based only loosely on Shinto mythology, Noriko Ogiwara's novel is at least equally influenced by her studies of British folklore and myth, and the modern fantasy it's inspired. Her land of Toyoashihara is at least as far removed from the historical Japan as Tolkien's Middle-earth was from any part of Britain's past. This is in contrast to something like Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori series, which, though fictional and magical, is clearly anchored in the culture and politics of Japan's late feudal period. Nothing like Ogiwara's world is likely to have ever existed outside story and myth.
The story follows a girl, Saya, living a quiet life in a small village. Her adoptive parents love her and she loves them in return, but she still has nightmares of her former home and family — and the attack that took their lives. She's not sure exactly where she came from, and there are hints she may be different from other people, but she longs to live an ordinary life. She worships the God of Light, rejects the darkness, and strives for conventionality in all other respects. However, her past will not leave her alone.
The Prince of Light, one of the Light God's two immortal children, takes notice of her, and brings her to his palace as a handmaiden, a dream come true. But it soon becomes clear that this was not a whim. He knows more of her past than she; in fact, they've already met, in her former lives. At the same time, she has been contacted by worshippers of the dark, who also know something of her past lives, and are equally sure she belongs with them. What can she choose, when all she knows is her quiet village life? Her choice will not be insignificant, since she seems to have a crucial role to play in the unending war of light and dark.
At least initially, it seems like a refreshing reversal from traditional western fantasy, where dark is bad and light is good, and no one would ever be tempted to switch sides. However, it becomes clear very quickly that the children of the Light God, beautiful and immortal, are also cruel and, to some extent, unnatural. The forces of dark simply represent an acknowledgement of the natural cycle of life and death, which even human worshippers of the light must follow.