Now this is a bit more like it, although I’m starting to see how even a series that runs to maybe fifty thousand words a book could withstand a bit of editing. The third book in the ongoing Guin Saga, over a hundred books strong in Japan and still going but only a pitiful four or five in English, kicks the series a little closer to the kind of action we saw and savored in the first book. To use a quote I’ve employed before, it may not be Bach but it is sure Offenbach — and it is exactly the kind of straightforward adventure fantasy that we have come not to know much of lately.
When we last left the leopard-headed Guin and his comrades — the royal twins Rinda and Remis, the mercenary Istavan and various allies from the ranks of the monkeylike Sem — they were trying to stay one step ahead of their pursuers, the armies of the Mongaul, pushing ever deeper into the wastes of the Nospherus that the Sem call home. They find themselves stuck in a valley populated by one of the weirder monsters found in the desert, the yidoh — giant amoebalike monsters that will probably make any Dungeons and Dragons player mutter “Gelatinous cube!” under their breaths. One of these walking stomachs is bad enough, but a whole gorge filled with them, and with no way around?
Leave it to Guin to find a way out of the situation. Actually, what matters most is not just that he thinks his way out of that box (canyon), but sells the rest of his comrades on the solution and gets them to pull it off. He has the seeds of greatness as a leader within him — he’s just only now remembering how to let them flower and serve both him and everyone else. It’s something else that gets tested strongly when he negotiates a summit of the Sem tribes (many of whom quite frankly hate each other) and persuades them to go and kick ass as one. The Sem have never had a leader quite like this — not just someone who brings to mind a god come to life, but someone who understands how to make them work as a unified force instead of just hit-and-run teams.
Their attacks put a serious chill into the commanders of the Mongaul armies — especially Lady Amnelis, a mixture of traits from Star Wars’s Princess Leia (youth and courage) and Narnia’s White Queen (power and ambition). Her real aims are unveiled for the first time here: with the aid of a horrifically blighted sage, she’s searching for a stone in the heart of the Nospherus which radiates death for all who come near it. Skilled and cunning as she might be, though, she’s still young at heart in ways that make her vulnerable to someone who knows this. When Guin pulls off an exceptionally daring and cunningly-orchestrated attack on Mongaul forces — one which uses the Nospherus itself as a sort of weapon, the details of which I’m loathe to ruin here — she has the kind of fracturing of spirit that will either make her into an ally of his or the worst and most unrepentant sort of enemy.
This is all great fun, although oddly enough as fast as it all moves I’m now starting to see how the story could benefit from some fairly stern editing here and there. Some things — like Istavan’s incessant if hilarious swearing, don’t need to be trotted out every single time; a little of those things, and others like them, go a long way. There’s a scene that embodies this problem, where Istavan casually brags about having eaten a Nospherus delicacy and has his big mouth shown up when he’s offered a plate of the very same thing and almost gags on it. A great idea — except that it’s written in such a belabored, obvious way that any possible humor is bled out of the scene long before it ever has a chance to pay off.
It’s a matter, I suspect, of what sort of the material Kurimoto is naturally suited to. He’s great at portraying sweeping adventure in the wilds, but clever inter-character byplay is quite beyond him, and if romance ever works its way into the picture I suspect he’ll prove hopeless at that. But when it comes to what really sent me back to this story — ground-pounding action heroism by a god among men — he does everything he sets out to do, so I’m not about to complain about the things that are not really his forté. It’s just a shame we’ll need to wait almost nine months for the next book to come out.