Spirit’s Princess is set in 3rd-century Japan, before the clans are unified. At the start of the story, Himiko, the only daughter of her clan’s chieftain, is seven. She longs to hunt like her adored older brother, Aki, but her attempt to prove herself in his eyes leads to serious injury, and more importantly, to Himiko’s doubting the benevolence of the spirits. The tribe’s shaman, Lady Yama, takes an interest in Himiko and claims that since birth, Himiko has been destined for impossible things. Secretly, she teaches Himiko how to heal and follow the magic arts of communicating with the spirits. Himiko must face her father’s opposition to her ambition to follow her own path and become a spiritual guardian of her clan.
Friesner has created a fully realized world. The details of food, clothing, housing, and more are expertly woven into the novel. As Himiko begins to explore outside the clan’s walls, the reader sees this new world through her eyes. Himiko resists the magic inherent in herself, so the reader has the chance to gradually acclimate to the idea, as she does. Himiko is a lovable heroine and I enjoyed seeing her grow up and find self-confidence. When she faces her father’s anger, her first response is to argue back, but the spirits help her to “listen.”
The author’s note explains that Himiko is based on a real person. Unfortunately, the novel is quite long and ends on a not-very-satisfying cliffhanger. Recommended for those readers who like to immerse themselves in another time and culture. Not recommended for those seeking quick resolutions.