School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—History meshes with mysticism and magic in this richly imagined account of the early life of Himiko, the legendary shaman queen who united and ruled over a vast number of clans in ancient Japan. First in a duology, this sprawling tale spans Himiko's childhood through her teen years as she discovers her calling and defies patriarchal rule to train in shamanistic magic. Positive feminist themes abound: Himiko is headstrong and brave, determined to pursue her goals and unwilling to accept the idea that a girl should settle for a quiet life. Readers will engage with the story's memorable cast of characters and strong sense of setting. Although the people of Japan's Yayoi era had no written language and many aspects of their culture have been lost to the ages, Friesner skillfully creates a vivid picture of life in third-century Japan based on information revealed by archaeological records. The pace of the episodic storytelling is perhaps too leisurely for some readers, and those seeking a strictly action-driven plot may need to look elsewhere, but this book has high appeal for those who enjoy immersing themselves in another time and place. Devoted readers of Friesner's "Princesses of Myth" series (Random) will welcome this newest heroine.—Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA
From the Publisher
VOYA, February 2012:
"Set in third-century Japan, Spirit’s Princess chronicles Himiko’s early years and her struggle to find her path. Beautifully written and heartfelt, Himiko’s tale defines a new kind of princess, one for whom strength comes from believing in herself and trusting in the love she has for her people...[R]eaders familiar with the Princesses of Myth series will know to expect that this is only the first volume of Himiko’s story, the initial developing of a strong and unique protagonist. Filled with expertly crafted description and heartbreaking depth, the text weaves history and myth to create a truly memorable heroine."
VOYA - Meghann Meeusen
Even as a child, Himiko dreams of a different life than the one expected of the only daughter of the Matsu chieftain. Unable to become a hunter like her beloved older brother, Aki, Himiko tries to listen to the Spirits as she searches for her place as more than a dutiful daughter. She does not always understand the will of the Spirits with whom she shares a special connection, especially after falling from the mighty Grandfather Pine or finally finding a true friend in a neighboring village, only to be told by her distrusting father she may never see her again. Himiko does her best to remain a respectful daughter and understand the complicated history of her village, but despite her father's disapproval, she also comes to dream of serving as a shaman and protecting her people from an uncertain future. Set in third-century Japan, Spirit's Princess chronicles Himiko's early years and her struggle to find her path. Beautifully written and heartfelt, Himiko's tale defines a new kind of princess, one for whom strength comes from believing in herself and trusting in the love she has for her people. Although the text's pacing occasionally feels labored, readers familiar with the Princesses of Myth series will know to expect that this is only the first volume of Himiko's story, the initial developing of a strong and unique protagonist. Filled with expertly crafted description and heartbreaking depth, the text weaves history and myth to create a truly memorable heroine. Reviewer: Meghann Meeusen
Children's Literature - Greta Holt
Himiko is a creative child, living in a small Japanese village in a time before her people possess a written history. She is the only daughter of a powerful chieftain, who rules his tribe with fairness but his family with rigidity. Himiko wants to be a hunter, which will not be permitted. After falling from a tree, she can no longer hope to learn to hunt, even in secret. Yama, the tribe's shaman, finds ways to trick Himiko's father into letting her come to Yama's house, where the shaman teaches Himiko the ways of healing, spirituality, and magic. When Himiko runs away, she finds that she can hear animals speaking. She is taken in by another tribe, whose chieftain is both shaman and leaderand a woman. Friesner continues her study of mythology and history in this long, (over 440 pages) but interesting look at a legendary figure from AD 238 who may have united the clans of Yayoi (Japan) without warfare. Since the Yayoi did not have written language at the time, the only surviving accounts of Himiko come from Chinese emissaries, who wrote that Himiko was "skilled in the ways of Demons." Freisner interprets the report to mean that Himiko may have been a shaman. Librarians will find it useful to direct students to the back portion of the book first, where the author explains her research and thoughts. The book is not a fast read, but it is absorbing. Rather than following a three act hero's journey, it takes the loops and turns that historical fiction can take. Thus, the story line is rich and at times, unexpected. A collection of Freisner's novels, such as Sphinx's Princess and Sphinx's Queen, will help teachers present the flavor of these creative historical fiction books. Reviewer: Greta Holt
Himiko, pampered daughter of a clan chief, wants only to become a shaman. Friesner's previous Princesses of Myth duologies featured young women (Helen of Troy and Queen Nefertiti) about whom enough historical or mythological information exists to provide the framework of story. With far less source material for Queen Himiko, the third-century Japanese shaman ruler, Himiko's story is an original work overlaid on a historical framework. Himiko's chieftain father adores her, as do her older brother and her father's wives. Despite their love and affection, none of them takes Himiko seriously when she insists she is a shaman. Himiko herself isn't sure she can achieve her goal; with one leg lame since she was a child, she can't do a shaman's dances. Though the current shaman insists Himiko will be her heir, it can't happen until Himiko is ready to stand up to her father. As a nice twist, Himiko isn't fighting sexism (the current shaman is female, and a nearby clan has a female shaman chieftess), but family history. It's a somewhat plodding journey through Himiko's early childhood and adolescence, but fans of Helen and Nefertiti will take Himiko into their hearts as well. The slow-moving tale takes its readers on a journey through a tidily detailed historical setting, with a heroine not nearly as anachronistically progressive as is usual in such tales. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 11-13)
Read an Excerpt
The Pine Tree’s Shadow
In the moonless, starless time before dawn, I crept out of my family’s house to climb the ancient pine tree that towered above our village. I was only seven years old, and still scared of the dark, but I made myself leave the warm safety of our home for the vast, terrible world outside. In my mind, I had no other choice. I had made a promise to myself and to the spirits, placing my life, my fate, my future in their hands. I was sure that to turn back was to die.
Rags of mist drifted along the ground like ghosts, and the sky was a dim, threatening presence arching over the shadowed land. Springtime had come, but nighttime still held the lingering chill of winter. Every second step I took seemed to bring with it a heart-stopping noise or the swift passage of some imaginary monster, its fangs and claws a flicker of cold light whisking past the corner of my eye. I wanted to abandon my purpose at least a hundred times before I even reached the roots of the colossal tree, but whenever the urge to flee seized me, I whispered, “I can do this. I have to do this!” and forced myself to recall the reason I’d first decided to conquer the looming pine.
From the depths of my fear, I summoned up a vision of my big brother Aki. I had many brothers living then, three older than me, two still infants. The older ones were my mother’s, the babies were the sons of Yukari and Emi, Father’s junior wives, but Aki was my favorite. Even though seven years separated us, he always made time to play with me, and to tell me wonderful stories about the wild places beyond our village fields.
He knew those outlying lands well. At fourteen, Aki was counted as a man among our people, face honorably marked with his first protective tattoo, free to roam wherever he liked. How I longed for that freedom!
Freedom wasn’t the only part of his life that I coveted. Even if he hadn’t been respected as our clan chief’s oldest son, he still would have been honored and valued as a gifted hunter. His keen eye and shrewd skill as a tracker of game filled many bellies. The tender meat of the rabbits, deer, and red-faced pheasants that he caught added savor to our rice. I envied him for the way that everyone praised him when he returned from yet another successful venture into the mountains, but not as much as I envied him for how proud Mama looked when she heard our kin cheering his name. Even Father’s stern face would soften into one of his rare smiles when Aki came home. I think I envied him for that most of all.
I wanted the cheers, the admiring looks, and Father’s smile. If the only way to earn those things was to become a great hunter like my oldest brother, that was the path I’d take too, and I was sure there was only one way for me to do it: Aki would have to teach me. But . . . would he agree?
Foolishly, I thought I knew the answer before I even spoke one word about it to him. My dreams of the future were never small. I imagined learning so much of the hunter’s art, and so well, that I outpaced him, leaving him in my shadow. I saw myself hauling home impossible amounts of game, stealing away all the praise and admiration that had once been his. Surely Aki would see the same inevitable future and refuse to teach me the hunter’s way, to protect his own place in our clan! I had everything all figured out, start to finish, and none of it real.
What childish imaginings. But I was a child. I loved my brother, and feared he would stop loving me if I asked him to help fulfill my dream. And so I kept my ambitions to myself, holding back my request until frustration finally got the better of me. Had it been only yesterday that I’d found the boldness to speak? As our family sat cross-legged together on the high wooden platform just outside our door, watching the day begin to fade into evening, I took a deep breath, flung myself onto Aki’s back, and draped my arms around his neck, crying, “Big Brother, I want to be like you! Teach me how to hunt, pleeeeeease? I’ll do a good job, but don’t worry, I promise I won’t be too much better than you.” I kissed his cheeks and his ears a dozen times, a ploy that had always worked before whenever I asked him for anything.
Not this time.