This novel, a prequel to book 2 (which was a prequel to book 1) is the origin story of two of my favorite characters from the previous novels, the suave king Shoryu and his grumpy kirin Enki (here called Rokuta.)

After the disastrous reign over the land of En by the former king, Shoryu was chosen to succeed him and has begun to repair the devastated kingdom. But he’s flippant and flaky and doesn’t even bother to show up in court most of the time, and everyone wonders if he’s up to the job—even Rokuta, who chose him. When Rokuta goes to meet a mysterious demon-rider whom he’d first met when they were both children, and is kidnapped by an aspiring ruler, the ensuing test of Shoryu’s abilities and Rokuta’s loyalty intertwines with the story of how they first met.

I had wanted more discussion and critique regarding the king-choosing system, and this book supplies it, along with a plausible reason why it’s ever a good idea (magical term limits, basically) and lots of exploration of what makes a good ruler. Rokuta is a much more fun protagonist than passive Yoko or timid Taiki, and kept me engaged in his story even though he spends large portions of it locked in a room, unconscious, or unconscious while locked in a room. And I don’t think it’s spoilery to say that Shoryu has hidden depths.

Like the previous novels, it takes its time exploring the characters and milieu while slowly gathering emotional force. Here the worldbuilding is less about magic and landscape and more about society and politics, which I actually found just as interesting. I’ll definitely keep reading the series.

I especially liked Akihiro Yamada’s illustrations in this. Rokuta/Enki is just so damn cute.

View on Amazon: The Vast Spread of the Seas (The Twelve Kingdoms)
I looked up Fuyumi Ono on Wikipedia and was delighted to see that she had written a series of “Evil Spirits” books, presumably for children, with the following titles:
There are lots of Evil Spirits?! There are really lots of Evil Spirits! Too many Evil Spirits to sleep, A lonely Evil Spirit, I Don't Want to Become an Evil Spirit! Don't Call me an Evil Spirit, I don't mind Evil Spirits 1 and I don't mind Evil Spirits 2.
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