The Twelve Kingdoms Volume 1: Sea of Shadow by Fuyumi Ono

9/10 A spectacular novel that mixes fantasy and reality in an ancient manga setting.

Yoko Nakajima wakes from a terrifying dream where she is surrounded by many ravenous beasts. She is amazed that what she experienced was not real and wonders about its meaning for a while. She is just an ordinary child in every way. She attends an all-girl school, getting average grades, but her mother worries about her long, and very red hair, feeling the other students might get the wrong impression of her as their hair is black by nature, and envy could set in among them.

Ordering her to get it cut, Yoko thinks she is different from the other girls, but this just makes things worse from her mother's point of view as she sees it as unfair. When she is found asleep in class, she is sent to the head teacher's office for questioning, but she cannot reveal her nightmares to him of all people. Instead she tells how much she has been studying, and he lets her go home without telling her off for doing anything wrong.

The story begins to take a turn when a young man, dressed in ancient Japanese robes and a noh mask tells her she must come with him as she is in great danger at the school, while the man's friend says they have been followed by something more dangerous and deadly than Yoko realises.

Illustrated by Akihiro Yamada with ink plates at vital parts of the story, they bring to the novel another sense of realism that will take the reader into the story faster. Fuyumi has managed to create a beautiful tale of ancient proportions, letting the readers enjoy the fullness of the story where beauty, monsters and half-beasts are, political intrigue and civil war are where the characters are played. It is not the sort of run-of-the-mill fantasy story, but one steeped in history that will enchant and captivate the reader's heart.

This is a spectacular novel that mixes fantasy and reality in an ancient manga setting and a provocative and extremely satisfying read.

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