The Guin Saga, Book Two: Warrior in the Wilderness

~written by Kaoru Kurimoto
~illustrated by Naoyuki Kato
~translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander
2010 Seiun Award Winner

Warrior in the Wilderness is the second volume in Kaoru Kurimoto's heroic fantasy light novel series The Guin Saga. Originally published in Japan in 1979, Warrior in the Wilderness was first released in English in 2003 in hardcover by Vertical. In 2008, a paperback edition was released. Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander return to the series to provide the English translation. Happily, Naoyuki Kato's illustrations from the original are also included. At far over one hundred volumes, The Guin Saga is immensely popular in Japan, winning a Seiun Award in 2010. Parts of the series have been translated into multiple languages. Only the first five volumes, consisting of the first major story arc, are currently available in English. I didn't enjoy the first volume, The Leopard Mask nearly as much as I was hoping to, at least not until towards the end of the book, but even still, I remained interested in the series and looked forward to reading Warrior in the Wilderness.

During the chaos of Stafolos Keep's fall, the leopard-headed and amnesiac warrior Guin manages to escape along with the twin heirs of Parros, Rinda and Remus, and a young Sem girl named Suni. Joining them soon after, and somewhat reluctantly, is a skilled mercenary known as Istavan Spellsword. Traveling along the river Kes, the odd group of former prisoners flee the Keep hoping to avoid pursuit. Their luck doesn't hold and they find themselves trapped between the army of Gohra and the dangerous and cursed land of Nospherus, inhabited by strange beasts and home to bizarre phenomena. Guin and the others decide the best option is to take their chances with the terrors of Nospherus. Unexpectedly, the Gohran army, lead by a brash young general, follows the five escapees across the river and into the land fit for demons.

As much as I adore Guin as a character, I was thrilled when Istavan the Crimson Mercenary was revealed to be one of the main protagonists. He is only briefly introduced in The Leopard Mask but plays a very prominent role in Warrior in the Wilderness. At the moment, Istavan may be my favorite character in The Guin Saga--he's such an ass. Concerned first and foremost about his own self-preservation and an excellent fighter, he provides tension within the group since no one is quite sure where his loyalties lie. Istavan doesn't automatically get along with his companions of chance (or perhaps of fate) and his moral character is ambiguous to say the least. Amusingly enough, his constant cursing provides valuable understanding of the The Guin Saga's pantheon. All in all he's not such a bad guy although it's sometimes hard to tell, which is what makes Istavan so interesting.

I enjoyed Warrior in the Wilderness quite a bit more than The Leopard Mask. A reader new to the series could probably even start with the second book without too much of a problem since most of the major plot points from the first volume are at least mentioned. In general, the narrative flow and pacing of Warrior in the Wilderness is much better and less awkward than in The Leopard Mask. Guin still has the tendency to remember information when happens to be needed, something that strikes me more as convenient rather than mysterious. The other characters, and therefore Kurimoto, are aware of this habit but it has yet to be satisfactorily explained. Still, Guin remains a captivating and intriguing badass. Warrior in the Wilderness ends with a cliffhanger so I am looking forward to continuing The Guin Saga with the next volume, The Battle of Nospherus sooner rather than later.

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