~written by Kaoru Kurimoto
~illustrated by Naoyuki Kato
~translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander
2010 Seiun Award Winner
The Battle of Nospherus, with illustrations by Naoyuki Kato, is the third volume in Kaoru Kurimoto's epic light novel series The Guin Saga. In Japan, the novel was originally released in 1979. Vertical first published The Battle of Nospherus in English in 2003 in hardcover and then again in paperback in 2008, translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander. The Battle of Nospherus is the third book in the first major story arc in The Guin Saga, often called the "Marches Episode," which is the only part of the novel series currently available in English. The Guin Saga has been at least partially translated into six other languages. I don't know how it has been received in other parts of the world, but the English version hasn't been nearly as successful as the series is in Japan. At well over a hundred volumes, The Guin Saga even won the Seiun Award for long fiction in 2010.
With General Amnelis and the Mongauli army in pursuit, the leopard-headed warrior Guin and his companions retreat even further into Nospherus, seeking shelter among the Raku tribe of the Sem. Amnelis' actions are unexpected. Normally, Nospherus and its dangers are avoided at all costs, but she has brought what amounts to an invasion force, much more power than is needed to simply capture the escaped heirs of Parros and those who aid them. Amnelis is determined to take Nospherus and any secrets it holds despite the tremendous risks involved. Meanwhile, the Sem are struggling to band together their tribes, normally at war with one another, in order to protect themselves and their land from a common foe. Vastly outnumbered, outclassed, and out-equipped, the Sem place their hope in the very capable hands of Guin and in Nospherus itself.
Although The Battle of Nospherus is the third book in the series, there isn't much character development that hasn't already been established. Guin is still mysterious, Istavan is still a likeable ass, Amnelis is young and ambitious, Rinda is fortunately slightly less annoying, and her twin brother Remus is...well, Remus is often easy to forget that he's even there and is frequently eclipsed by his sister. However, throughout the books there has been heavy foreshadowing indicating that he will become very important later on; I'm just not sure that it will happen by the end of the "Marches Episode." One notable exception, The Battle of Nospherus does give more insight into the character of the love-besotted Captain Astrias. In fact, a good portion of the novel is seen from his perspective. This is one of the things that I really like about The Guin Saga: the story is also seen from the Mongauli's side. While they are most certainly the antagonists, they are not inherently bad people. Particularly the lower ranking soldiers who are only in Nospherus because they have been told to be, not because they want to be.
I actually found The Battle of Nospherus to be rather slow going for the first half or so of the book. The narrative, especially the dialogue, felt very stilted to me in the beginning. I have a feeling this may have been the case in the original Japanese as well and so don't blame the translators for it. But by the end of the book, it has settled into a more natural cadence. I was also troubled by the opening sequence and found myself coming up with excuses to cover for what I saw as inconsistencies. And while clever, I wasn't entirely convince by our heroes' solution to their immediate problem. However, if there is one thing that Kurimoto has done well since the beginning of The Guin Saga it's writing a good fight scene. The last half of The Battle of Nospherus is filled with just that--a string of exciting battles and skirmishes. Kurimoto is able to capture the chaos while preventing it from becoming confusing or overwhelming for the reader. The fight for Nospherus continues in the next volume, Prisoner of the Lagon.