~illustrated by Naoyuki Kato
~translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander
2010 Seiun Award Winner
Prisoner of the Lagon, with illustrations by Naoyuki Kato, is the fourth book in Kaoru Kurimoto's heroic fantasy light novel series The Guin Saga. Immensely popular in Japan, The Guin Saga is over one hundred volumes long. In 2010, Kurimoto even won a Seiun Award for the work as a whole. The Guin Saga hasn't met with as much success with English-language audiences. Only the first five volumes which make up the first story arc of the series, "The Marches Episode," have been translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander. Originally published in Japan in 1980, Prisoner of the Lagon was released by Vertical in 2008 as a paperback. Prisoner of the Lagon is the first volume of The Guin Saga not to receive a hardcover edition from Vertical. Although I wasn't overly impressed by the first novel in The Guin Saga, I have since become quite fond of the series and so was looking forward to reading Prisoner of the Lagon.
The deadly battle for Nospherus and for control of its secrets is a long one. The Sem continue to harass and ambush the the Mongauli troops. Despite its superior numbers and resources, the invading army's morale is steadily declining. General Amnelis must take decisive action against the Sem and turn the tide of war before her troops lose all confidence in her leadership and their mission. Her foe, the mysterious leopard-headed warrior Guin, knows that the Sem won't be able to hold out much longer. Their familiarity with Nospherus has given them an important advantage against the Mongauls, but no mater how dirty the Sem's tactics they will eventually lose. Guin believes they only have one chance for success. Leaving the Sem to fend for themselves, he heads deeper into the wilderness of Nospherus, hoping to find and enlist the aid of the Lagon, a race of giants who are only rumored to exist.
While Guin has always been a prominent player, the saga is named for him after all, many of the previous volumes in the series have heavily featured other characters. Prisoner of the Lagon turns much of the focus back to Guin. More and more is revealed about him as more and more is revealed about Nospherus. But even now, very little is actually known about Guin. Both allies and enemies, not to mention Guin himself, wonder who this god-like warrior really is, what lurks in his past, and where his destiny lies. None of these questions are definitively answered in Prisoner of the Lagon, but the hints that Kurimoto drops are becoming less subtle. The convenient restoration of Guin's memory when needed for the story still bothers me, but it bothers Guin, too. At least this means Kurimoto is aware of the issue and Guin tries to come up with a satisfying explanation.
A few things stand out for me in The Guin Saga. Kurimoto writes fantastic fight scenes. In Prisoner of the Lagon, Guin in particular has a few excellent solo battles in which he is revealed not to be all powerful even if he is an incredible warrior. While the conflicts in The Guin Saga are engaging, I wouldn't say that the violence is glorified. Strategic errors made during war have brutal and fatal consequences; Kurimoto doesn't shy away from horrifying outcomes. Morality is a complex issue in The Guin Saga. The protagonists are capable of truly terrible things that are made no less horrible because they are in the right. On the other hand, Kurimoto doesn't demonize the saga's antagonists. In fact, the characters are often sympathetic. Count Marus, commander of Mongaul's Blue Knights, is a good example of this in Prisoner of the Lagon. He has a family that he misses, close friends and comrades that he worries about, and he genuinely cares for the men who serve under him. The Guin Saga gets better and better with each book. I'm looking forward to reading the final volume of "The Marches Episode," The Marches King.