The Twelve Kingdoms, Volume 4: Skies of Dawn

The Twelve Kingdoms, Volume 4: Skies of DawnAuthor: Fuyumi Ono
Illustrator: Akihiro Yamada

Translator: Alexander O. Smith
U.S. Publisher: Tokyopop
ISBN: 9781427802606
Released: November 2010
Original release: 1994

Skies of Dawn is the fourth and sadly final volume of Fuyumi Ono’s eight-volume fantasy novel series The Twelve Kingdoms, illustrated by Akihiro Yamada, to have been released in English. Published in Japan in two volumes in 1994, the novel was released in its entirety in 2010 by Tokyopop under its Pop Fiction imprint, first as a hardcover and then later in a paperback edition. As with the previous volumes of The Twelve Kingdoms, Skies of Dawn was translated by Alexander O. Smith. Interestingly enough, Elye J. Alexander, who frequently collaborates with Smith on translations and who worked with him on the first three volumes of The Twelve Kingdoms, does not appear to have been involved with Skies of Dawn. Though I discovered the series relatively late, I have been thoroughly enjoying The Twelve Kingdoms and Ono’s exceptionally well-developed world and characters. Skies of Dawn is easily the longest of the translated volumes, but that didn’t at all diminish my enthusiasm.

Yoko has become the king of Kei after being chosen by Keiki, the kingdom’s kirin. It’s still early in Yoko’s reign, but it hasn’t been easy for her. Many of the ministers of her court are corrupt and the others have very little trust in Yoko—Kei has had a bad history with lady-kings. Yoko lacks confidence in her rule as well. Having grown up in Japan before being suddenly swept away to the Twelve Kingdoms, her understanding of the world in which she now finds herself is limited and her knowledge of what it means to be king is even more so. Yoko isn’t the only young woman who is struggling with great changes in her life. Like Kei, the kingdom of Hou has also recently lost its ruler and those circumstances have forced its princess Shoukei into exile. Suzu, another girl who was originally from Japan, is unhappy with her lot in life in the Twelve Kingdoms. Though they don’t know each other, the destinies of these three young women will become closely intertwined, changing the direction and fate of Kei, a kingdom still struggling to restore itself after years of turmoil and calamity.

Although Skies of Dawn is technically the fourth volume in The Twelve Kingdoms, chronologically its story follows immediately after the events of the first volume, Sea of Shadow. The two intervening novels—Sea of Wind and The Vast Spread of the Seas—serve as prequels to the series, providing more context as well as back stories for The Twelve Kingdoms as a whole and for its major characters. As with the other volumes in The Twelve Kingdoms, Skies of Dawn actually stands very well on its own as a novel. Though they provide more background, it’s not absolutely necessary to have read the previous volumes in the series to understand what’s happening in Skies of Dawn. Actually, Skies of Dawn is almost like reading three novels contained in one, especially towards its beginning. It takes quite some time for Yoko, Shoukei, and Suzu’s individual stories to come together into a single narrative, but it is very satisfying when they do, especially because it happens in a way that is somewhat unexpected.

Worldbuilding has always been a major component of The Twelve Kingdoms and that hasn’t changed with Skies of Dawn. I do appreciate all of the thought and detail that Ono has put into every aspect of the series. Granted, while it is all very interesting, the worldbuilding does slow down the pacing of the plot a great deal. Much of the first half of Skies of Dawn is devoted to things like rules of governance, taxes, and marriage laws as Yoko learns more about her kingdom and the kingdoms surrounding it. It’s not until the second half of Skies of Dawn when Yoko, Shoukei, and Suzu’s stories begin to converge that events start to quickly escalate as the people of Kei come closer and closer to rebellion. The Twelve Kingdoms is an epic tale of fantasy in which the characters are required to grow and evolve, taking responsibility for themselves and for the changes in the world in which they live. Although it is unlikely that the rest of the series will be translated, Skies of Dawn and the previous volumes are still well worth seeking out.

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