Two magical children go on an adventure to determine their fate in Youmans’ (The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, 2014) sequel to her historical fable set in post-feudal Japan.
With their parents gone, the bird-children Azuki and Shota need to find their way home, so Yuta the monk provides them refuge as they plan their travels. There are battles to consider—soldiers want to kidnap Azuki for her feathers, but she and Shota need to reach Lady Satsuki and prove they’re still alive. While hiding from enemies, Azuki discovers that their land is streaked with coal, something that foreigners have been looking for. They set off to tell Lady Satsuki this valuable news, with Shota disguised as a sparrow and Azuki disguised as young, male student of Yuta. No sooner has their journey begun than they’re attacked by creatures called the Tengu, who believe that Azuki belongs to them. Once thwarted, they swear to return with their monstrous master, a Dai-Tengu. The three travelers continue, helped along the way by a village of kind social outcasts, Shota’s Dragon Princess friend, telepathic horses, and the return of a lost fortune. It may be hard for readers to keep up with all the characters and plotlines in the beginning of this book, although things even out by the time Yuta, Azuki, and Shota reach their destination. When they finally meet with Lady Satsuki, Yuta reveals a secret that will change the bird-children’s lives. Armed with this good news, they begin their return to their homeland only to be met by the Dai-Tengu. The magic from the friends they’ve made along the way will help lead them safely home once and for all. Peppered with Japanese vocabulary and traditions, this story provides a fantastical but engaging portrait of that country. These details manage to be educational without interrupting the story’s flow. Although the previous book was grounded in Shota’s search for Azuki, it takes longer for momentum to develop in this one, as the point of conflict is always changing—soldiers, the Tengu, a nebulous yearning to find their way home. Shota and Azuki’s sibling relationship offers some moments of humor and reflects a sense of love and teasing that many real-life siblings will recognize. Ultimately, the story’s uplifting conclusion makes this historical tale memorable.
Young readers interested in Japanese traditions and history will find much to enjoy in this simple fantasy tale.