Dragon Sword and Wind Child is one of my favorite novels. What's to like? Saya is a village girl in Toyoashihara (sort of a mystical/magical Japan), a land split by the war between the Gods that created the land: The God of Light and the Goddess of Darkness (and Death). Saya has been raised to love the Light and is shocked when strange people start proclaiming that she is one of the Goddess of Darkness's people, reborn again and again to wage her battle against the children of the Light. This revelation is complicated when Prince Tsukishiro, one half of the children of the Light, comes to Saya's village, trying to woo her to the side of the Light by enlisting her as a handmaiden in his palace.
You've heard this story before, right? Honestly, I normally hate this sort of plot set up and the reluctant heroine type. However, Saya is unique to me because her reactions are understandable and even relatable; you see how she subtlely changes and how she makes her decisions and her mental conflicts. As for the plot? Not all is as it seems. Once Saya comes to the palace, she doesn't particularly fit in the whole court atmosphere and furthermore warrior Princess Teruhi is determined to catch Saya collaborating with the Darkness. Prince Tsukishiro isn't much of a help, as it seems this situation has all been played out before in Saya's previous lives (that she has no memory of), and he's still in love with Saya's last incarnation, who killed herself in the palace pond. And the Palace of Light has many sinister secrets... (The novel continues for much longer, not only through Saya's revelations, her final choice in alliances, but also to the final conclusion to the war that has engulfed the land for as long as it as existed.)
Another interesting part of this book is that it's not your usual elves, fairies, etc. Noriko Ogiwara, influenced by Western writers, used Japanese mythology to create this world. The implications of this are just obvious by the summary of the book above. This isn't Good vs. Evil, Dark v. Light of your normal fantasy epic. The issues the characters have to deal with in this book are immortality, mortality, reincarnation along with loyalty and empathy. Are we cursed to repeat the same mistakes over and over through our lifetimes? Does immortality create an lack of empathy? What is sacrificed during war, what is gained, and is it worth it?
I had worn out checking out the library copy all the time, so I was thrilled this classic finally has gone back into print. The deft translation by Cathy Hirano is still intact, except that mentions to Saya's stone has been changed to "magatama". I somewhat miss the old cover, but some interesting drawings have been added to the chapter title pages. I have heard that there are two more books in the series (about what I don't know, as the book pretty much covers all the bases and closes all plotlines), and I'm hoping the other two will finally be translated for English audiences. And I lied earlier. This is pretty much my favorite book (Tied with Dark Lord of Derkhom by Diana Wynne Jones). And I cry and laugh every time I read it.
The insertion of Chihaya completely changes the landscape of the book. And amazingly, it doesn't feel random and unwarranted. Like Chihaya's the other main character, he's just been missing. The romance parts of the book are perhaps its weakest point, but understandable, and really do drive the plot.