Risuko by David Kudler

Risuko-v2b-medium-circleRisuko by David Kudler
Series: Seasons of the Sword #1 (1/?)
Published by Stillpoint Digital Press on June 15, 2016
Genres: [Middle Grade] Historical Fiction
Pages: 230
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley

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2.5 Star, Completed June 8, 2016

– SPOILER free –

My name is Kano Murasaki, but everyone calls me Squirrel.

One late autumn day, young Kano “Risuko” Murasaki learns that her mother has sold Risuko to a mysterious and intimidating noblewoman, Lady Chiyome. With the head of the family, the father, absent Risuko’s family hasn’t been financially stable, so Risuko resigned but confused decides to follow. Little does she know that the cunning woman has great plans for her. Along the journey to the the Mochizuki estate, she and Lady Chiyome’s party witnesses and finds themselves in the midst of disputes between rivaling warlords. And when Risuko reaches the Mochizuki, she and other girls her age undergo lessons to ready themselves into becoming eventual kunoichi, essentially female ninjas.

To be honest, I’m feeling 50/50 about Risuko. It is a well written middle grade story where the author obviously has done thorough research to achieve historical accuracy. There were parts that were intriguing, and sometimes even fascinating. But for long stretches I found myself bored and slightly confused. Because of my mixed feelings Risuko‘s rating is half of what I’d normally say is a perfect rating (5 stars).

Before I start the real review I thought I’d mention this: I noticed that Risuko was slated as a middle grade and young adult crossover for its target audience, but I found it to be definitely more middle grade. I think the writing will appeal to a younger age group since the majority of the main cast are within the age range of 13-15. There are some slightly more mature themes, but nothing inappropriate or so explicit preteens would not be able to handle. The fact that the narrative was more childish and juvenile didn’t bother me so much, but I think readers that plan to read Risuko should be aware it falls under the middle grade spectrum more so than young adult in case they’re expecting otherwise.

With that aside, let’s begin this review positive with the details that I appreciated and think others will be able to as well.

“Be swift as the wind, 
silent as the forest, 
fierce as fire, 
steady as a mountain.”

I must praise Risuko for its ability in releasing Asian vibes consistently. What I mean by this is that the writing and imagery made me feel as if I was present during Japan’s Sengoku period. It’s really rare for MG/YA novels set in Asia to manage to transport me across fictional seas (I live in the States). It must be the Asian in me being picky about this. Also, sprinkled in the dialogues readers will recognize familiar Japanese (and even some Korean) terms that are often mentioned in Asian pop culture (anime, manga, dramas, etc).

There are also elements of Japan’s feudal period within the story that makes Risuko a tasteful historical fiction novel. And thankfully these elements aren’t overwhelming or so extensive that they pressure readers into learning a lot of history. Yet, even with that being said, I did think some segments of the story-particularly the first half-where readers will likely feel confused (particularly if they’re not familiar with Japanese honorific suffixes, names of places, etc) in a frustrating than intriguing way. However, there is a small glossary in the back for characters and locations (but I didn’t learn that until I reached the end since I received an electronic review copy).

As for the story itself, personally, it dragged significantly for me. And I think this was because I initially wanted to read Risuko knowing it was a story inspired by Mochizuki Chiyome and the ambiguous kunoichi.

… she drew a length of red silk with white edging-an initiate’s sash.
“Red is the color of weddings. White is the color of death. A miko is married to that which cannot die. A kunoichi is married to her duty. And to Death.”

I knew that the historical kunoichi didn’t do much fighting as people would assume, but I hoped that in Risuko readers would still get a lot of action scenes with a country affected by war, social upheaval, and political unrest, but, alas, readers did not. Instead, a good chunk of the story focuses on journey to the Mochizuki and the training the young girls go through after they’ve reached the destination. Though at times fascinating, it made the pace much slower than I anticipated. It wasn’t until the last third of the book did I find the pace to really pick up.

And I’m most likely in the minority with this opinion, but as much as I found the cast endearing, I could not emotionally connect or sympathize with them at all. There are a lot of characters-some that play a greater role in the plot than others-but I didn’t find one that stood out to me. Most were rather one dimensional and therefore unmemorable. However, I did like how realistically the young girls (Risuko, Emi, and Toumi) were portrayed (with their first “moon time,” etc). They were all very different personality-wise and didn’t always get along as most young teens.

To sum Risuko up: the writing was evocative; there was obvious research on the writer’s part; and other elements would make this book a good first installment for younger readers. However, unfortunately, for now I don’t have plans on continuing the series since I didn’t seem to be invested in the story or emotionally attached to the cast. I’m sure there are readers that will enjoy Risuko, but, for me, it was more of a so-so read. 

Many thanks to Netgalley and Stillpoint Digital Press for allowing me the opportunity to read and review Risuko. This did not affect my reading experience or review.

Summer’s Playlist:
Peaceful Days in Kouka Kingdom | Musubaremase, Sasureba | Medetashi! Kuramayama
*the bold/underlined are must listens!

16 thoughts on “Risuko by David Kudler

  1. Fatima @ NoteablePad says:

    Summer, this is an amazing review! I just finished reading this book too, and I felt the same about it. You’ve pointed out some really important points too! The characters were quite one dimensional, and personally I felt that Risuko didn’t have much of character (might’ve just been me), but I absolutely loved the historical elements and how the author brings the whole setting to life. It’s quite hard to find that done well, but this author definitely mastered that.

    Also, the Akatasuki no Yona OST is wonderful ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      OTL I’m so sorry, I don’t know why but I totally missed this comment. (Ugh, the downside to trying to reply to comments via WP notifications…)

      Thank you so much, Fatima! And you’re so right! I was pretty disappointed with the story and characters, which arguably makes up a lot of a book for me, but I can’t deny Kudler’s excellent balance of historical details. It never felt overdone, and it was evident he did a lot of research.

      Right! Most anime OSTs are so wonderful anyway, but the blend of sweetness and sadness in Akatsuki’s is so beautiful! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fatima @ NoteablePad says:

        No worries – happens to me too! 🙂
        I’ve heard that Akatsuki no Yona won’t be having a second season, but there’ll be a 2 episode OVA for Zeno’s story?


  2. Lois says:

    I am sorry to hear that this one didn’t deliver. There is nothing worse than not being able to emotionally connect with a character because it makes me less likely to invest in the story. I did think that this was YA book so thanks for the heads up about it being more of a Middle-Grade story. I’m glad that you could see the research that went in to the book and that it does a good job of transporting you to the Japan’s Sengoku period. I think I might give the book a chance but it’s not a priority read for now so we’ll see. Great review. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Thank you, Lois! Ah yes, the more I think about this book the more disappointed I get. (It really pales in comparison to the myriad of historical period dramas/animes I’ve seen-but, then again, I probably shouldn’t be comparing different media that way.) And yes! I tend to enjoy MG a lot but I guess because I was going into this thinking it’d be YA I was taken by surprise-in not a good or bad way, haha. Hehe, yeah. Well I definitely recommend seeing Rurouni Kenshin before this one, even though RK is set in the Meiji Restoration period not Sengoku. XD

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reg @ She Latitude says:

    Great review, Summer! I also had an ARC for this and feel more or less the same, though since I don’t do half-ratings I ended up giving this a 3. I agree that there’s historical accuracy there, but I also found myself bored, and the story just wasn’t captivating enough? Like the conflict/big battle at the end was quite easy, and there wasn’t a lot of emotion or tension — it’s all very clinical.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Thank you, Reg! Exactly! I’m so relieved that I wasn’t the only one that felt this way towards Risuko. I was pretty conflicted with my rating because the historical elements were really well done, but you’re right the story and characters certainly lacked emotion. I didn’t feel myself that involved with the story and it was pretty disappointing in that regards as well.


  4. SERIESous Book Reviews says:

    I was this close to requesting this on Netgalley but held back when I saw the Middle Grade tag. I’m finding my patience for certain YA stories is waning so I now a Middle Grade book won’t be my cup of tea. But the feudal history seemed so interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      I think I enjoy MG books more when I anticipate them being MG… But because I totally thought this was YA it sort of caught me off guard. And lately I’ve been reading more YA than MG, so I wasn’t really in the mood for a more juvenile read. However, yes, the history was really well done, so that was great. ^.^

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Resh Susan @ The Book Satchel says:

    I love reading japanese books. I have recently started reading Manga too, starting with Death Note. And I am always on the look out for Japanese ones because I find them very relaxing. Too bad this was not such an enjoyable read. Well, that happens. Right? Hope your next pixk is a better one

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Thank you! Actually the titles I’ve been reading lately have been significantly better than the ones I tried at the beginning of June. And ooh, I love reading manga! The art is often times gorgeous and I love the simplicity in the storylines. I haven’t read Death Note but there’s been a lot of praise for that one.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Nerdybirdy @ Daydreaming Books says:

    I was going to request this one but then I decided against it. But I’m sorry that you didn’t like it much. Nonetheless loved your review!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thuong Le says:

    This sounds like an interesting story. Nice to see some Japanese diversity combined in middle grade books! But sorry to hear you didn’t like it, as it sounded like it had potential with the setting and concept. Love the way you’ve written your review, Summer, its very in-depth and informative 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Thanks so much, Thuong! ^.^ Honestly, I feel like I keep making my reviews longer and longer lately seeing as many of them have been over 1K words as of late. I’m trying to change that as school returns though: I need to be much more pithy! :3 Ah yes, unfortunately, I wasn’t a fan of the execution of this story. It had so much potential!


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