Risuko by David Kudler
Series: Seasons of the Sword #1 (1/?)
Published by Stillpoint Digital Press on June 15, 2016
Genres: [Middle Grade] Historical Fiction
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.