A book about Japanese girls kicking serious ass during an age-old warring samurai-infested Japan? Sign me up!
by David Kudler
Stillpoint Digital Press, June 2016
Middle grade historical fiction
Rated: 3.5 / 5 cookies
e-ARC provided by NetGalley
Though Japan has been devastated by a century of civil war, Risuko just wants to climb trees. Growing up far from the battlefields and court intrigues, the fatherless girl finds herself pulled into a plot that may reunite Japan — or may destroy it. She is torn from her home and what is left of her family, but finds new friends at a school that may not be what it seems.
Magical but historical, Risuko follows her along the first dangerous steps to discovering who she truly is.
Kano Murasaki, called Risuko (Squirrel) is a young, fatherless girl, more comfortable climbing trees than down on the ground. Yet she finds herself enmeshed in a game where the board is the whole nation of Japan, where the pieces are armies, moved by scheming lords, and a single girl couldn’t possibly have the power to change the outcome. Or could she?
What I Loved
A school set to train assassin shrine maidens. I mean, honestly, what’s NOT to love in that premise? After her husband’s death, Lady Chiyome devotes her resources in the establishment of a temple, effectively “saving” young, orphan girls and taking them in as wards, teaching them the ways of the kunoichi. That doesn’t exactly translate to “shrine maiden,” by the way (try “female ninja” instead). In any case, the girls are not only learning the proper rites to sustain a shrine as miko, but they’re also being trained in the more questionable skills of seduction, stealth, sabotage, and death. So. Where can I sign up now?
Lady Chiyome and her kunoichi. Which leads me to the secondary characters of the story. To be able to run a school for stone-cold kunoichi (who seem to hold duty over pretty much anything else, including love), its leader should be widely respected and she absolutely must have the constitution of steel. Lady Chiyome completely fits the bill, and she’s just as formidable as her best kunoichi. And when I talk of her best, I mean Mieko.
Can I just say I’m in love with Mieko? She’s totally my girl-crush of the book, and I do not blame Masugu at all for the things said and unsaid to her near the end of the book. Mieko is the epitome of grace and poise and loveliness all wrapped up into one lithe frame of deadly badassery. I mean, she was pretty much all smiles and sometimes serious-face on everyone. Up until the samurai almost kills Risuko and the untrained initiates. And that’s when this bitch takes action by HOLDING THE DOOR. Gracefully, I might add.
Unfriendly rivalry = much amusement. That Toumi, though. I mean, I was pretty sure that between the two deplorable characters in the book, Toumi would be pretty solid in her abject hatred. Too much so, in fact, that I honestly just crossed her out of the list of the possible villains list in the book. I mean, for all I know, she’ll probably be Risuko’s worst enemy down the line, but I can’t help but like what she brings to the story anyway.
Strong women abound. There is no doubt that many of the women in this story are highly capable of defending themselves, without much help from the samurai guards and/or soldiers who frequent the shrine. While, yes, Aimaru and Masugu and the rest of the men there do pull their weight, there is no denying the fact that the kunoichi can face down a handful of attacking bandits with their skilled education in daggers, swords, glaives, bows, and poison.
What is a school without its lesson scenes? Obviously the focus is on Risuko and her transition from being a disgraced samurai’s daughter to a kunoichi initiate. But at this point her story is just beginning, and I’m still trying to decide where she’s going to end up once we finally get to her full-blown training. On the other hand, there’s the matter of the actual training itself, which was kind of a letdown, to be honest. I mean, yeah, I expected there to be tedium and the whole “wax-on, wax-off” regime from Karate Kid. But there must have been some way to alleviate the boring scenes by making it more interesting. And not just snide remarks from Toumi can save training scenes.
(That said, Mieko’s dancing training scenes were pretty awesome…but I’m biased like that.)
The Tale of Genji inspiration. While I did like the occasional reference to what is probably Japan’s most popular classical work, I thought the idea of the epic has the potential of getting lost in middle grade translation. I mean…even I have yet to read the tale in its entirety, choosing to skim through summaries for the most part.
What I Didn’t Like
The anomaly that is Kee Sun. It was interesting to bring in a Korean male cook amidst the Japanese shrine maiden thing. Honestly, I didn’t really have a problem with having Kee Sun around. Up until he started talking. The speech pattern drove me nuts for the most part, and I couldn’t really handle half the nicknames he came up with. “Girlie” sounded horribly Westernized. The brogue he used was horribly Westernized. It would have been just fine if they’d mentioned his strange accent as opposed to adding it into the actual story. But maybe that’s just me.
The slow-going-ness of the plot. Actually, I’m not even sure the main plot was resolved. Every conflict that had been put in and closed by the end of Risuko were pretty much just subplots. Heck, the final confrontation felt a bit petty, considering who the villain ended up being (and gods, it was way too obvious in any case) and the fact that the plot relied too heavily on convenience in order to enable Risuko the opportunity to do a solo altercation with the antagonist.
3.5 out of 5 cookies! I’d read the next book, if only to see how Risuko is shaping up. And more of Mieko plsthx!