I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale by David Kudler
Release date: June 15th, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
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 possible have the power to change the outcome. Or could she?
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I requested Risuko on a whim, I am heading to Japan and was searching NetGalley for something related to read before I left. I was initially drawn to the simple design of the cover – the cherry blossoms are beautiful and I loved the white silhouette of a girl holding a katana. I’m glad I downloaded the novel because I quite enjoyed it!
Risuko takes the reader back to 1570 Japan, a time period I know little about. However, that is not a problem because Kudler clearly did extensive research which enables him to fully and clearly describe the politics, society and culture of the time (the inclusion of maps and a glossary also helped). Risuko is a very likeable and well crafted protagonist. I felt fully invested in her story and the hardships she faced along the way. The secondary characters were also fully formed and well written. I did at first have a hard time keeping some names straight, but I chalk that up to inexperience with Japanese names and language conventions.
My only issue with Risuko was that it was a bit slow in the middle. It started off strong, introducing the characters and setting, essentially getting the ball rolling. I was about 10% into the novel and wanted more, but then it slowed down. It wasn’t that it was bad or anything, there was just a lot of description of everyday life and a lack of action and adventure. This was corrected in the second half which has a quick tempo and much more action.
It was labeled as young adult on NetGalley, but I would say it leans more to the middle grade level. This is because the main character is quite young, younger than you would normally see in YA books and the voice of the narrator. The story begins with a child-like “My name is…” prologue.
Overall, it was a lovely little find and I am eagerly awaiting the release of the next book in the series.