I enjoyed Risuko very much. The prose is very vivid, the culture and Japanese language blended in as smoothly as supernatural elements in a well-written fantasy. Risuko is caught between trying to function in a war torn world, and daring to dream about making a difference. — Michele Lee, MonsterLibrarian.com
MonsterLibrarian Review: Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale by David Kudler
Kano Murasaki, better known as Risuko (Squirrel) loves only one thing more than climbing—her family. But her mother has just sold her to Lady Chiyomi, a mysterious woman who runs a compound that trains women to be soldiers in Japan’s hundred year long civil war. It takes Risuko a while to figure this out, but readers will know it right away. Chiyomi’s women are spies, body guards, assassins. They are intelligent, strong, capable, and clever. Risuko fits in well, except it’s not the traditional role little Japanese girls grow up imagining themselves in.
But Risuko isn’t a traditional girl either. Her father was a famous samurai. He fought in the war until he was also forced to choose between honor and family. Chiyomi choose Risuko, not for her climbing skills, but for another, more personal reason.
I enjoyed Risuko very much. The prose is very vivid, the culture and Japanese language blended in as smoothly as supernatural elements in a well-written fantasy. Risuko is caught between trying to function in a war torn world, and daring to dream about making a difference.
This is the first book in a series, and as such it takes more time to build the world than the first book plot. But the first book plot ties in very well with Risuko’s desire to live a peaceful life. Risuko is not an angry, defiant lead. She’s not a super special snowflake. But she is determined, smart and passionate.
There are so many elements of this book that come together nicely. The themes of women being trained to be strong, clever, spies and bodyguards—Chiyomi never questions any of her girls’ ability, only their willingness. The background stress and sadness of being a girl growing up during a violent, chaotic civil war and having to face up to the brutality and death happening all around you marches quietly in the background, a constant reminder of the realness of the history.
Risuko is more middle grade than YA, save for a few elements. Risuko is largely protected from the gruesomeness of war, but it is all around her, and she does witness battles and deaths. Also front and center are the things she’s learning, from butchering animals for food (an important precursor to fighting and potentially killing soldiers in future plots) to herbs and poisoning and battle strategy. Risuko might be a middle grade lead, but it’s clear she’s very quickly entering an adult world. These elements might be too much for younger readers.
In all Risuko is a fascinating tale, very engaging. I look forward to the second book for sure.
— Michele Lee, MonsterLibrarian.com