Book Review: Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale by David Kudler
Stillpoint / Atlanta
June 15, 2016
Everyone has their habits. That’s just the way things are. If they don’t, well, everybody would’ve been the same and I for one wouldn’t want to be caught dead in a world like that. There is a girl that David Kudler introduces in his young adult series Seasons of the Sword called Risuko who has the habit of climbing extremely high things with great ease. That is why everybody calls her Risuko. In the language spoken by all who dwell the known universe, her name means squirrel. Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale is the first installment that follows this squirrel of a lass.
Set in the late 1500s in the Land of the Rising Sun (Japan) during a time in which the country is in war with itself, Risuko climbs a tree to spy on a lord. On that day, a woman arrives, carried by two muscular Little Brothers in a palanquin. This woman is Lady Chiyonne and she heads the Full Moon, a school that trains girls to become kunoichi, a word that Risuko isn’t familiar with the first few times it is mentioned. Lady Chiyonne overtly informs Risuko that she has been sold to her by her mother. With little say in the matter, Risuko makes her way with two girls and one boy to the Full Moon. Their journey is anything but smooth sailing.
Risuko is in a world on the brink of a great war. Imagawa, one of several lords that are mentioned, has cavalry positioned around every corner. Serenity Province, the place where Risuko can first be found, is surrounded by trees. This is what Risuko has known all her life; when she reaches a treeless setting on her journey, she feels it. Without all of that greenery, she feels naked. While staying at the Full Moon, a school that is described as having buildings that seem to glow in the sunlight, Risuko has to adapt to another type of setting that will have readers shivering along with the characters.
It’s achingly hard to walk away from this novel. When it ends... readers will find themselves rather eager to keep their minds free of all thought than let the realization set in that their trip into 1500s Japan is over...
There is one thing that defines Risuko besides her ability to climb things like a squirrel. “Do no harm”, a lesson taught to Risuko and her sister Usako by their father. This is what resonated with Risuko throughout her entire life, except in cases like the following: when an orphan girl named Toumi, portrayed as being like the tip of blade looking for a place to stick into, pushes Risuko’s buttons and she finds herself going against her father’s lesson. What she will be taught at the Full Moon is an entirely different lesson, one that is in high contrast with that of her father’s.
When Risuko is not found doing what she’s not supposed to be doing, she can often be found in the kitchen, whipping up dishes with her adversary Toumi, her always-frowning best friend Emi, and Kee-Sun, the Korean cook. He teaches the new female additions to the Full Moon everything there is to know about cooking. He adds a great amount of humor with his uncanny way of talking and his habit of going “to visit the King”. He plays a more important role than keeping the inhabitants of the Full Moon well fed. The lessons he teaches his students, while seemingly insignificant at first, are anything but.
Meeting the Little Brothers was enjoyable. Although it’s obvious why Aimaru, the orphan boy that Lady Chiyonne had recruited along with Risuko, Emi, and Toumi, couldn't train with the girls to become a kunoichi, I missed him, perhaps like Emi has, while the girls were busy learning about cooking, music, and dancing. Toumi and Emi both experience their “moon time” at certain points, but one character that doesn’t seem to do so is Risuko. Perhaps it was the author’s intention, because she does evolve in ways that Toumi and Emi doesn’t. Risuko’s mother doesn’t seem to matter more than being the person who sold her to Lady Chiyonne.
It’s achingly hard to walk away from this novel. When it ends, I’m sure that, like me, readers will find themselves rather eager to keep their minds free of all thought than let the realization set in that their trip into 1500s Japan is over or has at least come to a halt until they can get their hands on the second installment of the series. David Kudler has done everything well. He has made me connect and relate to each of the major characters. Come the middle of the book, snow will start falling into readers’ minds so much that they will begin to experience the shivery cold of a Japanese winter as well.
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