ARC Review: Risuko (Seasons of the Sword #1) by David Kudler

Risuko by David Kudler

Publication: June 15th 2016 by Stillpoint Digital Press

Format: eBook Pages: 230

ISBN13: 9781938808333

Can One Girl Win A War?

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 [sic] have the power to change the outcome. Or could she? – Goodreads

Risuko is a historical fantasy novel set in sixteenth century Japan and is narrated in the first person from the perspective of the protagonist, Kano Murasaki (also known as Risuko). From the get-go, Risuko is introduced as an interesting, playful young girl. Although Risuko’s age is not specifically mentioned, it’s implied that she’s young as she has not yet reached her ‘moon time’ (periods). I especially loved that the thing that initially differentiates Risuko from others is simply her love for climbing. She’s not some super genius; she doesn’t have any crazy abilities or anything far-fetched like that; she just has a constant itch to climb things.

The story is riddled with puzzles from when Risuko is surprisingly sold by her mother and whisked off to a special ‘school’ by Lady Chiyome, to the mysterious kitsune (fox spirit) who begins to wreck havoc at the said school. The pace of the storyline shows that David Kudler took his time with Risuko; this wasn’t a rushed job. The writing flows smoothly from one passage onto the other and Kudler ties all of the strings together at the right time; the story unfolds delicately, and this makes for an enjoyable reading experience. The Japanese culture and phrases used in the story are described so well that I was never pulled out of the story because of unfamiliar terminology. Kudler does not info-drop, he draws things in and explains them to you like an experienced teacher. I found myself so fully immersed in the story that I didn’t want to stop reading it.

A concrete description of Risuko’s appearance isn’t given to the reader, and I appreciated this. I like to have full licence to imagine a protagonist’s appearance as I see fit, and this helps me feel more attached to them. To me, Risuko is a 12-year-old of average height with long, black hair and brown eyes. Other characters also play fascinating and important roles in the story and, again, minimal physical description is provided. I particularly warmed up to the Korean chef, Kee Sun, and soft-but-deadly Mieko. I have reserved judgement on Lady Chiyome as she was the one character who was truly baffling (in a good way). She came across as the most complex character, and I hope to discover more about her in the next instalment of the Seasons of the Sword series.

Risuko has been described as both Middle Grade and Young Adult. As it is ultimately a story about war and assassins with some innuendos thrown in here and there, it was just hitting the YA mark. You need to understand the underlying hints to really enjoy this book, and that’s something a YA reader is better equipped to do than a child. There is a bit of romance in the book but it’s not something that’s given a significant amount of focus, it’s evident that action and adventure are the priority, and I was perfectly happy with that.

Overall, Risuko was a brilliant start to what I hope is a fantastic series.

I received a copy of Risuko from the publisher for an honest review.