Title: Risuko (2016)
Author: David Kudler
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Extent: 230 pages
Release Date: June 15, 2016
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?
Let’s start with the negatives first, as there were quite some things that made Risuko not quite a five-star read for me. Now, I was super excited to read this book mainly because it’s set in Japan, which happens to be one of my favourite ever countries, cultures, and histories. Unfortunately, the result seems to be mixed: while the history and setting generally felt authentic, there was not enough background information or even exposition. Too many things were left up to the readers to imagine, so in some ways there seemed to be a lot of missing information.
Secondly, I found the blurb to be misleading — there were definitely talks of war, but Risuko wasn’t personally involved in it, nor was she plunged into the deep end (… yet?). The writing style was also a bit choppy and flowed unnaturally at some places, which made it a bit difficult to get through at times.
Story-wise it was also rather emotionally flat — while the plot moved relatively quickly, there was barely any emotion in what happened. I’m not sure if this is Risuko’s nature as a character or Kudler’s writing specifically, but I didn’t really feel emotionally engaged for the most part. It felt like there was a wall between me and the story, if that makes sense; I’m always aware I’m reading and was never really caught up in the book.
Character-wise, however, Risuko holds a lot of promise. This is definitely a girl’s book — Risuko might be our main character, but we’re also introduced to other strong, flawed, and three-dimensional female characters: Emi, Toumi, Lady Chiyome, Mieko, and others. The male characters played a part, too, but the central themes definitely revolve more around the women. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, and some of them are somewhere in between. This part of the story was largely unpredictable and therefore really enjoyable.
“Be swift as the wind,
silent as the forest,
fierce as fire,
steady as a mountain.”
Additionally, despite lacking descriptions, what is there of the world-building was authentic and well-developed. Kudler seems to have done lots of research into Japanese culture, and it shows through his characters.
Risuko reads a bit younger than the typical YA fantasy novel, so I’d say that while it’s still under YA, it probably falls on the teenager end of the age spectrum rather than the adult — perhaps even a Middle Grade novel. Risuko herself is still very young, barely in her teen years, and it shows in her thoughts and actions. This is not a bad thing; it’s just not exactly what I expected.
This book is listed as a series on Goodreads, which is a good thing because if it were a stand-alone, it would have been rather unsatisfying. The subsequent books will hopefully round out the story so much better and fill in the information and emotions lacking in this first one.
Overall an interesting, albeit a little shaky, start of a promising series. 🙂
You can read a preview of this book, join the beta-reading team, or find out more on its website. Have you read this book yet? What do you think?
* I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This in no way swayed my opinion of the book.