Good morning my bookish mates! I would like to start off by apologizing for disappearing for the past week. My computer was on the verge of death, so I had to embark on a journey to save it’s soul! Luckily, it didn’t cost me mine for the fixing. This weirdo, cat-obsessed blogger has returned, and I’m excited to be back. I’m going to kick off my written theatrics by doing a book review for a young-adult historical fiction novel!
Japanese literature, or literature with Japanese influences is one of my most favored types of genres to read. When I came across Risuko by David Kudler, which was described as a historical Japanese fiction novel with fantasy elements, I was immediately intrigued by it. I received this book about a month and a half ago. Since that period, I have made an attempt at starting it three times. Finally, when I began it for the fourth time, I forced myself to trudge through it and it took me almost three weeks to read about 230 pages, and I’m a pretty fast reader, mind you. Risuko was a vastly disappointing book and it makes me sad because I felt there could have been potential for so much more.
The story revolves around a young girl named Kano Murasaki, who is known as “Risuko,” or Squirrel, due to her affinity for climbing. She’s sold off to a noblewoman and led through an area in the midst of war until she reaches a shrine. At this shrine, along with two other girls, Risuko begins a life of training and servitude so that she can one day become a kunoichi, or a female ninja. Sounds like a badass historical book, right? Well, unfortunately it was a huge letdown in everything that would have made it so.
The progression of this tale is extremely slow, almost excruciatingly in nature. Within the first twenty pages, I felt like I had been reading this forever due to the highly dry and boring structure of the novel. There was no cohesive plot development, or plot details of any sort really, to keep me engaged and excited about what would occur next. It pretty quickly became monotonous, tediously inching forward with no interesting events whatsoever. My focus would wander so much that I was incredibly tempted to not finish said book.
Pacing aside, the characters were also distastefully dreary and indiscernible. The entire cast, including our female protagonist, were lackluster and impossible to connect with, even more so than the nonexistent plot. I believe that this can be credited to the minuscule amount of details provided about them, giving them an air of robotic apathy. Not one character had a personality that could set them apart from the next.
There were a few things about the writing that I found to be rather jarring as well. Every Japanese word in the novel is italicized and it felt so unnatural and imposing, especially since none of the other Asian words are given the same respect. There is no explanation for these words either, and a lot of them are not easy to decipher by implication or context. If you don’t speak or comprehend a lick of Japanese then this can get confusing, causing you to feel more detached. The writing also came off as a bit Westernized, at least to me. I felt the book was trying very, very hard to mimic the prose of many classical Japanese authors’ leaving behind an awkward affect. This could also just be an intimate nitpick for me as I am a huge aficionado and student of classical Japanese literature.
There are a couple of redeeming qualities in the novel that made me upgrade it from the absolute lowest rating. The setting and surroundings were described with impeccable amount of detail that made you vividly imagine the scenery. I wish that this level of attention to detail was applied to the other aspects of the novel. The historical portions are relatively accurate, which was another enjoyable element of the book. But together these two things are simply not enough to warrant an pleasant reading experience.
I had such high hopes for this narrative, but it fell utterly short and into the dark rating of one and a half squirrels out of five. I would not recommend this novel to anyone, sorry.