This book had a lot of potential to be one badass piece of literature. I’m not sure if it was the translation that made this such an atrocious reading experience, or if it was originally written to be this appalling. But whatever the case, as it stands, I do not recommend the English translated version of this novel.
When I first started this, I was fascinated because it explored how Tokugawa Ieyasu felt about having his son killed to move forward politically. We were able to get a glimpse into his personal thoughts and grief in relation to the death of his kid. I know that this book is a work of fiction, but that one element really intrigued me. It’s difficult to find books that mention something like this at all. I’m extremely fascinated with Ieyasu already, so this was like sprinkles on the cake for me. However, it’s extremely short-lived as it lasted about half a page. Ieyasu is very quickly taken out of the picture and the book then focuses on the two warring ninja clans, Kouga and Iga.
There are many flaws with this novel, but two very distinct facets augmented the desire to stop reading more than any other. The first is the dialogue. The banter that goes back and forth between the characters feel like it’s from some cheesy, low-budget 80s film. The word usage and mannerisms are so far from the actual time-period, I honestly couldn’t tell that we were in the 16th century from conversations alone. There’s cheesy that can be fun and entertaining (think Mortal Kombat), then there’s cheesy that just doesn’t fit with overall theme and atmosphere of a particular story. This is the latter. Everything is supposed to be highly intense as these two clans are passionately murderous for one another. Yet the dialogue made it almost impossible for me to take this seriously at all.
The second element that really bothered me was the out-of-context, out-of-era inclusion of information regarding certain monuments and buildings. For example, the narrator will describe a castle that was built during that time period, then pause and explain how it was destroyed as well as the period that it was destroyed in (200 years after the fact), and then continue onwards with the tale. This is excruciatingly jarring and horribly unnecessary. If, as a reader, I’m immersed in the world of the 1500s, I don’t need a brief pause for a history lesson (that doesn’t even fit the construct of said story) that takes place in the 1700s. Furthermore, the destruction usually had absolutely nothing to do with the characters or plot that was unfolding in the moment. This disrupted the flow terribly and only worked to make me less inclined to keep reading. It ruins your focus, takes you out of the setting, and places you back into reality, making it harder to get back into it.
These two were the most painfully prominent features of this novel that makes it utterly unworthy of reading.
The actual fight scenes weren’t terrible. In fact, I rather enjoyed how grotesque and imaginative they were. Some of the skills that these ninjas have are completely out of this world, bat-shit fucking insane, and I enjoyed that very much. But, again, the awful antagonizing and taunting did a marvellous job of killing the suspense and ferocity that is supposed to be portrayed.
Overall, I really don’t recommend The Kouga Ninja scrolls, at least not until a better translation is released.
2 shuriken out of 5.