Author: David Kudler
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Seasons of the Sword #1
Published: June 2016
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Can one girl win a war?
My name is Kano Murasaki, but most people call me Risuko. Squirrel.
I am from Serenity Province, though I was not born there.
My nation has been at war for a hundred years, Serenity is under attack, my family is in disgrace, but some people think that I can bring victory. That I can be a very special kind of woman.
All I want to do is climb.
My name is Kano Murasaki, but everyone calls me Squirrel.
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?
Risuko is a book with a great summary and a fantastic cover going for it. Sadly, that's about all the good news I have to offer about it. Though it's a short 230 pages from start to finish, and though it begins rather well, Risuko soon loses momentum, drags along, and makes for dull reading. I was drawn to this story because it sounds like a fantastical mix of history and magic set in a land rich with both, but instead I found a slow drudge through the rote recitation of minutiae in an everyday life.
The life of a female ninja would be so much fun to read about, and Kudler shows hints of that here and there with his versions of the secretive Mochizuki. But instead of expanding that, Risuko chooses instead to focus on mundane aspects of Squirrel's life once she reaches a certain location and just spends far too long doing so. Before the extended, expected training sequence, Risuko has a lot of promise and teases a lot of exciting events and ideas to keep the story rolling. The book does move on from this necessary but way overdone step in developing its eponymous heroine, but not before it permanently ruins any kind of momentum the plot had going for it.
This book feels stiff and feel very generic, and that especially shows in the atmosphere and locations mentioned or visited (like "the Retreat.") by the characters. There's not enough depth and time spent showing the world and culture that Risuko lives in; it feels empty and carries no weight. I have a hard time investing in Risuko when the main character is so broadly-drawn and so is the worldbuilding. The interesting ideas that inspired Kudler's story like the historical kunoichi had promise, but the execution of this series debut was not evenly handled. It's a slow read and one that left me uninterested in pursuing the sequel.