Series: Seasons of the Sword #1
Published by: Stillpoint Digital Press
ISBN 13: 9781938808326
Published: June 2016
Format reviewed: PDF
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
The story starts with our main character, Risuko, called that for her affinity for climbing (Risu means squirrel in Japanese), playing with her sister amongst the trees. Risuko also means ‘child of the law’, which is fitting for a child who is said to bring victory back to her disgraced family, of whom we learn more about as the story progresses. Japan has been devastated by a century of civil war, but Risuko lives rurally and only knows of her own family troubles until her life takes an unexpected turn; she is sold to a rich old woman, and soon finds herself pulled into a mess of feuding and scheming warlords, where her talents are believable yet extraordinary. Risuko may reunite Japan — or may destroy it. She is torn from her home and what is left of her family, but finds new friends amongst warriors and, later, at a school that may not be entirely what it first seems.
This book is written calmly and with obvious care for the culture and smooth tone of writing. We have quite a large cast of characters for a middle-grade book, and yet each character is well rounded and easy to keep track of, with Masugu an early favourite. From the start there is quite a lot of intrigue and action to keep you reading, as our poor band of fighters are attacked multiple times on their way to this secretive school Risuko has been hand-picked to attend. Though we’re told the children are to become temple attendants, the surprising fighting ability of those who surround the rich Lady Chiyome make the reader think that there’s more to this temple school than is being said, especially with the hints dropped about her father and the skills that made him renown before he became a simple scribe.
Whilst the first half of the book has a decent pace and is gripping enough to keep you reading, it’s the second half of the book that shines. Characters we have come to care about are in trouble, and through the story as we learn about food and herbs and how they can be used as poisons, we note hints that something bad is about to happen… and then we have a mini-mystery on our hands as we try to figure out who’s behind these terrible things.
With a beautiful cover and careful writing, this book is a lovely surprise, and I would recommend it to children who would like to read an action-filled and to get a glimpse of Japanese culture and interactions as the characters are quite carefully stereotypical of the times. With a helpful glossary at the end, to assist those who aren’t familiar with the Japanese language for what some of the more common-day words mean in English.
The next book in the series, Bright Eyes, currently doesn’t have an estimated release date, but I’ll update here when it’s known.