Risuko by David Kudler

This dramatic novel will transport the reader into the perilous world of Japan, entangled in the ruthless civil war of 1570.


Risuko fulfils every opportunity to climb; trees, castles, walls- in fact, she earned her nickname Risuko- Squirrel because of her curious hobby. Risuko is content, although since becoming fatherless her family have been trudging on the weary road of poverty, and Risuko is surviving on what pitiful rations her mother can afford. Yet suddenly Risuko is snatched from her peaceful existence by  a glamorous, frail figure, and her life morphs into one of bewildering lessons. Yet, as the civil war surges on, Risuko is far from sheltered by the brutality in her protected academy.

Unlike many novels that haunt our bookshelves today, this one isn’t tiresomely long, and at roughly 200 pages, the emotional plot slotted in perfectly into the pages, without dragging on. I enjoyed the most reading about the in-depth research that went into this novel, particularly the extravagant names for items and people, such as Murasaki, Chiyome and a miko. Also, thankfully it deviated somewhat from the stereotypical samurai stories, but at the expense of possibly only being enjoyed by a mainly female audience. I say this because the novel is absolutely dominated by female characters (the only thing saving it from flailing in the seas of another samurai sword flashing book is because of the original, nearly all female, Mochizuki academy) and despite the handful of male characters featured, they cannot salvage the novel in that sense. This novel will only have a target audience of realistically around 10-14, and at that age I doubt many boys are interested in an overall female cast (where they disappear once a month to the Retreat, during their “Moon time”-I found that weird because it didn’t seem entirely pragmatic).

There was an almost informal style to the writing because of the simple language used, which is unfortunate because the foundations of this novel is superb, but in the actual literary sense it is disappointing. Often, there were phrases repeated, which is irritating as a reader because a skim through of the novel is all that is needed to solve this issue. Also, I noticed several spelling mistakes (in one instance I saw the word “exarcise” which jolted me in shock and surprise out of my flow of reading). I was also bemused by this extract; “I was thinking of Lady Chiyome’s interrogation that morning: Who are you working for?” This ultimately was the worst sentence in the novel, because this is one of the most overused sentences in a spy blockbuster film. This is not Hollywood Kudler, this is 1570 AD Japan. The sentence was glaringly obvious; out of place and incredibly cliche.

On the sense of stylistic devices, there was a rather minimalistic approach, where only adjectives would suffice. Having said that, the world encapsulated by Kudler did feel extremely substantial, yet at times visualisation of the characters was tedious. All the information I receive about Emi, for example, is that she is taller than the protagonist Risuko, and frowns a lot, with the latter repeated relentlessly. Agreed, repetition is a useful tool to gain emphasis, however I am still lacking a severe amount of other details about this character, which makes reading stilted as I have to create a character’s face every time the name crops up.                                                                                                                                    Then there was Kee Sun, the chef, who always pronounces his “you”s like “yeh” (‘”…I don’t think it’s someone come in from outside o’the wall over and over without anybody knowin’, do yeh?”‘) Unfortunately, Kudler has created the effect of, not a Korean chef, but a rusty English pirate, which was frustrating.

So, for the novel to be improved, I suggest that the editors could reread the novel, and replace all repeated sentences or phrases, check for spelling mistakes, (as there should be no reason for them in the age of auto-correct), and for Kudler to try and appropriately describe in more depth the characters, so that the readers can see beyond their two outlying characteristics.

I would recommend this novel to girls (or openminded boys) of the age of 10/11 years old who are looking for an action packed, historical adventure. It is generally thrilling with a twist of mystery, and you will benefit from this atypical insight into Japanese history. There are some issues with the novel, but it is  going to be released on the 15th June 2016, so I hope that by that time most of them will be solved, enhancing everyone’s reading experience!

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