This book was reviewed via Netgalley
Kudler’s Risuko is an enthralling tale of feudal Japan. Kano Murasaki, known as Risuko, has been sold into a half-slavery to Lady Chiyome, who runs Mochizuki, training shrine maidens called miko. But miko aren’t the only things she trains. No, Chiyome trains kunoichi, or ‘very special women’. It’ll be some time before Risuko or her fellow novices Emi and Toumi are ready to go down that path though.
As novices, the three are given kitchen duty with Kee Sun, the Korean cook. Here, under the guise of menial drudge work, their basic training begins. They learn how to handle knives in the kitchen properly, from cutting veggies, to butchering meat. From other instructors they learn language, culture, music, and dance.
Weeks turn to months, and it becomes increasingly clear that there is a thief amongst them, as items turn up missing, and rooms show evidence of having been searched. Unable to catch a human perpetrator, the crimes are blamed on a kitsune, as the fox spirits are notoriously mischievous. Things draw to a head after several poisonings reveal who the culprit is and what they’ve been looking for.
Through it all, we are given tantalising hints as to Risuko’s past. There’s no clue yet as to why she is considered so special. I hope we learn more of what happened with her family. Kudler’s story is well-paced and I actually finished it in a day. I’m glad it looks to be a series and can’t wait for the next one.
I only have a few qualms. The first is how abruptly things seemed to end. There was not as much closure as I would have preferred. Also, I found the use of European place and item names rather odd given the locale is feudal Japan. Kuniko’s weapon should properly be a naginata, rather than a glaive. Weatherbank and Pineshore have a distinctly British feel to them. I love historical novels, and this happens to be one of my favourite eras, so the discrepancy was quite jarring.
???? Recommended for lovers of historical fiction, tales of feudal Japan, and plucky heroines. Perfect for fans of Mulan.