Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sisters of the Sword - exciting series set in ancient Japan

Sisters of the Sword is the start of a new series set in ancient Japan during the time of the Samurai. I love historical fiction - for me, it brings to life what it might have felt like to live in another time. But many kids want action, conflict and intrigue to pull them into a story. Well, this has it all - a great sense of time and place, along with action, fighting and drama.
Sisters of the Sword
by Maya Snow
NY: HarperCollins, 2008.
ages 9 - 13
Kimi and her younger sister Hana are daughters of the Jito, the feudal lord of their province in ancient Japan. While their father teaches them basic skills they might need to protect themselves, their future is clear - they are young ladies, and girls do not become samurai. But then they watch their power-hungry uncle stab their father and order his samurai to kill the rest of their family. The two sisters run and hide in the forest surrounding their family's estate.

Kimi and Hana find refuge in the dojo, or samurai training school, run by the wise and respectable Master Goku. In order to escape notice from their uncle's samurai, Kimi and Hana disguise themselves as boys and as servants looking for work in the dojo. Meanwhile, they learn the skills of the samurai - sword handling, meditation and clearing your mind during battle. The majority of the book is their life in the dojo, hiding their identity and trying to figure out how to reunite with their mother and seek revenge on their uncle.

I think girls and boys will like this book mainly for the action and intrigue in the plot. It's a compelling story, finding out how Kimi and Hana survive, fight their enemies and trick their uncle. The fighting scenes are exciting, and yes, a little bloody and gruesome. Here's a scene where Kimi and Hana are fighting one of their uncle's samurai for their lives:
I flung my sword up toward his head. The sharp edge near the hand guard sliced easily through the leather flap at the side of his helmet. Crimson blood spurted from the side of his face and for a moment he was blinded, shrieking in agony. His grip on my throat loosened and I twisted away.

He staggered toward me, blinking the blood from his eyes. I half turned, moving fast, and jerked my elbow up under his chin. His head snapped back and my sudden small victory gave me courage. Power surged through my limbs as I leaped forward into the air, my foot swinging up to deliver a hard kick --

But the samurai stepped behind me and grabbed my shoulder. He pulled hard and all at once I was falling!
I liked the sense you got of the samurai's code of honor. I was a bit conflicted by the sisters' search for revenge on their uncle, but I think that was a part of the culture. While the Japanese words might be hard for some children to read, the story is straightforward. I would imagine it's a good read for 4th through 7th grades.

This book was written by Maya Snow, but I am pretty sure that is a pen name. This book is copyrighted by Working Partners Limited, the same group that has written the Warriors series and the Rainbow Fairies series - so they clearly know how to put together compelling series that kids want to read. There are already three volumes of Sisters of the Sword series published:
1. Sisters of the Sword
2. Sisters of the Sword 2: Chasing the Secret
3. Sisters of the Sword 3: Journey Through Fire

You can preview this book at the HarperCollins website. Find this series at your local public library, an independent bookstore or Amazon.

For other reviews, see:
Reading Tub

This review copy was purchased for our school library. This review is written and copyrighted by Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

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