I have to be careful what I say here; Karate Kid read this book before I did, and he loved it. He’s been asking me about a half dozen times a day if I’ve finished it yet. Well, now I have, and I can say that I liked it but didn’t love it.
Sisters of the Sword definitely fills a niche: I’m not aware of many other middle grade fiction titles that deal so specifically with samurai and martial arts, especially not for girls. Yet, there are lots of kids who do martial arts, and lots of those nowadays are girls. Sisters of the Sword would be just the book to get those karate and taekwondo fanatics interested in reading.
The story is set in medieval Japan as two sisters, Kimi and Hana, run away from a tragedy in their aristocratic home and take refuge, disguised as boys, in the dojo of Master Goku who runs the finest samurai training school in Japan. The story has lots of adventure, suspense, and violence. It’s Eastern philosophy-lite, but the Eastern religious influence is obvious in the honor-based culture and the emphasis on vengeance and the restoration of honor.
The plot and characterization are a little weak in places: would two aristocratic girls really find it quite so easy to blend into a school full of boys? What about the scene where Kimi’s enemy, Kenichi, stripped to the waist, is wrestling with another boy, and Kimi almost challenges him herself? She retreats, however, for fear of being recognized, not because she would need to match her opponent’s state of undress. The character of the second sister, Hana, is a bit under-developed, as she follows Kimi’s lead and yet remains feminine and gentle. And Kenichi is the typical, spoiled rotten bully, no depth and no real motivation.
These are quibbles, however. Martial arts enthusiasts will enjoy the book and look forward to the promised sequel. Karate Kid will be looking eagerly for the next book in the series, too. According to Amazon, the next book, Sisters of the Sword 2: Chasing the Secret, comes out in January, 2009.
Other bloggers on Sisters of the Sword:
Pixiepalace: “The story this book tells is incredibly intriguing. The plot is complicated and many threads are left for the author to pick up in later books. What makes it so interesting is the political intrigue, various codes (bushi, noble and and likely others that are less well defined for us as readers, at least at this point), and the deceptions being overlaid on top of each other in varying ways.”
Trainspotting: “Sisters of the Sword is very fast moving, quick read. A lot of detail in things like costume, fighting style and other such culture. I enjoyed it. I know how cliche sounding this is, but is very much a Japanese version of Mulan.”
The Reading Tub: “Teens will devour this fast-paced adventure of two sisters. This book may be particularly appealing to twins. This is an ensemble cast of diverse, interesting characters. There are several males with whom pre-teen and teenage boys will immediately connect.”