Sisters of the Sword


Sisters of the Sword

Author: Maya Snow

Publication: Harper Collins, 2008

Pages: 288

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 9-12

Brief Summary:  Kimi and her younger sister Hana are the daughters of a high ranking nobleman in 13th century Japan.  Their lives are idyllic until the day their uncle murders their father in order to take over as Jito, or lord of a vast area of land.  Kimi and Hana become fugitives, fleeing from their uncle and his men as they search for their mother and younger brother, who also escaped the massacre.  After killing a samurai soldier, Hana and Kimi disguise themselves as boys and take refuge in a renowned dojo, or training school for samurai.  They win positions as servants there and have plenty of opportunities to hone their fighting skills in their time off.  They train hard, waiting for the day when they will have the opportunity to confront their uncle and make him pay for his crimes.

Age of Main Character: Uncertain

What I Liked the Most: The book really felt like it was set in 13th century Japan.  Snow provides a wonderful mix of cultural details, weaving them deftly into the story, so that by the end I felt like I knew something about life in a medieval Japanese dojo and had a better understanding of what it meant to be a Samurai.

Snow does a great job describing daily life at the school and setting out the relationships between Hana, Kimi and some of the other students.   She expertly weaves together descriptions of the classes and training with interactions among the students, Hana and Kimi’s daily chores, and their ever present fear that someone will discover their secret.

What I Liked the Least: Kimi and Hana’s attempt to disguise themselves as boys was not very believable.  It more or less amounted to dressing in boy’s clothes and tying their hair into a topknot like the other boys.   A girl with her hair in a pony tail still looks like a girl, and even if all the girls back then wore their hair long and all boys tied their hair into a topknot, it shouldn’t really have fooled anyone beyond a casual inspection.  But somehow it manages to fool everyone at the school for months on end.

While Kimi and Hana did receive a lot of training in how to fight from their father and older brothers, it didn’t feel especially believable that their skills became as good as they did after a mere few months at the dojo – most of which they spent working as servants while the students around them were practicing night and day, and had been doing so for years.

How Good was the Action?  The fight scenes are first rate.  Whether Snow is describing a training bout or a fight to the death she takes us through it in exquisite blow-by-blow detail.  I could actually picture the movement of swords, spears, and fists as I read the scenes.  And when Kimi is involved, Snow also does an excellent job weaving her emotions into the fight.  The same speed and detail come through in Snow’s chase scenes, as Hana and Kimi are fleeing their house on the night of the massacre.

How Engaging was the Story?   There were many things about this book that kept it engaging.  The relationship between Hana and Kimi was part of it, but there’s so much more.  I loved Kimi’s internal dialogue as she pushes herself to the limit.  And there are some really great relationships between the girls and other people in the dojo, especially Master Goku  (the head of the dojo), Tatsuyo (a student who becomes their best friend), and Ken-ichi (their nephew and sworn enemy).  Mixed into it all is their constant fear of discovery and their boundless desire to train and develop the fighting skills they need in order to confront their uncle.

Overall Assessment: This is a first rate historical action/adventure novel.  Snow places the reader squarely into the flow of life in 13th century Japan and provides an engaging story filled with memorable characters and plenty of fast-paced and beautifully detailed action scenes.  If you’re looking for a good martial arts novel that’s full of samurai action and carefully rendered cultural details, then I would strongly recommend giving this book a try.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Yes.  Some of the fights can be a bit bloody.  It’s not the gore of a horror novel, but Snow also doesn’t try to whitewash what’s happening.  For example, when Kimi and her sister have to kill a Samurai, Snow doesn’t flinch from describing how they stab him in the side and cut off his hand.

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