Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Samurai's Tale - Erik Christian Haugaard

The Samurai's TaleFor my 2016 reading challenge, there was a category of "A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF."  This was the book my boyfriend chose for me to read. He really enjoyed it when he was younger, evidently, and it was a nice short title to help fill out the list, so it worked out pretty well for the category.

The story revolves around Taro, a boy born as nobility in the Warring States period but reduced to the status of a servant when the rest of his family is killed.  But Taro still dreams of being a samurai and gladly accepts his new "captor" as a sort of father figure and works his way up the ladder to gain warrior status, which is actually really weird in retrospect.  There is no revenge factor here, and one would think that there would be.  The early chapters are very episodic and focus on specific events that influence Taro as he grows up; later the chapters gain a more continuous flow and cover the story of Taro's role in an ongoing conflict.

Taro is, of course, good at everything he does and all good and wise people like him.  Only evil people are his enemies.  He is also made out to be morally superior to everyone around him.  While most samurai cut off the heads of their defeated enemies for proof and glory, Taro views the practice as despicable and would never dream of such a thing.  Now, I'm not saying we should encourage teenage boys (who are clearly the audience for this; it was also obviously written in the period before YA became a thing, and so it includes a weird mix of middle-grade and more adult content, but is missing the tropes of modern YA) to chop of people's heads, but this characterization doesn't really fit Taro's time or place, or the position to which he aspired.

Overall, this wasn't really a great book for me.  While I liked some of the episodes, I felt like the whole thing felt kind of off in regards to authenticity of characters and setting.  However, I can definitely see how this acted as a "gateway" book for my boyfriend, who has gone on to have a voracious appetite for James Clavell's Asian Saga books.  It has a flavor to it that I can see being appealing, though the writing itself wasn't my cup of tea.  It has the feel of a written oral history rather than a story written for a novel form with the simple language, limited language, etc. and those have never been my favorite.

2 stars out of 5.

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