Child of Vengeance

Written by David Kirk
Review by Marina Maxwell

Bennosuke is a lonely 13-year-old with a skin condition who lives in the village of Miyamoto and dreams of becoming a samurai warrior like his father, the long-absent Munisai. The boy has been left in the care of his uncle, gentle monk Dorinbo, and seems destined for a life of religious contemplation until Munisai returns home. When Bennosuke learns the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of his mother, he is faced with challenges about his own identity even as he is given the opportunity to realize his dream.

The samurai culture is always intriguing with its code of rigid personal discipline and the issues of saving face, honor, purity and death — in particular seppuku, ritual suicide. Author David Kirk has assurance in his writing, which leads the reader to trust its authenticity and bodes well for his successful future as a historical novelist. The internal dilemmas of both the father and son are deftly handled, and the descriptions of life in old Japan meld seamlessly into the story. The dialogue also has a modern simplicity that does not detract from the feudal background.

Although young adult readers who are inured to images of rolling heads and spilling entrails will probably take its graphic violence in their stride, it could be confronting for others. Also, for anyone unfamiliar with late 16th-century Japanese history, a few author’s notes on the real people and political background would have been a useful addition.

The escapades and brutal battles in the second half of the book tend to blur after a while and don’t quite fulfill the promise of the earlier chapters, but as an introduction to the history and culture of the samurai, this novel is an excellent place to start. There is also a sequel on its way.