A B.R.A.G. MEDALLION HONOREE. Award-winning author Blue Spruell reimagines classic Japanese folklore in an historical fantasy adventure of warlords, swords & mythical beasts from old Japan – an engaging tale for adults young and old – Banzai!
Lost in the mists of Mount Fuji . . . but no one can escape destiny. . . .
Orphaned by a rival warlord and bewitched by a ghost, young Taro must discover his birthright and destiny as the legendary boy samurai and hero of Japan.
Accompanied by Tanuki, his shape-shifting badger sidekick, Taro embarks on a quest of self-discovery and revenge, falls for Kamehime, the teenage samurai daughter of a powerful warlord, and ultimately becomes embroiled in the political struggle for the imperial throne. Along the way, Taro and his companions face fearsome yokai, the ghosts, goblins, and ghouls of Japanese folklore.
Plot: This is an exciting, magical coming-of-age adventure that draws from Japanese folklore and history. The episodic structure of the novel lends the story the aura of legend.
Prose/Style: The writing is strong, building a clear aesthetic though the use of folklore, and featuring some accomplished descriptive writing.
Originality: The book does an excellent job of creating a unique and original story from a strong cultural and historical well of source material. The book features a robust glossary to support the embedded Japanese language, which lends to the authenticity of the material. The included illustrations are excellent and fit the book very well.
Character Development/Execution: The many supporting characters who inhabit the story are varied and interesting, lending to the timeless storybook appeal of the novel. The protagonist, Taro, has a satisfying arc that propels the story to a fulfilling conclusion.
Blurb: An exciting adventure book that draws creatively from Japanese folklore and history.
Date Submitted: April 01, 2021
In crisp and lively prose, Spruell has reimagined the life of real 17th century samurai Takeda Shingen, adopting popular Japanese folklore and meticulous descriptions of swordplay and military tactics. Raised by a witch whose milk makes him grow stronger than normal boys, Tarō uses his magical powers for good as he trains with Master Yagyū and partners with Tokugawa’s teenage daughter, Kamehime (“turtle princess” and a skilled warrior in her own right), and Taro's pal, the shape-changing Tanuki (“raccoon-dog”), to exact revenge on Lord Monkey. Tarō, Kamehime, and Uncle Tanuki play cat and mouse with Lord Monkey’s samurai as they endeavor to protect the young emperor.
Spruell infuses an imagined feudal Japan and detailed descriptions of village life, trade, and the tea ceremony with the whimsy of folklore, talking swords, ogres, and vengeful Shinto gods (“A pale white apparition with a giant halo of rumbling thunder-drums, the very semblance of its wooden effigy, emerged from the giant statue to hover overhead”). The characters come to life with drama, eccentricity, and heart, depicted with charm in Miya Outlaw’s fanciful illustrations, which evoke woodblock prints. This inventive retelling will appeal to young adventure fans while inviting them into a rich world of folklore.
Takeaway: Adventure lovers all ages will enjoy this YA reimagining of one boy’s journey to become a samurai.
Great for fans of: William J. Puette’s The Tale of Genji, John Allyn’s 47 Ronin, Yei Theodora Ozaki’s Japanese Fairy Tales.
Design and typography: A
Engaging and fun samurai adventures with a captivating cast.
"Critique: Taro is a novel for all ages that transforms traditional Japanese folklore into a captivating historical fantasy. Set in the twilight of the 1500's, an era when samurai warlords battled one another relentlessly for power, Taro is the story of a young boy who loses his family to the ongoing conflict. A witch enchants Taro, and he befriends the animals of Mount Fuji while gaining supernatural powers. When Taro saves a powerful warlord's life, it is the beginning of a chain of events that pulls him into the bitter conflict with control of Japan as the prize. Wondrously written, with interwoven scenes of intense action and contemplative reflection, Taro is an extraordinary coming-of-age saga and highly recommended especially for connoisseurs of ancient legends retold. Highly recommended!"
A "riveting tale of betrayal, honor, and revenge that instantly hooks you in and just refuses to let go."