Book Review: Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune, Pamela S. Turner (2016)

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

A bloody good history lesson for kids who don’t usually love the subject.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Minamoto Yoshitsune should not have been a samurai. But his story is legend in this real-life Game of Thrones.

This epic tale of warriors and bravery, rebellion and revenge, reads like a novel, but this is the true story of the greatest samurai in Japanese history.

When Yoshitsune was just a baby, his father went to war with a rival samurai family—and lost. His father was killed, his mother captured, and his brothers sent away. Yoshitsune was raised in his enemy’s household until he was sent away to live in a monastery. He grew up skinny and small. Not the warrior type. But he did inherit his family pride and when the time came for the Minamoto to rise up against their enemy once again, Yoshitsune was there. His daring feats, such as storming a fortress by riding on horseback down the side of a cliff and his glorious victory at sea, secured Yoshitsune’s place in history and his story is still being told centuries later.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

So this is a first: I do not remember requesting an ARC of this book. I suspect the wishbone button is at play here but, since NetGalley doesn’t have a way of tracking wishes, who knows? It was a stressful summer and fall, and I may have done all sorts of crazy things on the internet that I don’t remember.

Which is my roundabout way of saying that, despite the abundance of katanas and severed heads, Samurai Rising isn’t the sort of book I normally gravitate to. I don’t read a ton of middle grade, and military history mostly bores me to tears. (I’d call Samurai Rising equal parts biography and military history/strategy. But since Yoshitsune is mostly known for his inspired military leadership, that tips the scales more heavily toward the latter.) Though I did skim some of the more strategy-heavy battle scenes (the lack of maps in the ARC made them even more difficult for me to envision), overall I was pleasantly surprised: Samurai Rising is a rather engaging read.

(More below the fold…)