Turner, Pamela S. Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune. illus. by Gareth Hinds. 256p. bibliog. chron. glossary. index. notes. Charlesbridge. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781580895842.
Gr 7 Up –Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the 12th-century Heian hero who defeated the rival Taira clan only to be undone by another member of the Minamoto group, is a samurai legend. His rise from obscurity, reckless brilliance in battle, and gruesome end (which helped establish seppuku as part of the warrior code) are irresistible features of a life that ended at age 30. A near-contemporary chronicle, Heike monogatari, and a nemesis’s history, Azuma kagami, reporting Yoshitsune’s deeds were too thin for the popular imagination, which immediately began embroidering on the sources. Turner unpicks some of the yarn but brightens the colors of what remains so that Yoshitsune, physically a small man, leaps from the pages, larger than life and twice as active. Everyone dies—violently—but the famous ends of Atsumori, Antoku, Kiyomori, and others are moving rather than grim. The text rips along, skillfully engaging teens in many swift turns of events. Historical and cultural references are impressively accurate, and Hinds’s fluid brush-and-ink drawings and battle maps add useful detail. Although Turner often uses the word probably, the compelling narrative never strains credulity, and expert tricks help readers navigate Japanese names and sort out relationships. Students will find the 60 pages of endnotes equally fascinating and lively; a seven-page bibliography attests to the serious research behind the vivid (but never simplistic) writing. VERDICT Japanophiles, action lovers, and future historians will all find this book gripping.
This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2015 issue.