14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Some years ago I read Musashi Miyamoto's 'The Book of Five Rings' (Go Rin No Sho) and to be frank, I was underwhelmed. Books like 'The Art of War' and even 'The Prince,' contain a good deal of strategic wisdom, but with 'Five Rings' all I found was observations of what seemed self-obvious. The book meanders through observations like the following:
'Someone once said "Immature strategy is the cause of grief". That was a true saying.' (From Go Rin No Sho).
Okay, that sounds true enough, but hardly earth-shattering news. However, reading the book led me to find out more about Musashi and his life. So when 'Child of Vengeance' became available, I read it with great interest. The author, David Kirk, spins a terrific story interwoven with solid history and creativity allowed in an historical novel. While historical documents, such as they are, tell us something about Musashi, much of his life is shrouded in mystery and sparks of mysticism. He is definitely not your average samurai warrior, either in his training or his accomplishments.
Child of Vengeance centers on Musashi's life between the ages of 13 to 16, and while this may seem to be hardly enough to fill a couple of pages in most people's lives, for Musashi ( or Bennosuke as he is called through most of the book) it crowds the 320+ pages of Kirk's work. It takes place from about 1597 to 1600. During that time of Japanese history samurai warriors and codes of honor were strongly established, but at the same time shattered at the battle of Seki ga Hara, where treachery won the day; not honor. However, it did establish the Tokugawa Shogunate and a way of life for the next couple of hundred years.
Having lived in Japan when I was young, I had always found the Japanese a contradiction, but in later years I found that every culture was a contradiction--not least of all Americans. Many of these contrary cultural traits (albeit in feudal Japan) are summarized in the dual principles of honor and strategic deceit in the samurai code. In World War II, the attack on Pearl Harbor was seen as an honorable act (by samurai standards) as part of a wise strategy, but most Japanese soldiers preferred suicide over surrender, a dishonorable act. Musashi seemed to understand the concept of strategic deception and taking advantage of tactical openings better than most. In his first victory in a samurai dual, he attacked a swordsman with a stick and beat him to death at the tender age of 13. His attack was sudden as his uncle (a monk) tried to talk the other samurai warrior out of fighting. His uncle's distraction provided just the right opening Musashi needed to get in the first lick to knock his opponent to the ground and make sure he never got up. Yet he is driven throughout the book by honor codes--or the dishonor deceitfully placed upon his father.
Kirk's handling of Musashi's education and experiences that molded the young Bennosuke is artful. His relationship with his father, the renown samurai, Munisai, and his uncle, Dorimbo, the monk, show a young man torn between and energized by two contradictory paths in life. His love/hate for his father leads to both his cynicism of the way of the samurai and his need for vengeance and the usefulness of samurai skills. His uncle's teaching, ironically, serve to better his deadly samurai skills. Somewhere near the end of the book, he enters the void, described in the last book of Go Rin No Sho. It is the best illustration I've read of what Musashi is talking about in the Book of the Void.
Over all, this is an excellent historical novel. I think that readers will get more out of it if they first read 'The Book of Five Rings' only about 30 or 40 'real' pages and can be downloaded at no cost in PDF format on the Web. Also, the author description mentions the author's age as 26. I have no idea what numbskull thought it was a good idea--James Clavell's age was not announced on the back cover of 'Shogun.' What did they expect readers to do, pinch Kirk's cheek and cluck, 'What a clever boy David is!' That information is not going to attract the Harry Potter crowd and distracts from the book's overall attraction to readers who might be interested in reading a novel that takes place in the late 16th century.
I hope that Kirk writes more of Musashi 's life and 'Child of Vengeance' is only the first in a series many such novels.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2013
Musashi Miyamoto is a lost teen in 17th century Japan. Abandoned by his samurai father, he lives with his uncle, a temple priest, puzzling over the many mysteries surrounding the death of his mother and the disappearance of his father. He must make a choice -- will he become a ruthless samurai like his missing father or a monk like his uncle? Will he choose a peaceful life as a scholar-priest or pick up two swords and avenge his father's dishonor?
This fascinating and detailed novel is based on a true story -- Miyamoto became a great warrior, artist and writer in 17th century Japan. The historical facts about Miyamoto's adolescence are murky and conflicting, but first-time novelist David Kirk weaves an impressive story of his young adulthood, featuring samurai training, temple service, blood feuds, war, adventures, and vengeance.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Beautifully written. The prologue, the first 2 pages, kind of threw me as it was descriptive and dry. It actually put me off reading this book a couple of times until I got past it. However, once I got into Chapter one into the part where the characters started appearing it absolutely absorbed me. And that's because the author has a way with putting life into his characters. By the end of Chapter two I was deep in feudal Japan.
It appears by the absence of other works on Amazon that David Kirk is a debut author, but his writing is very good. The blurb on the back notes that he is a Japanese historian living in Japan. He captures the essence of the Samurai, feudal Japan, and more importantly the essence of the characters in his book. In the first chapter, I was standing there on the hill with Munisai, Lord Shinmen, Ueno and Lord Kenno waiting for Sepukku, knowing it was going to happen, not wanting to see it, but unable to turn away either. In the next instance, I was in the palanquin next to Munisai with the Nakatas. The menace came off Hayato so strong that even I could feel it and I was glad to leave the palanquin with Munisai before anything worse could happen. That's when you know the book is good, when the book puts you in the action and you feel like you're right there feeling what the characters feel.
This is a true epic, based loosely on the historical character Miyamoto Musashi. This book at 322 pages is if anything a little too short. I'm completely wowed by it. I wanted to put it down at times but couldn't. What happens next? I'm hoping for more. Anyone interested in feudal Japan, Samurai or good historical fiction should definitely get this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Book of Five Rings remains a classic of martial philosophy and is the ultimate guide to the Samurai way of life. However little is known of the early life of its author Miyamoto beyond the barest facts.
Kirk takes these facts and weaves an exciting and bloody tale. Those familiar with samurai or Miyamoto from movies won't be surprised at this. The story Kirk weaves from the facts of the hero's life is an exciting one. The author weaves the facts together into something that makes a coherent whole.
In this he succeeds admirably. The story moves along so quickly I was 2/3 of the way through before I knew it. It's easily s exciting as any samurai movie I've seen. Miyamoto's youth was spent during exciting and troubled times in Japan but the underlying themes of vengeance, finding yourself, and the Samurai way of life, give the tale a timeless feel.
Kirk's writing is amazing. He has a great eye for detail and description which made even the most violent part of the book almost lyrical in feel. But what's most interesting to me is how well he understands the minds of the Samurai of this period. Thta' hard for Westerners to grasp, but he does.
I'm looking forward to more of his books.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Child of Vengeance is a novel based on the life of the legendary seventeenth
century Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi. It is set largely in the
delicate, intricate, and often brutal formal courts of Japanese warlords.
It is likely due to my own almost total ignorance of the culture and
language of this era and locale, but I find the incessant use of the
passive voice difficult to bear. I had hopes of this book being a window
into the life of this time, but instead I only despair of being able to
sympathize with the ritual suicide, constant intrigue, and betrayal that
permeate this story. I read only the first third of this book and stopped,
disappointed and bored. There is plenty of tension, courtly banter,
loyalty and family, but not for me. Someone with more background in Japanese
history, or a great interest in Miyamoto Musashi might find this book readable and interesting.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
At its best, historical fiction bridges gaps of time and comprehension, and illuminates the lives of ordinary and famous alike. "Child of Vengeance" is a tale of the teenage years of a noted swordsman who lived in the first half of the 1600s in feudal Japan.
We meet Bennosuke at age 13, as he trains in swordsmanship with one uncle and works with another uncle to prepare the village temple for its ritual, cyclical immolation and subsequent rebuilding. Bennosuke, however, is destined for a more complicated life than that of a villager in feudal Japan. Rather, he will become the highly regarded swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, and his name and exploits will survive the intervening three-and-a-half centuries.
In "Child of Vengeance," David Kirk traces the complicated life of Bennosuke from ages 13 through 16, carefully revealing aspects in sequence. Although he writes in third person, the vantage point is largely that of the protagonist, which helps to filter perceptions so that they match Bennosuke's age and his developing scope of understanding and cognition. We see this most clearly as the people most influential in Bennosuke's youth each take the stage in turn: we perceive them as Bennosuke does. Thus, Munisai (Bennosuke's father) initially seems rather two-dimensional, because that is how he chooses to interact with his son. Only later, as their relationship grows, does Kirk pull away enough of the curtain so that Munisai's character and motivations become clearer. This storytelling approach provides immediacy while preserving suspense, although most readers who choose this book are likely to have at least some knowledge of Miyamoto Musashi.
Kirk provides a fair amount of setting and other detail, but some of his character delineations are a bit stilted. However, this is offset by clear, engaging dialog that builds complexity and adds dimensionality to the characters he allows to speak in their own voices. An early example of this is Bennosuke's conversation with his uncle, the monk Dorinbo, about the chasm between the life of a monk and that of a samurai.
I have an affinity for history and for Japan, and found this book to be a satisfying read. Unfortunately, I was expecting the author to weave a richer, more complex tapestry, especially given the era and the endemic tensions of daily life in feudal Japan, including religion and masterful political intrigue. Some of the more specific descriptions of swordsmanship were too graphic for my taste. However, they advance the story, and so I merely point out their existence and did not factor this into my rating.
According to the author's website, a second installment of this tale is with his publisher, with release possible during the spring or summer of 2014. I look forward to reading that book, as well.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
My father spent several years in Japan after the Second World War designing buildings on US airbases. This gave him an appreciation for the new wave of Japanese samurai movies. Apparently he didn't want to sit through the kind of movies aimed at children at the time so he took me to see the Japanese equivalent of cowboy westerns. Movies like the Seven Samurai (a takeoff on the The Magnificent Seven). He also took me to Chūshingura (the story of the 47 Ronin) and the Samurai Trilogy, which is a three movie series about Musashi Miyamoto. Musashi Miyamoto is also the central character in David Kirk's book Child of Vengeance.
Musashi Miyamoto was a historical character and the author of A Book Of Five Rings (which experienced a brief fad as an American business fetish in the 1980s). Musashi was a legendary swordman who lived at the start of the Tokugawa unification of Japan, in the 17th century (Western calendar). Musahi Miyamoto was a nom de guerre, a name he took as a masterless samurai (a ronin). His birth name was Bennosuke Miyamoto and it is the story of Bennosuke's teenage years that is the plot of Child of Vengeance. The novel ends where the samurai trilogy movies begin: with the Battle of Sekigahara, which cleared the way for the rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
In David Kirk's novel, we see Bennosuke's troubled childhood, the son of a father who is ruled by rage and pride. The events that transpire in the novel explain how Bennosuke (Musahi), who was raised as a samurai's son, became a Ronin swordsmen. The picture of feudal Japan, a society that harshly defined stratified roles is vivid. Kirk is a good writer and he paints a memorable picture of Bennosuke's struggles growing up and the demons that drove his father.
David Kirk teaches english in Sendai, Japan. The novel is carefully researched and the characters in the novel are the characters of their time and place. For those with an interest in feudal Japan, the book is a compelling read. I only knew of Musashi from the movie trilogy and the picture of his youth fits in well with what I know of his story.
Although Child of Vengeance will probably be enjoyed by Japanophiles, it may not have the broad appeal of James Clavell's novel Shogun which is set in the same time period. Shogun had the English character John Blackthorne and the reader is partially introduced to feudal Japan through Blackthorne's experience. All of the characters in Child of Vengeance are Japanese, with the world view of people in Japan's feudal period.
I look forward to reading the sequels to Child of Vengeance, where Musahi will evolve into the duelist of lasting fame.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I'm always hesitant to read historical fiction mainly because it seems like whenever I have read any, the author tried to shoehorn every little bit of info about the subject into the book, turning it into a biography/fanfic hybrid. Amazingly, David Kirk didn't do that! Child of Vengeance is a surprisingly good read about a character based on Miyamoto Musashi. For those who aren't too familiar with Musashi, there are A LOT of things we don't know about him, and unless someone finds documents, letters, journal entries or anything from him somewhere, there's not much we can do but speculate. It might be a good idea to read A Book of Five Rings prior to Child of Vengeance just to get a better idea of where Kirk was going with things, but it's definitely not a requirement.
It's hard to give a plot summary for this book because so much happens, and there are many characters to talk about. I will say that David Kirk did an excellent job with making characters that come to life, and setting up events. I can't name many books that sucked me in and had me become a part of the story, but this is right up there with the likes of It by Stephen King. Seppuku, duels, everything here was done better than most samurai movies I've seen, including the Samurai Trilogy, also based on Musashi.
Sorry for being so vague with this review, but I don't want to spoil anything when it comes to books. If you're a fan of Musashi or samurai in general, Child of Vengeance will likely keep your attention from beginning to end.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Even I have heard of "The Book of Five Rings". Written by Japanese Samurai Musashi Miyamoto in the mid-1600's, it is a treatise on martial arts that is still referenced today for pointers in business or politics. (Much like the Chinese "Art of War" or Machiavelli's "The Prince" can still be relevant.)
"Child of Vengeance" is David Kirk's imagining of the early life of Musashi Miyamoto, starting when he was only Bennosuke, a 13 year-old boy raised by his uncles. His mother died when he was five, and his father, warrior Munisai Shinmen, has been off for eight years in his lord's service. Gradually, you learn that Munisai didn't just leave out of obligation. He escaped. Something terrible happened, and he can barely spare a thought for his son.
After a great battle won for his lord, Munisai is present when the lord of the captured castle, a 9 year-old boy, commits seppuku as required by the Samurai code. "Munisai was in a strange mood. Something was different this time. ... [It was] the eyes of the boy lord, Kanno. Determined and innocent. Those were what haunted him, for in them he saw another boy, one whom he had left behind and tried to forget about, a boy who was through no fault of his own the bane of his life."
Munisai does eventually return home, and undertakes to teach Musashi the ways of the samurai. But there is no rest for anyone in this story. The life of the samurai, as depicted in "Child of Vengeance" is truly to live by the sword and die by the sword. There is much to answer for, and, as always, politics can override everything, including honor. Or, rather, honor takes on some pretty sketchy meanings in light of the politics.
David Kirk is at his best in taking you into the minds of the ruling samurai class (women were also called samurai if they were of the class). The rituals are simply astounding. The dedication to crushing all emotion out of yourself, save the drive to serve and die with honor, reminds me of the stories of the Spartans.
Kirk also does a great job of describing some ins and outs of living in feudal Japan. Like many other cultures, the Japanese of this period were highly stratified. And at the bottom of the bottom were the corpse-handlers and tanners. "Wise men estimated them to be at best the seventh of a true human being, so the dismemberment of what was a tainted parody of a man in the first place made little difference in the scheme of things."
There aren't a lot of facts known about Bennosuke/Musashi, but Kirk has put together a rousing, if grim, fictional account of what early life may have been like for him. There's a lot to recommend in "Child of Vengeance". It is a little long-winded, though. I'm not a fan of extended internal conversations.
I am reviewing from the advance Bound Galley-Uncorrected Proof, so changes may yet be made to the book before publication, but it looks like Kirk does not plan to include an Author's Note. That's a shame because a lot of research obviously went into this book. When you're writing about a real person and incorporate real events, an author's note helps the reader determine what is real, what is not, and why the author chose this or that - It is good reading in and of itself.
I rate this 4.3 stars. A good and ambitious first book for a young (26 years old) author; an author to watch for in the future.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2013
For anyone who has read, and loved The Tales of the Otori, by Lian Hearn (how could not love them???), this book is great. Tells the famous, well known story of a young Japanese boy who decides to walk the path of the samuarai. Overall, a fantastic book, that I really wish could be a series. If you're like me, and are in love with this era, then you will enjoy this book.