Child of Vengeance by David Kirk
Scholar. Warrior. Samurai. His name was Bennosuke, son of the great Munisai Shinmen, known throughout the empire as one of the greatest warriors who ever lived. His destiny was to become a great warrior like his father – a Samurai, one of the most feared and respected in the world. But before fame comes action, and Bennosuke must prove himself on the battlefield before he can claim his inheritance. And in his way stands the vengeful Kensaku, son of Lord Nakata, the face of the enemy, a man who is determined to kill Bennosuke. It is a battle between honour and vengeance, pride and reputation. And Bennosuke must look death in the eye before he can call himself a warrior. Before he can call himself Musashi, the greatest warrior of all time…
I have an interest in the Far East and particularly in stories that delve into the region’s turbulent past. Strangely, the one time period I have always had a little difficulty with is feudal-era Japan. From a fiction standpoint, I’ve tried to read Shogun by James Clavell on more than one occasion and I’ve always ended up getting bogged down by the hugeness of it all. The massive cast of characters, the mind-boggling scope and the seemingly endless number of pages just makes it impossible for me to finish. With that admission in mind, I approached Child of Vengeance with a certain sense of trepidation. I’m pleased to report that I needn’t have worried. This novel is far more accessible then Clavell’s mighty tome, and more enjoyable because of that.
The relationship between Bennosuke and his father, Munisai, is a complicated one and it forms the backbone of the story. Munisai is the perfect samurai, driven by a strict code of honor and the hard life of a warrior. He is often distant towards his son, and it is only when Bennosuke uncovers the specifics of his origins that his father’s attitude becomes understandable.
In some ways, Bennosuke reads like a mirror of Japanese society from that time. Introspective and thoughtful, always concerned with his actions and how others perceive him, but also prone to great anger and violence. The biggest battles he faces are internal as he is forced to examine how his birth and upbringing have shaped him. In many respects this is the tale of a young man trying to reconcile two warring facets of his own psyche.
Some readers may consider the initial pacing a bit slow in places but this is in keeping with the gradual build up events. There is a wonderful economy in Kirk’s storytelling that mirrors the nature of the samurai life, almost a stillness at times. It makes the action scenes, when the do occur, seem much more unexpected and explosive.
Successful historical fiction should make a reader want to learn more about the time in which it’s set. Kirk’s writing manages this potentially difficult task with aplomb and I was quickly caught up in the plots and power plays of the samurai lords. There are various alliances, truces and political in-fighting that keep the plot continually moving forward. The novel then builds to a spectacular climax that sets things up nicely for a sequel that I’ll certainly be looking forward to reading.
I was talking to friends recently and I described Child of Vengeance as Shogun but with less pages. In hindsight, that does the book a great disservice. In my opinion, Child of Vengeance is better written, more enjoyable and far easier to connect with. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys insightful, thought-provoking historical fiction.
Child of Vengeance is published by Simon and Schuster and will be available from 28th February.