Author: Dorothy & Thomas Hoopler
Primary Audience/age group: 12+
Genre: Historical fiction/mystery
# Of pages: 214
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year of Release: 1999
Part of a Series? Yes, the Hooplers have written several books featuring these characters
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend: YesDescription: (from book cover) Fourteen-year-old Seikei dreams of being one of the legendary warriors, a samurai but samurai are born, not made, and Seikei is a tea merchants son. Then a priceless ruby intended for the shogun the military governor of Japan is stolen by a ghost, and Seikei finds himself having to display all the courage of a samurai. He is the only person to have seen the thief, and now the famous samurai magistrate, Judge Ooka, needs Seikeis help to solve the mystery. Soon the two are hot on the trail of the ruby and an unforgettable adventure.
Review: So honorable! So beautifully innocent! This is what the jewel thief says about Seikei, and I think it is an apt description of both Seikei and the book that tells his story. In his efforts to be like the samurai he aspires to be, Seikei tries to be honorable in all he does, even when it wouldnt (I think) be expected of someone so young. In my opinion, that makes Seikei a very likeable character, which is the strength of the book. The mystery itself is not too difficult to unravel, but the reader will enjoy following Seikei along as he figures it out and as he deals with the contradictions between who he is and who he wants to be.
Rating: 3, for violence
Positive: This book does an excellent job in presenting the Edo period of Japanese history, especially the class divisions and cultural achievements. Although there is a lot of history in the book, it is woven into the story in a credible, entertaining way the reader never feels the author is lecturing. On a more personal level, Seikeis sense of honor and his efforts to live up to it are admirable, especially when contrasted with adult characters who are full-fledged samurai and yet are not as honorable as this merchants son.
Spiritual Elements: I was surprised by how much religion played a role in this story. One of the main plotlines centered around a character who is a Christian in the time when it was illegal to be one in Japan. However, that characters behavior seems to be more heavily influenced by the samurai code of honor. There is a lot of interesting cultural information about Japanese religion, including a chapter that deals with an offering to their goddess Amaterasu.
Violence: I was also surprised by the amount of violence in the book, although I suppose I shouldnt have been, since it is about samurai. However, the violence is generally not gory or drawn-out (the climatic scene is a bit more violent than scenes in the rest of the book). I wouldnt have reservations about letting a younger teen read the book. Since Seikei longs to be a samurai, there is quite a bit of glorification of the sword as the samurai weapon. There are a number of characters who either commit ritual suicide or are executed with the sword to uphold a sense of honor.
Language: The book doesnt use any offensive language.
Sexual Content: The book doesnt really have any sexual content. If there is any, it is so subtle I think it would be a stretch to be offended by it.
Other: Some characters drink alcohol. Some readers might possibly be offended by the way Christianity is presented, but I think its important to remember the story is being told from the viewpoint of a Japanese character who wouldnt understand the idea of a suffering servant god.
Rating: 3, for violence
Recommendation: I would definitely recommend this book, especially for boys who, like my son, are fascinated by Japanese culture thanks to some programs in the mainstream media. I would also recommend it to parents who are looking for a cool way to introduce their child to other cultures. It is outstanding historical fiction.