Disaster after disaster befalls a girl called Death and her six sisters in ancient Japan. Despite all her prayers and offerings of haiku poems to a goddess, the White Fox demon continues to follow her around.
Ichi, ni, san, shi,
seven sisters born by sea,
go, roku, nana.
How would you like to have the name death? In Japanese, the single syllable shi can mean the number four or death, depending on what kanji (symbol) are used to spell it. This is somewhat like the words bread and bred in English.
In this second book of the Hearth and Bards series, the bard tells a tale set in Japan or Nihon. The language is elegant and moving. For example: “Every day, the sun ripples in a bright line along the ocean edge, then rises, a fiery pearl, above the water where she sleeps.” In addition, each chapter begins with a haiku, a short Japanese poem with specified number of syllables for each line. Each haiku gives a clue about what will happen in the chapter. If you like your books to have lyrical writing, The Fourth Sister should make you happy.
Every day, the sun ripples in a bright line along the ocean edge, then rises, a fiery pearl, above the water where she sleeps.
Unfortunately, girl number four of seven girls, shisei, has her name shortened to shi by her oldest sister Ichia, who is convinced that death follows Shisei because she can see a spirit animal. The animal that no one else can see is a four-tailed fox, a kitsune. He shows up when disaster is happening. Shi prays to the kitsune and to a higher god Inari, but it seems all her prayers are refused. Shi absorbs the idea that she is responsible for all the deaths that happen in the household. Trying to make up for her twin brother’s death, she does all the chores a boy would do as well as her own. But no matter how hard she works, she always feels defective.
But no matter how hard she works, she always feels defective.
In this setting the author skillfully weaves in themes of perception and misperception, brokenness, healing, masks, isolation, community, and sisterly love. Each sister develops a special skill that later might be useful to save the life of the youngest if they are brave enough and skillful enough. If they are not, they will join that sister in death.
There were a couple times when I thought that a Japanese girl in that age would never do what a character did in that time and culture. However, the author has done careful research, so I could be wrong. I lived for four years in Yokota AFB, Japan, and I was delighted to read so many things that are true to Japanese culture as I saw it. I would recommend this book to anyone fifteen years or older who likes lyrical writing.
The discussion questions at the end of the book are excellent. The author also provides a glossary to describe the Japanese terms used in the book as well as a list of resources. Please note that the author describes the folk religion of medieval Japan without endorsing the practices. There are a number of morals that could easily be placed in a Christian setting even though Christian missionaries did not show up for hundreds of years.
Genre: Clean Fantasy
Language: All the words are clean. There are prayers to folk Japanese gods. There is also some wordage about pregnancy and still-births.
Violence: there is a Daimyo that badly wants to kill someone. There is blood that is not caused by violence.
This book is available on Amazon.
Lelia Rose Foreman has raised and released five children. Everyone survived. She also homeschooled fourteen years with similar results. You can find her Christian science-fiction, A Shattered World in English or Spanish. She writes science fantasy adventure, Tales from Talifar with her oldest son, a video game artist, under the name Rose Foreman. You can contact Josh Foreman at breathoflifedev.com