The Plum Rain Scroll, by Ruth Manley, Hodder and Stoughton, Australia, 1978
The Great and Terrible Quest, by Margaret Lovett, Sonlight 2001 (1967)
Enthusiastic reviews led me to read these two books for children. Ruth Manley's series won various awards in Australia, and the New Zealander from whom I bought a first edition seemed worried that I was the beginning of a price surge. Yet it seems that the book is unknown in The US and UK. Meanwhile, the Economist wrote a rave review and a spot of literary detection about Lovett's book, involving "a sanctimonious Christian publisher stealing from a defenceless old lady." Sonlight sent me the book along with a home-school catalog depicting happy families.
"The Plum Rain Scroll" has some good characters, like Aunt Piety the fox-woman, and a Kai-Lung-like panda, and various monsters (isn't Nupperabo a great monster name). Japan offers a rich mythology to mine and distort, as most recently done with Across the Nightingale Floor. Still, the story has only a single thread, and when things get tough the plot gives an unbelieveable wrench and everything is all right. I also cannot imagine the emperor as a friendly guy. So, I do not know whether to try the next two volumes and see if it gets better. The review states that Ms Manley only actually went to Japan after the first volume (not that Ernest Bramah ever went to China, afaik). Maybe I will experiment on Ross.
"The Great and Terrible Quest" is set in the more usual Western knights-and-castles milieu. It is well written, and the boy hero is forced to be resourceful. But a grown-up can see why Sonlight chose it: there is a lot of kneeling before the cross of one's sword, and talk of a Greater Power.
I recently bought a backpack-sized copy of the swashbuckler Musashi, which I look forward to reading. I wonder if Ross would prefer it to "Plum Rain", and Dumas' Musketeers to Lovett's Trad and Huon. I suspect so.