I finished this book a few days ago and I have to say, that I still wonder and think about this story. It seems to have lingered and there are not many books I have read that do that for me. Laura Joh Rowland has created an amazing tale full of mystery and Eastern martial arts magic that I found alluring. This was the first historical fiction book I have read from the Tokugawa era in Japan and I was not disappointed in the least.
Rowland did an excellent job at describing this foreign era in such detail it was as if I was watching a motion picture within my own mind. I have always been a sucker for a man with a code of honor and the main character Sano has one of the highest, the code of the Samurai. He was given the task of finding out if someone had intentionally killed the Shogun's daughter with smallpox. This would prove to be even more difficult to accomplish once his arch rival puts himself in a position to rule Japan now that the only legitimate heir to the throne is dead. Sano's morals will be tested even further once the Shogun turns his back on him after he is accused of murdering the heir apparent, a young man who is said to be the son of the Shogun and one of his former concubines. The story will keep you turning pages to find out what has happened and who is responsible for both deaths within the Shogun's family. (As a side note, I could not put this book down and read well into the night to finish it. That was how hooked I was!).
The one part of this book that I was a little unsure of its relevance to the overall story was a secondary plot that dealt with the magical side of martial arts. Rowland introduced a character by the name of Hirata who was at one point one of Sano's retainers and had a high place amongst his ranks. But then something changes for Hirata and he joins a secret society of three other men. Once he realizes that rituals they are preforming awaken a ghost general that wants revenge against the Shogun's family, he runs off to try to save his family and to make things right. Rowland did not really develop this storyline very in depth and I have to say even now I am a little curious as to why it was there and for what purpose. This book ended with Hirata's story taking a strange turn and I find myself wondering if it is to set up the next novel or if I missed something from within its mystical pages.
Other than that, I thought that this book was extremely well written. The story flowed from one chapter to the next, tempting me and dazzling me with exotic riches I have never experienced. One area that I felt a slight disconnect with the era would be in the dialogue. Some of the phrases used seemed more modern and didn't seem to fit within this place and time, but it did not deter from the the wonderful mystery being told. I will say that I was able to figure out who was behind the two murders within the Shogun's family relatively quickly, but was so invested in the tale being told by Rowland to be disappointed too much by that.
Overall, I would think that anyone that loves historical fiction set in the time of the Samurai with a wonderful twist of murder conspiracy should very much enjoy this book. If you are not big into historical fiction and prefer your murder mysteries to be a little more closer to the present, then you probably would want to skip this one.
Rating: 4 out of 5
I borrowed this book from my local library; I was not asked to do a review of this book.
The image was taken from www.goodreads.com