Sep 14 2013 9:45am

Fresh Meat: The Shogun’s Daughter by Laura Joh Rowland

The Shogun's Daughter by Laura Joh Rowland, a novel of feudal Japan featuring samurai Sano IchiroThe Shogun's Daughter by Laura Joh Rowland is the seventeenth novel featuring samurai sleuth Sano Ichirō of the court of the shogun in 17th Century Edo (available September 17, 2013).

When the daughter of the shogun dies of smallpox, a power struggle erupts among the court, since she did not live to bear him heirs. Yoshisato is a teenager who's been raised as the son of Sano's archenemy, Yanagisawa, and emerges as the recently “discovered” son of the shogun and, therefore, the new heir to the throne. When Yanagisawa uses the tragedy to enrich his own power and take revenge upon Sano, who is demoted from the shogun's chamberlain, the suspicions surrounding Tsuruhime's death multiply. Sano must find the truth with his pregnant wife's and adolescent son's help, or his entire family may perish in the aftermath.

The seventeenth novel in the Sano Ichirō series amps up the intrigue. Set after a powerful earthquake devastates the city, the infighting and power-playing of the samurai lords is put in stark view. If you enjoyed James Clavell's Shogun or courtly power struggles in other historical contexts, Rowland pulls the strings of tension taut here. Whether you are familiar with Edo period Japan or new to it, she offers a fascinating glimpse into the era's history with a spread of compelling characters, from Sano himself to his reckless samurai friend Hirata, who returns to the city with a ruthless warrior cult on his tail.

Rowland spins a traditional detective tale with unconventional means. We get the internal monologue of a deductive sleuth, plenty of action and intrigue, and clever methods of questioning, such as during a swordfighting tournament:

Someone tossed Sano a wooden sword. As he inspected it, he hoped he wasn’t making a mistake. He’d won many real fights, but he was almost thirty years older than Yoshisato, and although he was adept at controlling his weapon during practice matches, so as not to hurt his opponent, an accident was always possible.

Yoshisato walked confidently to the center of the field. Sano followed.

They faced each other, swords in hand. The audience rumbled with anticipation. Yoshisato lifted an eyebrow, waiting for Sano to speak or move first.

He was so like Yanagisawa, in his mannerisms if not his looks.

“I’m investigating the murder of the shogun’s daughter,” Sano said.

“I know. You think somebody infected her with smallpox.”

“Who told you? Your father?”

Yoshisato smiled briefly, letting Sano know that he knew Sano didn’t mean the shogun. “My adoptive father.”

The story does not flinch from the brutal realities of feudalism, and Sano is not the most enlightened of his kind; he operates within Bushido, the samurai code. In the opening chapters he beheads his friend, who committed suicide in shame. He sends thieves to their death as a judge, without a thought. He respects and loves his wife, but the order of power is ironclad. Like all women in repressive cultures, they behave one way when men are present, and another when they are alone. And everyone obeys the rules of their culture, but bends them every which way they can.

“If Lord Tsunanori did know, what would he have done to Tsuruhime?”

Jinnosuke looked up in surprise. “Nothing. What could he have done? She was the shogun’s daughter. You don’t divorce the shogun’s daughter, shave her head, or send her to work as a prostitute in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter.”

Those were the usual punishments for women who committed adultery, Masahiro knew.

The dialogue is earthy and never stilted; the point of view changes from Sano to his wife, his son Masahiro, a budding investigator himself, from Hirata the brash fighter, to Sano's enemy Yanagisawa, a cunning, near-psychopathic opponent, made all the more human by his few weaknesses. Sex is no sin, and men of power fulfill their desires at a whim.

Take for example this scene where Sano's wife Reiko grills a concubine. The eroticism is palpable and intertwined with the strict sense of justice the age embraces:

As a child Reiko had gone to the city with her grandmother and they’d seen a woman tied to a stake, about to be burned as punishment for arson. Her grandmother had pulled her away before the fire was set, but Reiko had never forgotten the woman. Now Reiko saw the same wild, desperate expression on Lady Someko. She’d voiced Lady Someko’s worst nightmare— that Yoshisato would turn into Yanagisawa, his real father. A draft stirred Lady Someko’s robes. The reddish-bronze silk glowed like flames consuming her body.

Sano is constantly in conflict with his own sense of honor and the code of Bushido in his feud with Yanagisawa, and he is not untarnished. He is up against a ruthless opponent and knows it. Many detectives have a code, but Sano's is one proscribed by his warrior caste, and watching him grapple with its tenets makes him an extremely compelling character. He is somewhat softened by modern mores, but never veers from believability.

Hirata's battles with his martial artist mystics take the story into the realm of fantasy, but for lovers of Japanese folklore and samurai films, they will not be alien:

Tahara and Kitano hung in midair, higher than the treetops, their knees flexed, arms spread, swords in hand. They began to spin as they plummeted, like twin tornados. Wind from them buffeted Hirata and Deguchi. Staggering, Hirata beheld them with frightful awe. They seemed made of air, as if speed had dissolved their substance. Above them, tree branches tossed. Under them, columns of dust swirled. As they touched ground, invisible blades lashed out of the tornados. The tornados separated. Kitano’s circled Deguchi. Tahara’s assailed Hirata.

For fans of the samurai era, historical mystery in general, or just a gripping tale of intrigue, The Shogun's Daughter would be a fine introduction to the Sano Ichir? series. The story informs us of the many clashes that Sano and his archenemy have had, without bogging down in backstory or leaving new readers confused, and the world Rowland has built for Ichir? to investigate is a real and compelling one. It made me eager to begin with the first and discover Sano and Hirata's adventures. Sano's family and retainers are useful and interesting, and they get plenty to do in this story.

The Tokugawa era was a tenuous truce among warlords, a forced allegiance of prefectures kept in line with fear. Daimyo families lived in Edo as hostages to the shogun, but there was always the concern that a weak shogun would inspire rebellion. And Sano Ichir? faces just that catastrophe, as the sitting ruler is weak of mind and spirit. Sano's fickle lord, his obsessed enemy, his reckless retainer, and his endangered family all force him to question his own honor and allegiance to Bushido. The samurai admired as the most honorable investigator to the shogun tests his most extreme limits as his family's fate hangs in the balance. It's a great read, a clever mystery, and a gripping thriller.

This Sweepstakes has ended.

To enter for a chance to win a hardcover copy of  The Shogun's Daughter by Laura Joh Rowland, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

The Shogun's Daughter Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete entry at beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) September 17, 2013. Sweepstakes ends at 12:59 p.m. ET September 24, 2013. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law.  Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


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Thomas Pluck writes unflinching fiction with heart. He is the author of Blade of Dishonor, an action thriller spanning Shogun-era Japan to WWII, and the editor of Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT, an anthology of crime fiction for charity.  You can find him on Twitter as @tommysalami.

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Joyce Mitchell
4. JoyceLm
Thanks for the review & the chance to win.
Janet Martin
6. janmaus
I've been following this series for years and have never been disappointed with a single episode. Can't wait to get my eyes on this one!
Kimberly Mayberry
7. MysticHuntress
I really want to read this book! I love this era, and I am facinated by the Samauris, Ninjas, Geisha, and all things related to this area of the world. This would be an awesome book to read and add to my collection!
Sheila Korman
8. skkorman
Sounds like a great read—thanks for the opportunity to win a copy!
Marie-Louise Molloy
9. Wezzie
Love all stories of this time period! This one sounds especially interesting!
Tiffany Duncan
10. Zoeypeacock
This looks really good. I've never read her books.
12. Mosaix
Archenemy! Yes!
Lisa Kaiser
13. lisakaiser
I love this series of novels--they are in my top 5 of favorites. Laura Joh Rowland has created truly wonderful characters. I am eager to read this new installment to the series
Kelley Tackett
14. tackettfamilyky
Loved Shogun with Richard Chamberlain. I will be adding this one to my list of books to read. Thank you.
16. themommazie
would love to win!
18. rennie
This sounds fabulous.
Sharon Haas
20. kazul
Sounds exciting! Thanks for the chance!
tom coady
21. tcodee
an intresting series I'll have tocheck it out
Vernon Luckert
22. vl4095
Looks like a good read. Would love to win this!
Anita Yancey
26. rosewood780
I really like the time period the book is set in. I would love to read it. Thanks for this chance.
Heather Martin
28. CrystalMirror
Just finished reading a really good review of this book on another site. This book seems to be generating good buzz.
29. tony parsons
cant wait 2 read this book
Joanne Mielczarski
30. jtmswim
Would love to read this book - please enter me.
31. Shannon Baas
I would love this.
Jackie Wisherd
33. JackieW
A great series...would love to read this one.
Anne Pichette
37. Happylady123
This sounds very interesting. I would love to read it.
Sue Farrell
38. Suekey12
This would be a whole new historical time period for me to read about in a mystery. I would love to win this book.
Sharon Shumway
41. Shellen
I love Chinese history and I can't wait to read this book. I have not read Ms. Rowland's books and am looking forward to the series.
Irene Menge
42. Goldenmane
Feudal Japan has always intrigued me and a samurai detective sounds marvelous.
Anna Mills
45. Anna Mills
I have, indeed, simply left a comment. You can check; it's right here!
Piero Giorno
46. 51Rocker
Mystery, thriller and suspense all set in the far east will make for an excellent read. The SHOGUN'S DAUGHTER by Laura Joh Rowland has all three features, and much, much more.
47. maryc
Great series - thanks for the giveaway.
Cindi Hoppes
48. CindiHoppes
I love the cover of this book and the theme sounds
very fascinating!
Thanks, Cindi
Sharon Shumway
50. Shellen
I love Chinese & Japanese history & culture. I am looking forward to reading all the books in this series.
kent w. smith
53. bodacious
A fascinating period of history that sounds like a really good read.
Thank you.
Gwen Ellington
54. mamadonie02
I believe I've read almost every book with "Shogun" in the title. Would love to try this one.
Rosemary Krejsa
56. grandpa5
The Shogun's Daughter sounds like a very good story. I would love to win.
Sandy Dengler
59. sldengler
I have not read one of Rowland's books in quite awhile. I remember really enjoying the stories. I would love to read this one.
Jim Belcher
60. librarypops
Long time since I read a good Shogun/Samurai story (Clavell actually).
Pat Murphy
62. murphyp2011
Have read all of the Judge Dee series by Van Gulik so it is now time for a new Oriental series. This sounds like a good one to start a new series with.
Donna Bruno
63. dlbawiles
I'm very interested in winning this new entry into the genre; it should make for some innovative twists.
susan beamon
66. susanbeamon
I started this series way back in the dim distant past, and I have tried to keep up. But there are so many series, and I behind in all of them. Still, I need this edition to keep up eventually.
juliana eugui
68. juliefrancis11
I really like her books; I loved The Fire Kimono. Would love to add this book to my home collection!
MARY Mclain
I have not read any books in this series, but would like to read her books.
72. tony parsons
cant wait 2 read this book
Tawney Mazek
76. tmaze
This sounds like a book to lose yourself in. (and is another for my To Read list)
Jeffrey Malis
77. bravejam
Great series! I've been looking forward to reading more... Thanks for the opportunity!
Heather Morris
78. morrish
What an amazing sounding series, will check it out!!
Marisa Young
79. Risa
Great series - Can't wait to read new book.
82. Monicalibrarian
I am a huge fan of this series. It is so well written and the characters are fantastic.
Kimberly Hilbert
85. asketcher2
I love historical books and mysteries. THis looks like a good 2 in one to me!
Beverly Jackson
89. bajackson
I am so enjoying this series and look forward to the latest.
Rosa Abraham
93. ravensfan
Sounds great. Would love to win this book.
Pam Flynn
95. desdemona
I can't wait to read this! Awesome and looks good!
kathy pease
96. klp1965
Thank you for the great giveaway please count me in :)
Marissa Buffett
97. marissarose123
Thnks for the chance to win! hopefully you pick me hehehe :)
Shauntea Crutcher
99. tiac32
I would like the chance to win this book. Thanks.
Florry M. D.
105. florryalyna
So tempting book! Would like to read it soon!
Heather Cowley
107. choochoo
Thanks for the chance to win and read this! Looks amazing.
Susan Smoaks
109. susansmoaks
Woot! Woot! Thanks for the chance to win!!!
Wayne Lecoy
110. hotrodguy
I am entering your giveaway.
It would be great to win a copy of
The Shogun's Daughter by Laura Joh Rowland.
Thank you for having this giveaway!!!!!!!!!!
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