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 https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2013/09/fresh-meat-the-shoguns-daughter-by-laura-joh-rowland-edo-period-japan-sano-ichiro-samurai-bushido-thomas-pluck 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.

Comments

  1. Mary Ann Woods

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    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!

  8. Sheila Korman

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    Archenemy! Yes!

  13. Lisa Kaiser

    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

  14. Kelley Tackett

    Loved Shogun with Richard Chamberlain. I will be adding this one to my list of books to read. Thank you.

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    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.

  42. Irene Menge

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    I have, indeed, simply left a comment. You can check; it’s right here!

  46. Piero Giorno

    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.

  48. Cindi Hoppes

    I love the cover of this book and the theme sounds
    very fascinating!
    Thanks, Cindi
    jchoppes[at]hotmail[dot]com

  49. Sharon Shumway

    I love Chinese & Japanese history & culture. I am looking forward to reading all the books in this series.

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    My kind of book would love a copy

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    Thank you.

  53. Gwen Ellington

    I believe I’ve read almost every book with “Shogun” in the title. Would love to try this one.

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    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.

  59. Jim Belcher

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  60. vicki wurgler

    thanks I liked the review

  61. Pat Murphy

    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.

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    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.

  66. L L

    fascinating

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  70. Marguerite Beal

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  76. Jeffrey Malis

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  87. Daniel Morrell

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    I am so enjoying this series and look forward to the latest.

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    Thank you!

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    I would like to read the work of Laura Joh Rowland!

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  109. Wayne Lecoy

    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!!!!!!!!!!

  110. Kathy Fannon

    Great series-I’d love to win

  111. Christine LaRue

    Lady Someko, meet LadyAnubis.

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