Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Shogun's Daughter by Laura Joh Rowland

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley/Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: September 12, 2013

Japan, 1704. In an elegant mansion a young woman named Tsuruhime lies on her deathbed, attended by her nurse. Smallpox pustules cover her face. Incense burns, to banish the evil spirits of disease. After Tsuruhime takes her last breath, the old woman watching from the doorway says, “Who’s going to tell the Shogun his daughter is dead?” The death of the Shogun's daughter has immediate consequences on his regime. There will be no grandchild to leave the kingdom. Faced with his own mortality and beset by troubles caused by the recent earthquake, he names as his heir Yoshisato, the seventeen-year-old son he only recently discovered was his. Until five months ago, Yoshisato was raised as the illegitimate son of Yanagisawa, the shogun's favorite advisor. Yanagisawa is also the longtime enemy of Sano Ichiro. Sano doubts that Yoshisato is really the Shogun's son, believing it's more likely a power-play by Yanagisawa. When Sano learns that Tsuruhime's death may have been a murder, he sets off on a dangerous investigation that leads to more death and destruction as he struggles to keep his pregnant wife, Reiko, and his son safe. Instead, he and his family become the accused. And this time, they may not survive the day.

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The best historic fiction is the kind that presents imagined drama and intrigue against a backdrop of real events. It strikes a perfect balance and melds together in such a way that it is difficult to discern where one ends and the other begins. It is the kind of fiction I look for and the kind I found in Laura Joh Rowland's The Shogun's Daughter.

I know almost nothing about feudal Japan so I spent a lot of time researching facts while reading this piece and what I found only increased my appreciation for Rowland's work. Set during the reconstruction period that followed the December 1703 Earthquake that leveled much of Edo, Rowland's story is punctuated with scenes of a city trying to rebuild the shattered remnants of its former glory, her citizens suffering over their misfortunes and scrambling to scrape their lives together once more. A mere backdrop to her tale, Rowland's attention to detail gives her work an authentic quality that few mystery writers of my experience can rival.

The premise at the heart of The Shogun's daughter is similarly based in historic fact. In May 1704, Tsuruhime, only child and daughter of the shogun did in fact die. Her passing was not the result of a carefully plotted murder scheme, but here again, Rowland exhibits a certain aptitude for adapting fiction to compliment real events. Blending circumstance with intrigue, Rowland recreates the turmoil caused by Tsuruhime's death in an intriguing and well-imagined tale of secrets, subterfuge and ambition.

In terms of characters, I admit I liked the interactions and relationships of Rowland's cast more than any individual player. The inquisitive Taeko's desire to emulate Masahiro despite his protestation and obvious annoyance. The manipulating Yangisawa against the compliant if alternatively motivated Yoshisato. The gentle and competent Reiko alongside the determined Sano. The multiple and intricate connections Rowland created between her cast really worked for me and added a little something extra to the piece as a whole.

A creative and memorable read that is both action packed and original.

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"A son of hers would have supplied a rallying point for people who don't think Yoshisato is a true Takugawa and don't want Yangisawa dominating the government for another term," Lady Nobuko went on. "Were that the case, what would happen after the shogun dies? Yangisawa's opponent would start a war against Yoshisato, on behalf of Tsuruhime's son, and possibly seize control of the dictatorship. Yangisawa understood that. He had Tsuruhime killed because she was a potential threat to his future."
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Check out all the stops on Laura Joh Rowland's The Shogun's Daughter Virtual Book Tour

Monday, September 16
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Tuesday, September 17
Review at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, September 18
Review at The True Book Addict
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Thursday, September 19
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, September 20
Guest Post at The True Book Addict
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Monday, September 23
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Tuesday, September 24
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, September 25
Review at Impressions in Ink
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Thursday, September 26
Review at Unabridged Chick
Friday, September 27
Review at Jenny Loves to Read
Review & Interview with A Bookish Libraria
Monday, September 30
Review at A Bookish Affair
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, October 1
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, October 2
Review at The Maiden’s Court
Review at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, October 3
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Friday, October 4
Review at Book Dilettante

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