Monday, July 28, 2014

Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours/Netgalley
Read: June 7, 2014

June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the shogun’s cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the shogun’s palace. The murder weapon: Kazu’s personal dagger. Kazu says he’s innocent, and begs for Hiro’s help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi’s claims. When the shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit priest under Hiro’s protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor. The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda’s enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin’s skills to reveal the killer’s identity and protect the shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo’s wife, and the shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the shogun demanding the murderer’s head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time... or die in his place. Susan Spann's Blade of the Samurai is a complex mystery that will transport readers to a thrilling and unforgettable adventure in sixteenth-century Japan.

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I felt I'd come late to the party when I picked up Susan Spann's Blade of the Samurai. Every review said her sophomore release was better than her debut and there I was jumping into book two, one eyebrow raised, wondering what the hell everyone was going on about. I'd never heard of the author, wasn't familiar with the series, was slightly wary of all the praise, and wasn't feeling it as I moved through the first few chapters. 

I don't know if it's because I was unfamiliar with the cast, was still getting to know Spann's voice or that I'm just a stubborn skeptic, but I struggled to get into this book and was half-convinced I'd be penning a lukewarm commentary when Spann threw a curve ball I didn't see coming.

Moving forward after that was an entirely different experience. Spann had caught me off guard and in so doing, engaged my interest. The general levity of the narrative was still difficult for me to digest, but the mystery at the heart of the novel more than made up for it. Shrewd, sophisticated and imaginative, Spann constructs a riddle that keeps her audience on their toes. 

From a historical perspective, there is a lot of interesting detail, particularly that pertaining to the samurai code and the Jesuit missionaries operating in Japan during the sixteenth century. There are also some rather lovely representations of Japanese architecture if ambiance is something you look for in literature.

In hindsight I wish I'd read the books in order as there are several elements that seem to build on concepts from the previous installment, but I can't say I regret the time spent with Blade of the Samurai. I ultimately enjoyed the story a great deal and would definitely recommend to anyone with an interest in culture based fiction. 

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Hiro understood the threat. Innocence wouldn't save Kazu if the guilty party escaped. Unfortunately, with Kazu gone, Hiro and Father Mateo were next in line and equally viable candidates for punishment. The law would hold Hiro liable because he was Kazu's friend. But the chain of responsibility extended upward too, and Father Mateo was Hiro's official employer. If anyone suspected Hiro of helping Kazu escape, or decided to punish him in Kazu's absence, the Jesuit would share the shinobi's penalty.
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Check Out All the Stops on Susan Spann's Blade of the Samurai Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, July 7
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, July 8
Review at Closed the Cover
Wednesday, July 9
Review at Staircase Wit
Guest Post & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Thursday, July 10
Review at Boolover Book Reviews
Monday, July 14
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Wednesday, July 16
Review at Buried Under Books
Thursday, July 17
Spotlight at Reviews by Molly
Friday, July 18
Review at History Undressed
Monday, July 21
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Tuesday, July 22
Review at Judith Starkston
Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Thursday, July 24
Interview at Layered Pages
Friday, July 25
Review at The True Book Addict
Monday, July 28
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Tuesday, July 29
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, July 30
Review at Princess of Eboli
Thursday, July 31
Review at A Fantastical Librarian
Friday, August 1
Review at Reading the Ages

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