Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Shogun’s Daughter by Laura Joh Rowland

Title: The Shogun’s Daughter
Author: Laura Joh Rowland

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Japan / 18th Century / Edo / Samurai / Murder Mystery / Royal Intrigue / Smallpox)
Publisher/Publication Date: Minotaur Books (9/17/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Okay to liked.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: In 18th century Japan, the sudden death of the shogun's daughter leads to a possible pretender taking power, and samurai Sano is tasked with finding out the truth of the daughter's death.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I'm of two minds: on one hand, it just looks like an ambigu-Asian novel, but on the other hand, there is a (minor) character who has half her face obscured due to her smallpox scars, so this could be a nod to her.

First line: Moans filled a chamber lit by a single dim lantern.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow.

Why did I get this book?: I have long been interested in Rowland's series, and figured I'd just jump right into the pool!

Review: Set in 1704 in Edo, Japan, this novel is the seventeenth (!) book in a series about samurai Sano Ichiro. The novel opens five months after a massive earthquake (thought to be 8.2 in magnitude!) hit Japan. The shogun (who is not equivalent to an emperor, wiki tells me, but is answerable only to him) is in a panic about his legacy when his only child, his daughter, dies unexpectedly of smallpox. Without an obvious heir, he shocks everyone by dismissing his nephew and instead revealing a long lost son.

Although many in the shogun's court suspect the 'son' is really the child of the scheming chamberlain, the shogun is adamant the child is his. With the new heir declared, there's a purge in current positions, with many killing themselves rather than live with the shame of their demotions. Sano is demoted to Chief Rebuilding Magistrate, a position that surprises him, and Sano expected to lose everything. Rather, the position allows him to keep his estate and a few retainers, and although a step 'down', still gives him some access and power. Unsurprisingly, Sano is presented with a thorny mystery as soon as he returns home: the possibility that the shogun's daughter was murdered.

I was a bit nervous that I'd be totally lost stepping into the seventeenth book in a series, but Rowland does a fine job of providing enough back story to keep the new reader informed while carrying enough momentum for Sano and his family that loyal readers should be satisfied. While the overarching mystery is very mundane, Rowland includes a rather mystical subplot involving one of Sano's retainers, a man who has joined a magical martial arts sect. While I initially found those scenes jarring -- I wasn't prepared for any supernatural elements -- I actually rather liked that merging of ordinary and extraordinary.

Rowland's world of court intrigue mimics that of other 17th and 18th century historical novels, but becomes especially intriguing when set in Japan. The samurai 'bushido' code colors Sano's behavior and choices, and the cultural emphasis on honor makes powerful people react quite differently than they would in a Tudor novel, for example. As court life is very male-oriented, Rowland provides a strong cast of female characters to balance that out, who have power in their own spheres; Sano's wife is as much a participant in his investigation as he is.

My only real complaint is that in my ARC the Historical Note appears before the story, not after, and as a result, spoils the entire novel. I hadn't thought to ignore it, and so I read it without realizing it resolved the entire arc of the book. Hopefully it appears at the end of the book in the finished version. (A word of warning: Rowland's website offers an excerpt of this book and it opens with the Historical Note. I advise you to skip it and just start with the 'Prologue'.)

Japanophiles will want this one as well as those who enjoy court intrigue and drama. Rowland's 18th century Edo is alien and familiar, and provides an fascinating background. Be unafraid about jumping in midseries!

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Shogun’s Daughter to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 10/4.

Come back on 9/30 to see my interview with the author!


  1. I like the Japanese setting but I'm not sure the time period appeals to me.

  2. That's so frustrating to have read the historical note first. I don't mind if it's a book whose history I am already familiar with, otherwise I like to be unspoiled.

  3. The spoiler yeah not cool but the rest, yes I like that

  4. Starting a series with 16 books published already is nerve-wracking, isn't it? It is relatively easy to piece things together, so I agree that Rowland does a good job with that.

    I wasn't as big a fan of Hirata's inclusion. It was okay, I guess, but I really could've done without it. I was much more interested in the plotting around the Shogun.

    "As court life is very male-oriented, Rowland provides a strong cast of female characters to balance that out, who have power in their own spheres; Sano's wife is as much a participant in his investigation as he is." YES THIS. I loved that there were so many pivotal female roles. That was awesome since so much of the tangible power is delegated to the men.

    Lovely review, Audra!

  5. I just finished this today and yeah that historical note really threw me off, wish I had avoided it.

  6. I've heard good things about these books, but so far, I've been put off by the idea of starting in the middle of a series and intimidated by the idea of starting at the beginning of such a series that already has so many books out! It's good to know that jumping into the newest one wasn't too bad :)

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  8. Reading the historical notes at the beginning of the ARC didn't bother me as it gave me perspective through an overview of the historical period and setting. I could then enjoy the story telling that involved non historical characters like Sano and his family and followers.

  9. Hallo, Hallo Audra! :)

    As I wasn't sure your end-time for contests, (hopeful it was closer to 11:59p rather than 6p!), I quickly submitted my name for the last entries I wanted to get in today, and I took a bit more time to stitch together my replies, as I was not wanting to rush them! I'd rather lose a book contest, if I have the pleasure of hearing your thoughts on the book itself and the style of the author's writings, and to read an interview that gives a personal touch overall! :)

    Although I have wanted to read books that focus on Japanese history, I have not yet settled into books that draw out even a small measure of the breath that is available! I am always betwixt what to read next, and if its any indication I need help in that venture, just wait til I post my TBR Jar Project entry! Laughs merrily!! :) :) This is why I find it so very intriguing what your choosing to read, as your helping me push out of my second comfort zone, which is to read novels I may or may not think were ones that I could either handle or understand fully, as I'd be out of my depth with the history, time, setting, or sense of place!

    I am drawn into 'large', epic in size serials such as this one, and I tip my hat to you to take such a risk as to 'jump dive in with your feet first' rather than parachute into it by back-reading a few of the books ahead of it! Wicked!

    I, too, like the ordinary | extraordinary merged together, as that is one reason one of my favourite films is "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and another is "Bulletproof Monk", even though the two are not on the same page per se as far as writing is concerned, as one is a drama and the other is an action, but what I mean to express, is that I like a touch of what is known with what can only be perceived as such. I like the curtain pulls of the veils in other words!!

    "Alien and familiar" -- I love the sound of that!! :) As you can see, I 'watch' motion pictures set where my bookish heart would like to 'read'!! Note to self: skip the Historical Note until the book is fully read! I have not found this to happen to me as of yet, as I read ARCs as well, if anything, I wish they would oft include the Editor's Note (as foresaid in one of my posts), as it gives a preview of how a book comes to be published, but other than that, I cannot lay a hat on if a story's arc was crushed by pre-information! I am sorry to hear that this was spoilt for you!