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The Shogun's Queen: The Shogun Quartet, Book…
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The Shogun's Queen: The Shogun Quartet, Book 1 (edition 2017)

by Lesley Downer (Author)

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Title:The Shogun's Queen: The Shogun Quartet, Book 1
Authors:Lesley Downer (Author)
Info:TW Adult (2017)
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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The Shogun's Queen by Lesley Downer

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The Shogun's Queen is such a fantastic book. My knowledge before this book about Japan during 19-century was very limited and I enjoyed both getting a fictional version as well getting a history lesson all in one book. It's actually a very tragic book, the end of the Shogun's regime in Japan that we get to see through the eyes of Okatsu, a girl that was chosen to try to stop the barbarians from taking over the realm either by forcing or by bullying the leaders into giving in. Reading how the Americans and the British, etc. practically set an ultimatum to the leaders to open the borders so they could get into the land made my blood boil. The audacity to think that they had that kind of right is infuriating.

Okatsu, later Princess Atsu, life is fascinating to read about, and through the book did I really hope that she would achieve her goal, and save the realm, but she faces a lot of obstacles in the Women's Palace. To get the Shogun to listen is hard, especially since he is controlled by his mother. And, the Shogun mother is not a woman that will see reason, all she wants is to control her son and what happens outside the walls of the Women's Palace is second that. It would perhaps be easier if the Shogun had been more of leader, but this is a man that should never have ruled. He may have been born to be the Shogun, but he had not the mental capacity for that. Which his mother took advantage of.

The Shogun's Queen is an engrossing book, well-researched and it left me with a need for reading more about Japan and the Shogun's. I loved that it's through Princess Atsu that we get an insight into the chaotic time period. She may be trapped in the Women's Palace, but it's there that so much happens, and it's there that the faith of Japan will be decided...

I want to thank the author for providing me with a free copy for an honest review! ( )
  MaraBlaise | May 19, 2019 |
If an author is going to do a good job with historical fiction, they need to immerse themselves in the past that forms the basis to their story. They need to understand the politics, the social mores, the zeitgeist of the time. They might not tell us every little detail, but if their characters are to be more than modern people acting out scenes against the backdrop of an earlier era, if they are to truly convince us as people who lived in a different world to us, the author needs to have that well of context to draw from.

From the prologue which introduces our heroine and the political times she is living in right through the drama-filled main plot, it's clear that Downer has put in some serious legwork in understanding the period she writes within. The characters feel true. The enhancements Downer makes to whatever limited fact must be recorded about the characters in the official record feel natural. Downer also captures the atmosphere of the time, including little details about fashion, aromas, architecture, that help immerse the reader in the tale. There was a sense of woodblock prints being brought to life, and I was there with the characters on every page.

The book is a romance, but it's also an adventure story and a political thriller. Atsu is a feisty young woman who doesn't always follow convention. Downer's prose is punchy where it needs to be, capturing the urgency and excitement of espionage and threatened invasion. She understands drama and tension. I was utterly gripped by the action scenes at the start of the book where the Barbarians were approaching and Atsu's home town was plunged into chaos. Equally, Downer knows how to nuance her writing so that the reader gets the sense of torpor that comes with a months-long journey from Kyushu to Edo.

Atsu's story is fascinating in what it reveals about Japan's feudal society. To a greater extent, by the mid-19th century, Britain had left behind its feudalism, becoming a modern industrial nation no longer dependent on political alliances forged through strategic marriage to maintain power. Japan was still that nation in the years when Commodore Perry's black ships brought Western influence to the country. Atsu is a pawn in a game of strategy, a means by which the Satsuma clan can infiltrate the nation's powerhouse. For all that she is independently minded, Atsu knows that she has no control over her destiny beyond making the best of her situation. Blood counts for less than reliability in maintaining a dynasty, and adoption of strong characters who could further the ambitions of a clan was normal. That's how Atsu comes to pass from her birth family to her uncle and then on to a high ranking Edo prince, before finally attaining the goal her uncle has set for her - marriage to the Shogun.

Once she becomes Queen, Atsu's work is cut out to influence the Shogun in matters of state and deflect him away from the influence of his mother. Downer fills the story with insights into how the Tokugawa court operated, and the role women played at the court. There is plenty of intrigue, and femininity is used as a tool to exercise power. It's a variation on the theme of 'behind every successful man, there stands a woman', but within the context of the shogunate there is a validity to it. The women's court is a powerhouse in its own right. The women there are educated in matters of state and aware that there is an influence that they can exercise over those who hold the conventional power. True, they are the possessions of men and are exercising influence in order to increase the power of those men, because that will mean their own position is more secure, but within that context the women are as intelligent and strategic as the men who possess them.

The battle for influence over the Shogun between Atsu and her mother in law goes back and forth like a baseline rally in tennis. Just as Atsu seems to make progress with the Shogun, his mother pulls some manipulative trick. There was a little too much back and forth for my liking. I'd rather a 400 page novel that maintains its crispness to one that tries to spin out the suspense to fill more pages. That was the only thing I would change about the book. There's only so much jeopardy a story can sustain.

Eventually the Shogun makes his choice and things take the path that history records. The treaty with America is signed, opening Japan up to foreign trade. A power vacuum forms at the heart of the court, which is filled by lords loyal to the emperor, paving the way for the restoration. Atsu resolves herself to a life spent fighting the new Regent. It seems as though life has other plans for her, as though, after all the adventure and political scheming, romance will win the day. Atsu stays true to her Shogun, though. Romance of a deeper kind.

Downer's tale is an embroidering of history, an imagining of what might have gone on behind the palace doors, in the secrecy of the Shogun's court, but it's a rippingly told yarn, steeped in fact, and every bit as good as Philippa Gregory's Tudor romances.

The Shogun's Queen is published in November. The first in a series of books called The Shogun Quartet, it acts as a prequel to the other books already published. On the strength of this outing, I'll be taking a look. ( )
  missizicks | Sep 5, 2016 |
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Only one woman can save her world from barbarian invasion but to do so will mean sacrificing everything she holds dear - love, loyalty and maybe life itself . . . Japan, and the year is 1853. Growing up among the samurai of the Satsuma Clan, in Japan's deep south, the fiery, beautiful and headstrong Okatsu has - like all the clan's women - been encouraged to be bold, taught to wield the halberd, and to ride a horse. But when she is just seventeen, four black ships appear. Bristling with cannon and manned by strangers who to the Japanese eyes are barbarians, their appearance threatens Japan?s very existence. And turns Okatsu?s world upside down. Chosen by her feudal lord, she has been given a very special role to play. Given a new name - Princess Atsu - and a new destiny, she is the only one who can save the realm. Her journey takes her to Edo Castle, a place so secret that it cannot be marked on any map. There, sequestered in the Women?s Palace - home to three thousand women, and where only one man may enter: the shogun - she seems doomed to live out her days. But beneath the palace's immaculate facade, there are whispers of murders and ghosts. It is here that Atsu must complete her mission and discover one last secret - the secret of the man whose fate is irrevocably linked to hers: the shogun himself . . .… (more)

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