In other news, I had the woot-factor of winning a copy of Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann (released July 15, 2014), and I award it 4.5 stars!
One thing Susan Spann does well — and I can’t believe how fashionably correct this is going to sound, but it’s true — is to write marginalized characters who act powerfully. In Claws of the Cat it was a woman taking a man’s role in society; in Blade of the Samurai it’s a boy on the cusp of genpuku (ceremonial coming of age). Neither is an adult male in this hierarchal patriarchy, yet both are active and interesting characters. I’m taking notes.
The half-star ding came from two minor points. One involved an error I felt was out-of-character, which I expected to be explained later but which turned out indeed to be merely an error. I shouldn’t complain — we’re all human, nobody’s perfect, and even the baddest of asses will make occasional mistakes, but I just expected it to be something else.
The other was an additional reveal at the end, external to the murder mystery. I felt it was a bit of a cheating reveal, but I should note in fairness that I’m picky about such things and it might not bother other readers. You can make your own call. (And if someone points out to me that it was totally forecast and I just missed the clues as I read in stolen minutes during a busy week, then I will happily retract my grump.)
The mystery itself though is delightfully labyrinthine, full of authentic history and messy complications. Like its predecessor, it’s very accessible even for those who aren’t Japanese history buffs*. It’s a lean, quick read. And I am certainly looking forward to the third in the series, Flask of the Drunken Master.
*Particularly alert or particularly nerdy readers might notice Hiro’s explanation that -dono is an address for equal rank, and less polite than -san, is a contradiction of the dialogue in my Kitsune Tales. That’s because Spann and I are writing hundreds of years apart, and language changes with time. (Also, I cheated by including -san at all, since it probably didn’t appear as a shortening of -sama until 1600 or so. But as it’s what most readers expect, I went ahead and used it.)
I reviewed the first in the series, Claws of the Cat, last year.