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2 February 2017

Review: 'The Shogun's Queen' by Lesley Downer (2016)

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…

Several months ago I received an e-mail from author Lesley Downer with the invitation to read and review her November 2016 release 'The Shogun's Queen.' As a lot of you will know by now: I can really enjoy a historical fiction novel every now and again and I was straight away really interested in this one. A few years ago I got the chance to review 'Peach Blossom Pavilion' by Mingmei Yip, which was one of the first reads that took me to historic Asia. I was immediately intrigued by the people, the culture, and the traditions, so when I was given the chance to travel back there in the form of 'The Shogun's Queen', I was definitely keen to give the story a go!

Set in 1850s Japan, 'The Shogun's Queen' tells the story of Okatsu, who at first sight seems to be your average teenage girl from the village of Satsuma. Okatsu a relatively easy and straightforward childhood, but then she is chosen by the powerful Lord Nariakira to take on a special role. It seems Okatsu is destined for greatness, as she is asked to play an important role in helping the country when they are attacked by groups of barbarians from the Western world. Okatsu turns out to be on a journey that will end at Edo Castle, where she has been brought to complete her mission, no matter the cost. Okatsu is determined to succeed, but there are numerous things standing in her way and people eager to bring her down...

I wasn't too familiar with author Lesley Downer, or 1850s Japan for that matter, when I picked up 'The Shogun's Queen', which turned out to be not just an incredibly interesting read but also an enjoyable and captivating one. It took me a bit of time to really get into the story, mainly because there's a lot of detail and quite a large group of characters. However, I took my time and as the story progressed I became really invested in it; curious to see what was going to happen and how. I particularly liked Atsu, the heroine of this book, who is a brave young woman whom I straight away found myself warming to and rooting for.

While reading this story it immediately became very clear that author Lesley Downer really immersed herself in the Japanese culture and history, and really got to the core of it all to convey a realistic and historical feel. I can honestly say I learned a lot by reading this book, but it didn’t affect the entertainment level of the story, so to say. It was still a thoroughly enjoyable read and didn’t feel like an informative history book or travel guide at all. I think this book most comes to its right when you pick it up and give it a chance; I personally really enjoyed it and have already added Lesley Downer to my list of authors to look out for in the future.
For more information about this book: / / Goodreads

Thanks to the author for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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