Imperial official Sugawara Akitada is recently assigned as deputy governor of Eichigo (now Niigata province) on the rough, snow-bound northern frontier of Heian Japan in 1015 CE. The corrupt and tyrannical local warlord, his family symbol a black arrow, defies the emperor’s rule and threatens Akitada’s mission and even his life. Arriving in the wintry provincial capital accompanied only by his pregnant wife and four loyal retainers, he at first despairs, surrounded by hostile forces. The garrison soldiers nominally under his command seem drunk and disorderly. His legal role as governor is undermined by the warlord’s control of judge and constables. Then a series of unexplained murders challenges his wits and authority. Only the nearby village of untouchable-like outcasts, led by Kaoru, a mysterious man of noble bearing, and his mentor, a Buddhist hermit monk, offers aid. With skillful assertion of his imperial mandate at critical points, the self-doubting Lord Sugawara must transform his motley crew into a loyal fighting force to confront the enemy.
A winner: this stylish recreation of early medieval Japan displays fine research, engaging characters, and fast-moving action. Includes historical notes and character list. 4th in series.