The Apprentice

Written by Lewis Libby
Review by Trudi E. Jacobson

This first novel is garnering a great deal of attention in its paperback release. Libby, who is Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff and National Security Advisor, has written an atmospheric piece with an unusual setting. The action takes place in 1903 in a remote rural village of northern Japan, and much of it occurs during a massive snowstorm. The title character is an apprentice innkeeper, helping to run a very isolated inn in the absence of the proprietor. A mysterious man arrives at the inn one night during the height of the snowstorm looking barely alive, but upon glancing into the inn, he turns and runs back out into the blizzard. He is followed by two hunters who have been staying at the inn, and then by the apprentice, all claiming to want to try to save the man. There is a great deal of mystery about the hunters, the man who ran off, and shadowy others who appear in the region during this tense time between the Sino-Japanese and the Russo-Japanese wars. The apprentice rather unwittingly becomes mixed up in these intrigues, while at the same time he becomes mesmerized by a young woman who has arrived at the inn with a motley band of performers.

Libby is extremely effective in depicting the claustrophobic and primitive atmosphere of the inn, filled with wayfarers unable to leave during the storm. In relation to the two women of the performing troop, he adds elements that some might find erotic, but that I found disturbing. However, the book gave a very good sense of a place and a time I’ve not read about before.