The Ronin’s Mistress: A Novel of Feudal Japan

Written by Laura Joh Rowland
Review by Viviane Crystal

Sano Ichiro, the heroic investigator of this novel, has been demoted from chancellor to investigator because of the machinations of Yanigisawa, now the right-hand man of the shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi.

Anyone familiar with Japanese literature knows the tale of the 47 Ronin, who in 1703 avenged the death of their leader, Lord Asano of Harima Province, the man who hosted all visitors to the shogun at Edo Castle. However, the plot of this story goes far beyond the few facts actually known about the ronin’s honorable act of revenge. The reader at first believes it’s Sano’s enemy, Yanigisawa, who is somehow connected to this death and the attempted assassination of one of the judges eventually appointed to determine the fate of the ronin assassins. The shogun is depicted as a pathetic weakling ruler, constantly pressured by his councilors, which matches the known facts about the decline of the Tokugawa clan in Japanese history but adds the petulant leader’s penchant for decadent behavior. The more Sano investigates Oishi, the ronin leader, his mistress and wife, his band of ronin, and other miscellaneous characters, the more different accounts emerge that increasingly confuse Sano and his helpers. Add to the intrigue the insights of an aide of Sano, Hirata, who has learned mystical powers that will prove to save one life and end another at the very end of this fascinating, riveting mystery.

Despite some repetition for clarification, The Ronin’s Mistress keeps the reader guessing with complex characters and action to the very last page, ending with a definite promise of a future novel with the remaining characters. Very well done, as always!