The Shogun’s Queen
January 1853, or the Year of the Dog, third year of the Kaei era, a yang metal year – and an armed American fleet is demanding unprecedented trade rights with Japan, and to deliver a letter into the hands of the Shogun. In the Shogun’s Palace, bitter infighting is going on between lords who passionately desire to keep Japan’s closed status, and those who recognise the inevitability of change. The world is pivoting inexorably – and the fulcrum is 15-year-old Okatsu, daughter of a samurai lord, and soon to be the consort of the next Shogun. Another problem; this Shogun suffers from grand mal epilepsy, and is also mentally deficient. Who can deal with the American threat?
This book held me enthralled from the moment I opened it. Reading Lesley Downer’s biography, I’m not surprised – her mother was Chinese, and her father a professor of Chinese; she herself lived in Japan for several years. This book immerses you in Imperial Japan, and holds you spellbound in the arcane rules and logic of the Women’s Palace. It’s a superb piece of writing, drawing you immediately into the culture of the last days of the Japanese Shogunate, and the power struggles within it. You also get a vivid picture of the exquisite beauty and formality of the court. Somewhat confusingly, this is Book One of The Shogun Quartet, although the latest to be published; I’m going straight out and buying all the others. I loved this book.