‘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 . . .’
The Shogun’s Queen from Lesley Downer is a very special book. Published by Bantam Press November 2016, I was honoured and thrilled to receive my copy from the author.
It is one of those books that I hope my review will do justice to but it is suffice to say that I absolutely loved it.
Read on for my full thoughts…
Japan, and the year is 1853.
Japan teeters on the brink of turmoil…
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 . . .’
Okatsu, a young innocent girl born into a position of status within her own community, is a warrior. Unwilling to become just another unheard female in a world controlled by men, Okatsu is not ashamed to speak up and express her opinions. She is trained in martial arts and ensures her mind remains active and educated.
The world is changing. China and Japan are no longer able to hide their existence from the rest of the world.
China is already under the oppression of the Crown and other nations. Japan, a very proud empire, is unwilling to lose sight of what they hold dear and refuses to trade with the ‘Barbarian’ countries. The Dutch have been granted limited access to Japanese treasures but the rest of the world is curious. Other nations want to discover for themselves the secrets that remain hidden behind the cherry blossom trees and the protected castle walls.
Okatsu attracts the eye of a friend of her father, Lord Nariakira Shimazu, Prince of Satsuma. He is a man of wisdom and sees in Okatsu a person who is destined for greater things. With her family’s permission, Okatsu sets off on a journey that will take her to Edo (now Tokoyo), the home of The Emperor, The Shogun, ‘He who shall not be Named’.
Edo is home of the Tokugawa shogunate. At it’s head is the Shogun, Iesada, a member of the Tokugawa clan. Iesada is a man of strange character, who remains closeted behind the walls of his castle, a recluse with only his overbearing mother to influence his decisions.
The ‘Black Ships’ of the barbarians are arriving at the Japanese coastlines with demands for a share of the wealth that Japan has to offer.
Lord Nariakira is a political strategist. People are but pawns on his chess board and he is very aware that Japan is facing a catastrophic challenge that will change the life of it’s citizens forever.
With assistance, he moves Okatsu around his ‘chess board’ until she achieves what she herself never anticipated. Her life continues inside the walls in The Great Interior (The Women’s Palace) as the Shogun’s consort, his queen.
Okatsu sacrifices so much along the way. She is exposed to the politics of a country caught between Civil War amongst it’s tribal Lords and outright war with the Barbarians. It becomes Okatsu’s job to prevent the destruction of their beautiful land. She has to weave her way into the centre of a tangled knot of deceit and lies. She risks everything for her country. She abandons all that is dear to her and fights using her mind and her will.
The Shogun’s Queen is based on a true story. Most of the characters in Lesley Downer’s novel are real.
‘The story, as I tell it, is largely based on research and historical fact, though in the end this is a work of fiction.’ ~ Lesley Downer
The story of Okatsu is a very special story.
Her strength, her determination, her sacrifice for her beloved Japan and it’s people is a testament to the type of person she was. Okatsu was a warrior. Her story lives on in Lesley Downer’s book and I cannot recommend or encourage you enough to buy yourself a wonderful gift of The Shogun’s Queen.
Purchase Link : The Shogun’s Queen
The Shogun’s Queen is a monumental novel about a time in history many of us have only scant knowledge of.
It is a wonderful work of historical fiction and to be honest I am not quite sure I have sufficient adjectives to describe it’s ability to transport the reader to a period of such fascinating beauty and a time of such a tumultuous history.
Every so often you pick up a book and savor every single word. The decision is made that you have in your hand a book that cannot be rushed. The Shogun’s Queen had all these qualities and more that I love in a book. I relished the five minutes I got to read a few pages and made sure not to miss a line.
I hope you get an opportunity to read this exceptional book. Please do let me know if you do. I would love to know your thoughts…
(NOTE : The Shogun’s Queen is the fourth book that Lesley Downer has written about this turbulent time in Japanese history. Do not be put off by the order of the books. Although this is the last of four, it is a prequel to the other three.)
Meet Lesley Downer:
I’m an author, novelist and journalist. My mother was Chinese and my father a professor of Chinese, so I grew up in a house full of books on Asia. I ended up almost by accident in Japan and became fascinated by the country, its culture and its people. I lived there on and off for some fifteen years and have written many books, non-fiction and more recently fiction, about it. It has been an ongoing love affair.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world as a journalist and also give lectures – at the Japan Society, Asia House, the Royal Geographic Society, the British Museum, the Japan Society in New York and Japan Societies and Asia Societies across the US and the UK and on a vast residential ship called The World that circles the globe forever like a modern-day Flying Dutchman!
I am currently also a visiting lecturer, teaching on the MA programme in Creative Writing (non-fiction ) at City University in London – and much enjoying it.
My debut novel was The Last Concubine and The Shogun’s Queen is my fourth.
I live in London with my husband, the author Arthur I. Miller.
You can follow Lesley on Twitter
and at her website ~ Lesley Downer