Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Ronin's Mistress by Laura Joh Rowland

The Ronin's Mistress: A Novel of Feudal Japan by Laura Joh Rowland --- 324 pages

This is the fifteenth entry in Rowland's historical mystery series set during the Genroku period in late 17th century Japan, when the Emperor was a figurehead and the Tokugawa Shoguns (supreme warlords) and their samurai vassals ruled over a feudal society.

In this novel Rowland has taken a famous actual incident, the revenge of the 47 ronin, as the basis for her plot. The known facts of the incident are tantalizingly few: on April 21, 1701, Lord Asano of Harima Province attacked Lord Kira Yoshinaka, the Master of Ceremonies for the Shogun, in Edo Castle. Drawing a weapon in the Shogun's castle was a capital crime, and Lord Asano was forced to commit ritual suicide that same day.  His house was dissolved, his wealth confiscated, and all of his samurai retainers became ronin --- masterless and disgraced. Lord Kira claimed Lord Asano had attacked him without cause, and was subsequently exonerated.

Then, two years later, on February 1, 1703, 47 of Lord Asano's former retainers, led by his chief vassal, Oishi, staged a midnight raid on Lord Kira's estate, They killed his guards and decapitated Lord Kira. They carried his head to Sengaku Temple and laid it on Lord Asano's grave. Then they stood and waited to be arrested.

Under the samurai code of honor, Bushido, a samurai had an absolute duty to avenge the death of his lord; but for such a vendetta to be sanctioned, there had to be some provocation to justify the vengeance. There is nothing in the historical record to indicate what that provocation could have been.

In the novel Rowland mixes historical fact with her own speculations on what provoked Lord Asano's attack, and whether the 47 ronin were indeed justified in pursuing vengeance against Lord Kira, or whether they were acting for other, less honorable reasons.

Sano Ichiro, the fictional hero of Rowland's series, has political troubles of his own at the Shogun's court, and is barely holding on to his position. When he is assigned to investigate the case of the 47 ronin, his enemies are determined to insure his failure and final disgrace. Sano's situation is also complicated by his own growing certainty that none of the ronin or the other witnesses are telling him the whole truth.

Click HERE to read a review from the Historical Novel Society web site.

Click HERE to read a review from the Mysterious Reviews web site.

Click HERE to read a review from Publisher's Weekly.

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