Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Shogun's Queen

“No-one writes about Japan with more mastery of historical and cultural detail than Lesley Downer” Katie Hickman, author of Courtesan
The Shogun’s Queen by Lesley Downer
Published by Bantam Press | Hardback & eBook Thursday 3rd November 2016 | £16.99
“Completely absorbing...”
Lian Hearn, author of Tales of the Otori From one of the finest chroniclers of Japan, its history, society and culture, comes this gripping and
richly detailed historical novel, telling the true story of Princess Atsu and her struggle to save Japan.
Japan, 1853. Growing up among the samurai of the Satsuma clan, in Japan’s deep south, the fiery, beautiful and
headstrong Okatsu has 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, turning 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 to takes her to Edo Palace, a place so secret it cannot be marked on any map. There she seems doomed to live out her days - sequestered in the Women’s Palace, home to three thousand women and where only one man, the shogun, may enter.
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.

Lesley Downer’s mother was Chinese and her father a professor of Chinese, so she grew up in a house full of books on Asia. But it was Japan, not China, that proved the more alluring and Lesley lived there for some fifteen years. She lives in London with her husband, the author Arthur I. Miller, and travels to Japan yearly.
She has written many books about Japan and its culture, including Geisha: The Secret History of the Vanishing World and the gripping Shogun Quartet; The Last Concubine, The Courtesan and the Samurai and The Samurai’s Daughter. The Shogun’s Queen is the first book in the series.

For further information, please contact Hannah Bright | 020 8231 6743 | @hannahlbright29 

My Review

I first became interested in the Far East, particularly China, Japan and Thailand when in my early twenties. There have been a few books detailing various periods in Japan's history but this book by Lesley Downer, although fiction, paints such a detailed picture of life in the women's palace in the mid 1800s that you feel a sense of loss when you realise you have finished the book. Fortunately, The Shogun's Queen is the first in a series of four so I am hoping to get more of my Japanese fix in the near future. Having lived in Japan for fifteen years, Lesley's love for the country and her attention to detail is evident in every page. I loved the character of princess Atsu and the Shogun, who wasn't at all what I expected. The ending, with a look to what might have been is incredibly poignant but I won't say any more for fear of spoiling it. What I really loved though was the picture of every day life, the little details that transport the reader to another time and place. A wonderful historical account of a period in history that, until now, has not been so well documented in English; informative, entertaining and enlightening!


Leopard at the door

Leopard at the Door by [McVeigh, Jennifer]

*The perfect summer read, the novel that Dinah Jefferies has called 'A simply stunning novel that will stay with me: magnificent'*

Stepping off the boat in Mombasa, eighteen-year-old Rachel Fullsmith stands on Kenyan soil for the first time in six years. She has come home.
But when Rachel reaches the family farm at the end of the dusty Rift Valley road, she finds so much has changed. Her beloved father has moved his new partner and her son into the family home. She hears menacing rumours of Mau Mau violence, and witnesses cruel reprisals by British soldiers. Even Michael, the handsome Kikuyu boy from her childhood, has started to look at her differently. 
Isolated and conflicted, Rachel fears for her future. But when home is no longer a place of safety and belonging, where do you go, and who do you turn to?

About the author

Jennifer McVeigh

Jennifer McVeigh graduated from Oxford University in 2002. She went on to work in film and publishing, before leaving her day job to do an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.She has travelled in wilderness areas of East Africa and Southern Africa, often in off-road vehicles, driving and camping along the way. The Fever Tree was a Richard & Judy Bookclub Pick. Leopard at the Door will be published by Penguin on 13th July 2017.

My Review

I love books which take the reader on a journey to another time or place and this book did both. Set during the time of the Mau Mau rebellion in 1950s Kenya, it attempts to show the cause and effects from both sides, mainly through the eyes of Rachel, who returns to her childhood home after an absence to find everything changed.Trying to find the happiness she knew as a child before the death of her mother, I felt a lot of empathy towards her, especially when she is warned not to return by her father; whether this is concern for her safety or for ulterior motives I'll leave you to judge.
As you might expect, the subject matter, though not gruesome, is nevertheless dark and although I enjoyed the book, it did leave me feeling very unsettled.