The Shogun's Queen is the latest novel from the amazing Lesley Downer and it serves as both a stand alone novel and as a prequel to the previous trilogy of The Last Concubine, The Courtesan and the Samurai and the Samurai's Daughter. The book is a masterly study of the Japanese court and culture in the mid nineteenth century just as the American's were making their aggressive overtures to Japan and forcing a trading relationship. Okatsu is a defiant, confident and strong young woman trained in the arts of the samurai she knows how to fight and to ride an horse and carries a dagger at all times. Okatsu is well versed in court intrigue and it is her intelligence as well as her beauty that sees her raised up from her relatively provincial life in Satsuma province and adopted first by Lord Nariakira and then by Prince Konoé before becoming the bride of the weak and ineffectual Shogun Iesada Tokugawa. The arrival of the Americans was known as the time of the Black Ships. Lord Nariakira asked Okatsu to act as a spy and a political ally and to use her influence over the Shogun during this dangerous era. The book is bursting with characters and rich in detail but it is an immersive and all encompassing read that doesn't overwhelm. At 470 pages this is a book that takes time but the effort is well worth it. As Okatsu strives to assert herself as Queen she faces daily battles with the ghosts of past Queens and with her formidable mother in law. Much of the detail in the book is factual and based on Lesley Downer's impeccable research. I absolutely loved being immersed in this beautiful and detailed novel and came away feeling I had a much greater understanding and knowledge of Shogun-era Japan.
Read this if you love Lian Hearn or Christina Courtenay.
Out now in hardback from Bantam Press. Thanks to Hannah Bright at Penguin Random House for a copy.