The Iris Fan (A Novel of Feudal Japan) – by Laura Joh Rowland

While I am a fan of history in general, there are a select few eras that I find especially fascinating. One era, that I have mentioned before, is Victorian England. Another era is Feudal Japan, where this week’s novel takes place.

The year is 1709 and the shogun is sick and ailing. Sano Ichiro, once Chamberlain to the shogun has been demoted to a lowly patrol guard. His home life is faring little better as his marriage is in tatters. His friend and once loyal retainer is now a wanted criminal. Yet despite all this, Sano remains dedicated to Bushido – the way of the warrior.

When everything seems at it’s worst, the unthinkable happens – the shogun is stabbed in his own bedchamber. Sano finds himself reinstated as the chief investigator charged with finding the culprit. The stakes are especially high as if the shogun’s heir is not happy with the outcome, Sano will find himself put to death with his family beside him. Forced to ally himself with friend as well as foe, Sano is racing against time. Time, which for the shogun, is quickly running out.

The Iris Fan marks the 18th and final novel in the Sano Ichiro series. A fact I wasn’t aware of (since I didn’t read the book flap) until I got towards the end of the book. I have been a fan of this series practically since the beginning and have nearly all the books in the series on my shelf at home. Over the course of the books we, the reader, have watched Sano and his family change and grow. We are with him when he first meets his wife Reiko and later when they marry. We are with him when his first child is born and later through the ups and downs of his career. Reading the last book was like saying good-bye to friends and family.

If I have one complaint about the books, it would be the growing reliance on supernatural or otherworldly forces as major plot devices. In early novels there was sometimes a thought of ghosts or spirits being the culprit but in the end it was a human who committed the deed. With the later stories these began to take a more prominent role in the story, making them – especially towards the end – unrealistic.

A bit slow in the beginning, the pace really begins to pick up in the second half of the book. Familiar faces abound, some friend with others foe. New relationships are established and new bonds are forged.

Readers familiar with this series will likely find The Iris Fan a fitting end to the series. Personally I had a few quibbles but all in all greatly enjoyed the book. I am sorry to see this series end as I have enjoyed for a goodly number of years.

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