Rating: 4 stars
I received a proof copy of the book from the author in return for an honest review.
I am a fan of historical fiction. I love the marrying of documented fact with the creativity of an author’s imagination. In a tiny way, what we write as narrative for museum exhibitions is a similar thing. We’re not allowed to go on full flights of fancy, but if there are gaps in the evidence, we use our broader knowledge to fill the story in. It’s our job to interpret history for visitors.
An historical novel is a different thing, of course. If an author is going to do a good job, they need to immerse themselves in the past that forms the basis to their story. They need to understand the politics, the social mores, the zeitgeist of the time. They might not tell us every little detail, but if their characters are to be more than modern people acting out scenes against the backdrop of an earlier era, if they are to truly convince us as people who lived in a different world to us, the author needs to have that well of context to draw from.
Lesley Downer is a journalist as well as a novelist. She has lived in Japan. She has written a book about Geisha life and history and a book about Japan’s first female actress, Madame Sadayakko. I read the latter and loved it, because Downer got under the skin of her subject and really brought her to life. Aside from a short story about Townsend Harris and the geisha who briefly lived with him, The Shogun’s Queen is the first of Downer’s fiction that I’ve read. It’s also the first in a series of books called The Shogun Quartet. Continue reading