Last year I went through a phase of reading samurai novels and I said I'd do review of them, so here it is, the best and worst.
Note: these are in order of last read since that's the easiest way for me to rank them.
The Concubine's Tattoo - Laura Joh Rowland
The author has a series of books following the same samurai detective. In this one he marries a woman who has been raised like a boy- ie. she can use a sword and is opinionated. She, of course, wants to help her husband with his murder investigation. That has the potential to be really annoying but it is handled in an okay manner.
The historical details didn't bug me and the characters seemed true to their times. I did work out the mystery way before the end though. A decent read and I'd buy other books in the series.
The Shogun's Daughter - Robert Ames Bennett
I started reading the Shogun's Daughter then stopped because the main
character is so pompous and full of himself. Then I decided to give it
another go and found it quite hilarious. I'm sure if it's meant to be
that way though. The main character is like a piss-take on all those
heroes of White Man goes to Japan novels. Of course, he's there to save
the poor, naive Japanese from themselves even if they are too ignorant
to know what's good for them. And, of course, the Japanese women swoon
over his awesome White Man-ness.
Samurai's Apprentice - David Walters
First in a series of books about a peasant boy who becomes an apprentice to a samurai. Pretty much ticks off all the boxes of a samurai novel - stuff about honour and bravery and bushido code and swords etc. When I was having a hellish commute to work last year, I finished off all three books in the series so definitely an easy read.
Death at the Crossroads - Dale Futani
Again, a pretty standard samurai read about a ronin who solves mysteries. This series has an over-riding arc as he is also looking for the daughter of his seige lord who was abducted when her parents were killed. Also a very easy read and entertaining. I think the covers for this series let it down.
The Masuda Affair - I. J. Parker
It'd read a lot of good reviews of this book so figured it was worth a
read but was disappointed. I guess if you don't know much about
Japanese history, it would be a good read but to me there were so many
distractingly out of place details that I didn't really enjoy it. It
felt the writer had taken a story originally set in the West (England
maybe) and changed a few details to make it Japan instead. For example,
one of the characters kisses a woman's hand. Is he French or Japanese?
Women wear voluminous gowns! The main character is taken to court by a
peasant when, in Feudal Japan a samurai could actually have killed him
with no repurcussions.
But, more than these minor details, the
main character has a very Western/Christian code of morality. Maybe
there is something in the earlier books in the series to explain his
mindset but, since I've not read those books, it struck me as strange
and out of place.
I had no interest in reading this series further.
The Samurai and the Long-Nosed Devils - Lensey Namioka
This is actually a young adult novel but one of the better samurai novels I've read. What sets it apart is that instead of telling you details in an info dump, it includes in context. I get a bit sick of writers who have to explain every Japanese thing (eg. tatami mats) when they mention them.
This is the story of two ronin who get work as bodyguards for a Portugese household. It includes a murder mystery and is pretty damn funny. I'd have read more of this series if it were available on kindle.
Osai's Razor - Okamoto
The story of a woman who's father is murdered by a strange samurai who then takes over their dojo. She asks him to teach her kendo but wants to exact revenge, however she can't kill him because he performs jedi mind tricks on him. I don't quite buy it. If a dude anally raped me, I'd gut him like a fish.
It's not a bad read. It does have a lot about kenjitsu and bushido and zen stuff so if you like that kind of thing, it's a good read.