Japan, 1699: On a moonlit night on the northern frontier island of Ezogashima, a woman is running through the forest when an arrow strikes her dead. Meanwhile, in the city of Edo, the young son of Sano Ichiro, the samurai detective who has risen to power in the shogun's court, vanishes during a moon-watching festival. When one of Sano's political rivals hints that the boy was kidnapped—and may be in Ezogashima—he and his wife, Reiko, begin a desperate journey to find their son…only to discover that the local ruler, Lord Matsumae, is holding the entire province hostage for another crime: The murder of his mistress. So Sano strikes a deal: He will solve the mistress's murder if Matsumae will free the hostages and return his son. Soon, however, Sano and Reiko find themselves caught up in a dangerous scheme that includes clan warfare, bitter jealousy, and murderous betrayal as they race to unravel the mystery of THE SNOW EMPRESS, from acclaimed author Laura Joh Rowland.
Demonstrating an impressive level of sustained excellence, Rowland's mysteries set in 17th-century Japan form one of the best recent series in the genre. The 12th episode (after 2006's Red Chrysanthemum) delves deeper into the politics of an empire ruled by a figurehead as the background for a compelling and thrilling whodunit. Rowland continues to conjure up new hurdles for her sleuth, Sano Ichiro, recently elevated to the position of chamberlain. His power and integrity inevitably offend more venal politicians, one of whom arranges the abduction of Sano's young son, Masahiro. Sano's quest for the kidnappers coincides with a mission to the remote northern city of Ezogashima, where an insane local ruler is holding the entire community hostage as he searches for the murderer of his mistress, an exotic foreigner known as the Snow Empress. Compelling pacing and well-rounded characters enhance the intriguing plot and will draw in new readers as well as longtime fans.
The Snow Empress
This book is generally very good. The presentation of Japanese culture was interesting and helped the reader understand the context of Japan in the late 1690's. Laura Joh Rowland knows Japan well and places the reader in a completely foreign atmosphere. Her descriptions of Edo, the intrigue in the Shogun's court, Hokkaido, and the Ainu were accurate and made the book enjoyable. The murder mystery and the subplot of the kidnapping of Sano's son were believable. Unfortunately, the development of the characters was shallow and their conversations were short and trite. In the context of the complexities of politics in Edo and the alien Ainu culture, the shallow characters and trite conversations detracted form the excellent descriptions of the setting of the novel, the Japanese and Ainu cultures, and the overall enjoyment of the book.