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The Snow Empress: A Thriller (Sano Ichiro Novels)
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Manufacturer: St. Martin's Minotaur
Average Customer Rating: Average rating of 3.0/5Average rating of 3.0/5Average rating of 3.0/5Average rating of 3.0/5Average rating of 3.0/5

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Binding: Hardcover
Dewey Decimal Number: 813.54
EAN: 9780312365424
ISBN: 031236542X
Label: St. Martin's Minotaur
Manufacturer: St. Martin's Minotaur
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 304
Publication Date: 2007-10-30
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur
Release Date: 2007-10-30
Studio: St. Martin's Minotaur

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Editorial Reviews:

Japan, 1699. On a moonlit night in Ezogashima, the northernmost island of Japan, a woman is running through the forest when an arrow zooms out of the darkness to strike her dead. Meanwhile, a world away in the city of Edo, the eight-year-old son of Sano Ichiro, the samurai detective who has risen to power and influence in the shogun’s court, vanishes during a moon-watching party.
            When Sano’s political rival, Lord Matsudaira, hints that the boy may be in Ezogashima, Sano’s wife, Reiko, insists on accompanying him on the desperate journey. After an eleven-day voyage through cold and treacherous waters, they arrive at Ezogashima, only to find that Lord Matsumae, distraught at the murder of his mistress, is holding the whole province hostage until someone confesses to the crime. No one is allowed in or out of Ezogashima, and although Matsumae tells Sano his son is there, he refuses to release him.
            Sano strikes a deal: He will solve the murder of Matsumae’s mistress if Lord Matsumae will free the hostages and return their son. Soon, however, he and Reiko find themselves caught up in a dangerous scheme that includes clan warfare, jealous husbands, and murderous betrayal.

Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5
Summary: Not bad...
Comment: 17thC Japan. Chamberlain Sano Ichiro's eight-year-old son has been kidnapped. A political enemy maneuvers the Shogun to get Sano out of the way by having him sent to Ezogashima (Hokkaido), far to the north, to investigate possible trouble with the Ezo, the 'barbarian' population (the Ainu). The rival also hints that Sano will find his son up there.

In Ezogashima, Sano and his wife and his men encounter the natives and even more trouble from the Japanese, who are fomenting open warfare with the Ezo in order to wipe them out and take over the island. Their leader, Lord Matsumae, also is seemingly possessed by his Ezo lover. Both he and the ghost of his lover want justice, they want the murderer found. Sano says he will investigate the murder if Matsumae will return his missing son.

The mystery itself is not so bad, some nice red herrings, but in the end, not terribly surprising. The dialog and writing in general seem a bit stilted and spare. Some of the actions and motivations of the characters are strange or unexplained. Overall, it was not bad, but not as good as previous books in this long-running series.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5
Summary: you could skip this one
Comment: I read every book featuring Sano Ichiro. This one is the worst. Sano and Reiko's relationship was boring me from the beginning to the end, the weird couple. You may want to skip this one.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5
Summary: Boring and One Dimensional
Comment: I have not read any of the other Sano Ichiro novels, but found this one awful. The plot was boring and slow and the characters one dimensional. I couldn't stand Ichiro's wife, who was a one-note character. She was only concerned with her son, even when other issues threatened her life. I wanted to smack her for some of the stupid sentences that come out of her mouth. The plot moved so slowly when something did happen, any excitement of surprise that twist could have had was lost. "Pulling teeth" as some would say.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Great read!
Comment: Make sure you have no other plans when you get this book-totally great and you won't want it to end. One of the best!

Customer Rating: Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5
Summary: Depressing.
Comment: Let me start out this review by emphasizing that I have been a longtime fan of Laura Joh Rowland's Sano Ichiro series. I picked up the "The Concubine's Tattoo" several years ago and I have never looked back. Granted, I read the books a little out of order, but I was consistently pleased by Rowland's ability to not only craft a great historical mystery series, but also a host of characters I loved (even the villains).

Now the question is (and it does pain me to write this)... WHAT HAPPENED?

I am going to start out with a list of what I liked about this book.

1.) Ezogashima (Hokkaido)--I admit I don't know a lot about Hokkaido and the Ainu, and nothing about what Hokkaido was like in 1699. It was great to learn about the culture and customs of the Ainu, the Japanese/Ainu conflicts, and even the strange mystical/supernatural goings-on that seemed to populate Ezogashima. Also, the way Rowland describes Ezogashima--as a cold, desolate, eerie place--was very good and it sucked me into the setting.

2.) Set-up for Sano's future exploits--the stuff with Lord Matsudaira and his nefarious plans to oust Sano ensures that I will pick up the next book (however skeptical I am about the state of the series).

3.) Historical tidbits--There's a lot of information in this book (and in all Rowland's other books) about Japanese social life 300+ years ago. These bits are very interesting and make a sub-par plot tolerable.

Now, here's where I get into the things that annoyed me about this book (and the turn the series has taken in general). If you don't want to hear my ranting, feel free to skip to the next review.

1.) SHIPWRECK? There was literally a little over one page dedicated to the wreck of a ship on the shores of Hokkaido, a wreck that killed everyone on board except Sano and the gang (how convenient!). And then it's pretty much summed up with Sano looking out over the sea and thinking something basically along the lines of: "There was no way anyone could survive that. Oh well!" I just. I can't. There are no words for the depth of ridiculousness.

2.) Mystical Elements--I know this series has had many encounters with the supernatural, but it's getting a little much. What was the point of the whole possession thing? Couldn't a person go mad without being possessed by the spirit of that loved one? It hardly furthered the plot (Sano and the gang still had to go out and gather information about the possessor's personality, traits, etc.), so really, what was the use of that? It seemed forced. Also, Hirata. I am going to be cautiously optimistic about his mystical martial arts training. But why couldn't he just be some regular martial arts master? Why does he have to sense people's souls and feel natural energy and all that stuff? Oh. Could it be because Laura Joh Rowland needs improbable deus ex machina to further the plot? No, seriously. I think that the way the mystery is solved--in addition to the way Hirata finds out that Sano needs help in the first place--is pretty freaking lame. I loved Hirata; he was one of my favorite characters. And now? I'll keep reading, but I am getting worried...

3.) CHARACTERIZATION. Okay. We have two characters--Marume and Fukida--and they are major characters. What do we know about them? Well. One is big and broad, and the other is small and skinny (there may have been some mention of one being jolly and the other being serious, but that was definitely a "I'm going to tell you this, reader, and then provide virtually no evidence in the actual plot. Enjoy"). Would it really be that hard to provide a little bit of characterization for these guys? PLEASE?

By the way, the characterization issue bleeds over into the dialogue, too. Everyone sounds the same.

And that includes Sano. He's become bland and boring. I really liked him at the beginning of the series. He was interesting--a guy who has all the good qualities of a samurai without being entrenched in the pompous customs, and therefore able to make objective observations about the social goings-on around him. What happened to that man? Now he talks about justice and duty, and... that's pretty much it. Oh, occasionally he reminds us that he loves Reiko. Bringing me to the next point...

4.) REIKO. Now, don't get me wrong. I can tolerate Reiko. When she was first introduced, I liked her. But here's the thing: I read a lot of historical fiction. And 95% of historical fiction books have this ONE character who is usually a bold, beautiful woman. This woman scandalizes her "backwards"-thinking contemporaries by stubbornly refusing to agree with/condone/participate in/submit to all the stupid or cruel things that they do. AKA, she is a modern person put into the past. Why do authors do this? Do they think that I sympathize with this person because they're modern? AUTHORS OF HISTORICAL FICTION: if you find a time period interesting and you want to write about it, please include characters who actually fit in that time period. I don't want to read about characters who wander through the plot thinking everyone else is so backwards and "OMG how can my peers think that way?!" It's an old, tired, beaten trope and I'm sick of it. And yes, Laura Joh Rowland, I'm talking to you.

5.) Yanagisawa! WHERE IS HE? Bring him back; I miss him. He was my favorite and the series was infinitely better when he was around.

This concludes my rant. I gave the book three stars because I still hold out hope for this series.

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