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CompleteMartialArts.com - The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria (Sano Ichiro Novels)

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Manufacturer: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Average Customer Rating: Average rating of 3.5/5Average rating of 3.5/5Average rating of 3.5/5Average rating of 3.5/5Average rating of 3.5/5

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Binding: Mass Market Paperback
Dewey Decimal Number: 813.54
EAN: 9780312983789
ISBN: 0312983786
Label: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Manufacturer: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 368
Publication Date: 2003-04-14
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Studio: St. Martin's Paperbacks

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Editorial Reviews:

In feudal Japan, passion and secrets lead to murder. . .

From A Remote, Exotic World. . .
Sano Ichiro, Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People, awakens from a turbulent dream into a real-life nightmare. Lord Matsudaira Mitsuyoshi, the shogun's cousin and heir, has been murdered after a night of debauchery in the city's pleasure quarter...

Comes A Danger All Too Close To Home. . .
The matter requires Sano's personal attention-more personal than Sano at first imagines. For he soon discovers that Mitsuyoshi's companion for the evening was none other than the alluring Lady Wisteria, a woman whom Sano himself once knew intimately before he was married to his beloved wife, Reiko. But the memory of Wisteria still stirs him, and it is with both dismay and relief that he learns she has vanished along with her pillow book, a diary that may contain valuable clues. The circumstances trouble him, as does the possibility that he and Wisteria might meet again with dangerous consequences. . .

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: Good follow-up
Comment: This continuing saga/series of detective Sano Ichiro is as expected if you have read any of the previous novels of Laura Joh Rowland. Decent read and plot line, interesting historical and period details but swallow and stereotypical characters.

This plot ties to a previous story but it may be read individually without missing anything. It lacks the originality of the previous books and the depth of the adversary between Sano and the the Prime minister but it is an interesting crime story that flows well.

If you are a fun of the series you will enjoy it. If you have not read any of her novels before, read it provided that you enjoy historical novels

Customer Rating: Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5
Summary: Same Formula, New Configuration
Comment: Having lived and worked in Japan for a number of years, of course I love reading historical novels about Japanese culture. As such, I quickly fell in love with the Sano Ichiro series and began reading all of them. Unfortunately, after the first two... which were wonderful... Rowland has fallen into repetition and formulaic writing. These subsequent novels are sure to please fans (and I must admit a certain guilty pleasure at reading about a culture I love), but as far as novels go, these books are simply re-configurations of a tired formula. "Pillow Book" is no exception... at times the formula is so similar to the previous novels that I'm really amazed her editors let it pass. I have yet to read the newest in the series, but by the time of this novel, things in Edo are getting a little stodgy.

Worth reading for fans of old Japan, but hardly worth it for fans looking for something new.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Lovely atmosphere, characters rather stereotypical
Comment: I'll start by saying that I love the environment of the late 1600s in Japan, and I love mysteries. So I definitely recommend getting the entire Rowland series and reading them in order start to finish. That being said, there are definitely things that I wish were done differently in these books, so by the time I hit book 7 - The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria - some of the problems had just not been fixed and had become very redundant.

Sano Ichiro, the Shogun's detective, is constantly having to battle with the inane Shogun who cannot make a decision. He is constantly fearing that maybe TODAY he will be slain by the Shogun for some slight. While certainly life and death were never a sure thing back in those days, to go through 7 books worth of top notch paranoia gets to wear on you a bit. You really don't think that he WILL be killed of course, any more than you think James Bond will finally catch that bullet. But in Bond movies the tension is managed and believable, where here you would think at least Sano would have come to accept with quiet stoicism the situation he's in.

I was very happy that this book was only 3 months after the last one (story time wise) so that we could see more development of the relationship between Sano and his wife, Reiko, who caused him so much trouble (and yet helped as well) in the last situation. I love to see character development and growth in stories and series. Yes, now Reiko was not as self assured, which in my book is a good thing. She's gotten a bit more mature. Or has she? She seems to still throw tantrums, leaping from one wild assumption to another with great rapidity. Sano lies to her and their reconciliation is very forced.

The issue at hand is a relative of the Shogun's who has been slain, and a concubine - Lady Wisteria - now missing. She's an ex lover of Sano's. Sano of course doesn't tell his wife this, the Shogun waffles on what must be done, and Yanagisawa's buddy Hashina causes trouble at every turn. Throw into the mix that Midori wants to marry Hirata, and that Yanagisawa's wife wants to be friends. Or does she?

Even after all of this time I find it hard to really empathize with some of the characters. Hashina is the stereotypical "clueless young bachelor". Midori is the stereotypical "madly in love and willing to try all sorts of stupid tricks to get her man" chick with less than half a brain. I am happy that the "every character has a peverse sexual hobby" style has been toned down. I don't mind sex. I just find it a bit excessive when it's every single character. Of course this episode was set in a whorehouse town, so you have to expect some.

The twists and turns were fun, although far too similar to a certain previous book. Also, I found the Lady Yanagisawa situation to be VERY unbelievable. There was no justification at all given why Yanagisawa - a man very much attuned to beauty and intelligence - would purposefully choose a very ugly woman with few brains, use her to get a kid, but then abandon her - knowing how much harm she could cause to him with the information she has access to. To be honest, with the way she was introduced I wanted a much more complex story there, but it petered out with both not much "meaning" at all - and I found the ending sequence involving the child to be extremely disturbing. I'm sure of course that is why it was put in - instead of coming up with more and more bizarre sex situations, the author had to find something new to "disturb" us. Surely this wasn't really necessary, though.

In general I love the ambiance and mood, it's why I keep coming back. I wish the characters were more rounded, more "settled" in their world. I wish the story was written from a 1600s point of view, instead of modern day morality being pressed onto 1600s situations. I wish the in story connections made more "sense" in the story, instead of clues dropping from the sky and revelations doing likewise. Maybe those will come from future books, as the characters mature.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5
Summary: Still Blatant Formula, But Better Than Expected
Comment: I have a kind of love-hate relationship with Rowland's Sano Ichiro novels. Clavell and Yoshikawa are unfortunately no longer with us, yet having been thoroughly entranced with Late-Medieval Japan by their interpretations of it, my craving for novels from that time period has led me to Rowland. While she does a good job at spinning a period detective yarn, her intensely formulaic plots lack the grandeur and lasting memorability of either of the others.

There's an introductory scene, almost always at night, in which someone is killed; Ichiro is summoned to investigate; almost instantly other officials, usually Yanagisawa or his underlings, impose impossible roadblocks to his task while the Shogun babbles incoherently; circuitous methods and often-arbitrary "breaks" allow Sano to proceed anyway; Sano's wife Reiko conducts covert supplemental investigation; the climactic scene ensues, with the plot being nearly always resolved via the outcome of arbitrary physical conflict rather than logic and causality; a satisfying denouement ties up loose ends and sets the stage for the next.

Aside from the use of the arbitrary rather than the logical in plotting, the elements above would make for an excellent single novel - but it's become a kind of template for all of them. That blithe reliance on formula had become evident by the third book "Way of the Traitor," which I consider the absolute worst of the series; reading each subsequent Ichiro novel has become a test of whether the minor changes in plot, characterization and setting are intriguing enough to overcome one's intense frustration with that formula. It becomes annoyingly clear to the reader that the reason there is never a decisive resolution to repeating plot devices (such as the Yanagisawa milieu,) is that they're being kept around as props for the next volume. It may save Rowland time and effort in creating new ones, but the negative effect is not lost on the reader and her books suffer as a result.

Another aspect that grates is Rowland's endless, running commentary, sometimes subtle and sometimes in-your-face, about how horrible Japanese culture is to women, and how squalid, sordid and just generally awful Medieval Japan was as a whole.

Clavell was able to convey amply the fact of women's subordination in male-dominated Japan (a negative trait of every Asian culture, those of Rowland's ancestral Korea and China included,) but only where required as context and with sufficient subtlety and artistry; Rowland continually yanks the reader out of 17th Century Japan with jarring reference to 21st Century mores, almost in the manner of a soapboxing activist. A little disruptive of mood, that.

Similarly, Clavell could take unflinching note of the often brutal and unjust aspects of that culture while simultaneously conveying its grandeur and scope; Yoshikawa, in "Musashi," presents a more innocent, idealized view, but even he was able to temper his predominently sunny perspective with a balancing view of harsh realities. Rowland seeks to rub the reader's nose without reprieve into every puddle of sewage she can fit into a given paragraph. In Rowland's view, Japan is one gigantic, filthy slum populated by human debris. Even when she describes less-oppressive elements, there is a cloud for every silver lining and feet of clay for every potentially-admirable character. Heroism, even for Sano Ichiro, is almost entirely banished from the mix.

The "Dog Shogun" Tokugawa Tsunayoshi and his administrative head Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, based on actual historic characters, are portrayed as, respectively, a near-senile fool and a near-superhuman villain. Novels needn't be history texts and artistic license is part of the ride, but these figures are so caricatured they stretch believability. At least Yanagisawa has gained a small measure of depth since Rowland created his three-year "truce" with Ichiro, in this outing his machinations being carried out by his underling/lover Hoshina; one constantly wonders how a vacant buffoon like Rowland's Tsunayoshi could plausibly remain Shogun - or even alive - to see the next sunrise.

Despite this multitude of criticisms, "Pillow Book" did pass the aforementioned "test," to my mind ranking as the best work she's done since "Bundori," which I still consider the best of the series.

It's just too bad that Rowland is content to hang everything on formula. She's a good enough writer to create excellent work, but the Ichiro books rarely break any significant new ground, and they're all oddly devoid of any identifiable theme or moral; in this latter sense they're almost journalistic. When they're good, as in this case, they're good enough to make you regret having to stop reading. When they're not so good, they're drudgery.

Now, time to grit my teeth and go pick up "Dragon King's Palace"...

Customer Rating: Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5
Summary: Better Than Others, But Could Still Improve
Comment: As with the other books in this series, I was swept up in the ambience of Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate. Rowland's strengths are her sense of people and place in a historical context and her vivid, sometimes poetic, descriptions of the appearance, smells, and action in historical Japan. The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria (PBLW) is somewhat better paced and plotted that earlier Ichiro mysteries and, for once, there is an almost acceptable unraveling and resolution of the mystery.

However, like the other books in the Sano Ichiro mysteries, Rowland's protagonists often come across as naive, impulsive, and, yes, stupid. They still blurt out clues to everyone within listening distance, particularly to those who can do them the most damage. They still listen with credulity to the most unbelievable witnesses. And they still hurtle off after the reddest of herrings. And they are always walking the thinnest of edges between progress and destruction -- there is never a moment for repose and reflection upon the mystery at hand. With plastic villians and heros, it becomes hard to identify and empathize with the characters.

But, all in all, PBLW is an improvement over its predecessor. Rowland does well with the overall plot and some of the interpersonal friction is believeable. I do enjoy the period and the setting and I will continue to read these basically enjoyable books.

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