Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Dragon Scroll by I.J. Parker


Synopsis From Back Cover:

In eleventh-century Japan, Sugawara Akitada is an impoverished nobleman and earnest young government clerk in the Ministry of Justice.  On his first official assignment, he is sent from the captial city on a nearly impossible mission to the distant province of Kazusa to discover why tax convoys are disappearing.  In the politically murky world of the Japanese court, he has been set up to fail.  However, the ever-resourceful Akitada, his elderly servant, Seimei, and his impudent bodyguard Tora, are determined to fulfill their mission and discover the truth in a town of dangerous secrets.  In an adventure filled with highway bandits, unscrupulous politicians, and renegade monks, The Dragon Scroll introduces readers to the captivating world of ancient Japan and an irrepressible new hero.

Now after reading that synopsis you would think this is a book full of wonderfully fun characters set in a totally unfamiliar world to most readers, and you would be half right.  This is an unfamiliar world to most of us and because of that I find myself not really caring for the characters all that much.  The men tend to be sexist and overly hung up on "class" and how people fit into categories that are neither flexible or forgiving.  The women are either meek and seeking protection from the men or devious vixens bent on eliminating anything in their way.  Now there is one exception to that last part and for that I'm honestly grateful to the writer. Ayako is actually a fearless "warrior" woman who teaches martial arts and sleeps with whoever she chooses to, but in the end she is still forced to play by the rules and marry a man that is acceptable class wise as opposed to who she might really want to be with.

Now this isn't the fault of the charcters, the time the story is set in is to blame.  This was a time period where women had their place and class was so culturally ingrained that it's part of who they are.  It's not fair to read a book, set in another time and place, and judge it by todays' standards equality and social justice.  Of course it's always easy to say that, then to actually, on some level, not react to what you are reading using your own moral compass.

Now, after all that, if you think I didn't enjoy this book, then you are very much mistaken.  Regardless of what I think of Akitada as a person, I found this to be a wonderfuly crafted mystery filled with missing gold and murder all around.  The author has crafted a wonderfully intricate story with so many layers, you aren't really able to see how they work together until the story is over.  Once the "solution" is sprung on you, you may just end up kicking yourself in the ass for not figuring out why the prologue was important or relevant to the rest of the story.

I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series, one of which I've already read, but will be reading again in order.  Because of that unfair advantage I can tell you that Akitada does become more likeable as the books go on and as he matures.  I would recomend this series to anyone who enjoyes a well crafted mystery set in a beautifully imagined world.

This will fall under the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge 2010 hosted by Carolyn of Book Chick City.

9 comments:

ninefly said...

have to say I don't remember the last time I read an ancient japanese mystery novel lol
I'm usually quite wary of reading asian settings written by a non-asian (I think) author, but I've seen some positive reviews from asians on goodreads and of course your review helps a lot too =D
it's a bit disappointing there's no strong female characters who get happy endings, but I can sort of understand in the cultural context how the women really don't have a choice of being "in the middle" between meek and devious...
thanks for bringing this book to my attention! =D

bookmagic said...

It sounds good but complicated. I think I would be put off by the cover, makes it look like a children's book. Great review though

Simcha said...

This book sounds very interesting and different. I usually enjoy reading books about different culture, and I've always found the Japanese culture to be particularly interesting. It is a challenge sometimes to put aside our own beliefs and judgments when reading about places and people so different from ourselves. When reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and I could barely get through the vivid description of how the girl's feet were bound and I had to keep reminding myself that at least this horrible tradition is no longer practiced.

IceJewel said...

I love reading books which are set in completely different era. I agree with your statement "It's not fair to read a book, set in another time and place, and judge it by todays' standards equality and social justice"

But, Yes, its easy to say than actually implement.I once read 'The Secret Garden' by Frances Hodgson Burnett and found blatant racism in it because there are some references in the book against my country 'India'.

It’s not fair to judge them by today’s standards, but still it becomes difficult to ignore!

Ceri said...

This is an interesting sounding one. It makes me glad when I see that people can overcome any dated characters or majorly-flawed characters to still enjoy the story. :) Looking forward to your reviews for the rest of the series, Ry.

carolsnotebook said...

The setting sounds really fascinating, but your description of the characters isn't making me need to go out and get it.

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

Some times there are things in a book that get under your skin but you love it all together. Sounds like an interesting read. Glad you enjoyed it.

Bella said...

This one sounds really interesting. I definitely have to check this one out!

Cathy said...

I've got this on my TBR shelves, so it was good to see your review.