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.