The very things that make The Blade of the Courtesans deeply immersive and engrossing are also what make it frustrating. Here we have a novel of historical Japan written by a native Japanese, one who has obviously taken the time to immerse himself in the material to a degree previously unheard of. The shame of it is that Blade is only half of a great book.
For years now best-selling Western authors have been taking stabs at telling stories in historical Japan or some analogue thereof — I.J. Parker, Lian Hearn, Laura Joh Rowland — but there weren’t a great many popular Japanese authors in translation to give us an idea of where all this came from. Keiichiro Ryu’s Blade grabbed my attention for that reason: like The Kouga Ninja Scrolls before it, here was a chance to see what the “real thing” was like. Doubly fascinating since Ryu had a terribly short career as a novelist — only five years — before an untimely death. Read more