The Shogun’s Queen is a book set in Japan in the 1800s & tells the story of Okatsu; a girl who goes from a humble birth to being the equivalent of the Queen of Japan! Okatsu’s story is full of drama & emotion, & the notion that this story is all based on fact makes it so much more endearing.
I preordered the paperback months & months ago but due to money issues I had to cancel the order; instead I got the book from the library & I am so glad I decided to do so – I learnt so much from The Shogun’s Queen & I’m eager to get on with the rest of the series!
Trigger Warning: This book contains an attempted rape scene
Okatsu’s story is interesting because she starts out as the daughter of a not-very-important Lord from a small village, but eventually ends up as the most powerful woman in Japan – & all because of the plotting & planning of other people. Okatsu’s story constantly surprised me as this is a time period that I knew literally nothing about; I learnt a lot about Japan & the book has woken up a hunger in me to learn more about this time period.
When I first picked up The Shogun’s Queen I was worried that the writing would be complex & difficult to follow, as some historical fiction books can be if you don’t know any of the background story, but I was pleasantly surprised… instead of being confusing or overly academic, the writing flowed easily & was really easy to understand – I was reading a story, not being taught a history lesson. I also love that a map & a key explaining all of the characters (& whether they were real or not) is at the start of the book; it really helped me when I first started to read.
The story this book tells was so intriguing & informative; Downer has included so much detail about the clothes, the rules, the rituals, & so much more, that were common in 1800s Japan & I really, really enjoyed learning about it all. I find it so strange to think about how the women & men were separated in the palace & how open the men were about how many women they were involved with! It’s so different from the more secretive attitude that was common in the English royal courts. I also loved seeing the role the women played in politics, especially during Iesada’s reign – women having some power in the politics of the country was common in Japan, but across oceans England was getting stressed out because Queen Victoria was next in line to the throne!
One aspect of the book that I really enjoyed, was reading about what the Japanese thought of Westerners! Growing up in a predominantly white environment I haven’t really considered what other races think of white people when they first see them & reading Okatsu’s thoughts & immediate opinions of the barbarians really made me laugh. I’m really curious about how the Americans smelt to the Japanese & it Okatsu’s reaction to ginger hair was really amusing. I was also fascinated by the views the Japanese had about the British overtaking China during this period because they end up doing something pretty similar around 80 years later during the Second World War.
The Shogun himself, Iesada, was an interesting man – I’m desperate to do some more research into him to find out what medical historians have concluded was wrong with him. Iesada’s personality changes were often very sudden & could be very disruptive, & Downer wrote these scenes with a lot of delicacy; as someone who has just got their degree in psychology, Iesada is really fascinating to me so I hungrily ate up the scenes that he was in. Okatsu’s attitude toward Iesada & how she treated him have left a space for her in my heart – Okatsu seemed to be really understanding & patient in regards to Iesada’s health & I loved that she didn’t try to manipulate him like his mother did. Of course I know that historians cannot know for sure how Okatsu felt about Iesada, but I hope Downer’s version of her is accurate.
The end of The Shogun’s Queen left me sure that I will eventually pick up the next book in the series; I’m eager to find out how Okatsu’s story continues & how she’s going to play her role of Dowager Queen. I honestly learnt a lot from this book & I was never bored by the story – it did take me a while to read though as the story got a little complicated in places & there was a lot to take in & understand.
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