One of the things I really enjoy about steampunk fiction is how it explores alternate history. In the first novel of the Sakura Steam series, Sorensen gives us a look at how different things might’ve been for Japan if the American Commodore Perry had met with a Japan with the technological might to resist him.
This is a character-driven story. Toru is the story’s protagonist, a visionary who has returned to Japan after two years in the US. With the help of some minor nobles, a foreword-thinking young woman named Masuyo, and a jovial blacksmith named Jiro, Toru begins convincing a nation to adopt new ways and technologies in order to defend itself against the impending arrival of Perry. This is a book about transformation. Interestingly, the characters change because the changes are necessary for the survival of Japan not because they do not respect Japan’s present culture.
Not that the path is entirely lined with peach blossoms, mind you. The Tokugawa Shogunate has condemned Toru to death for violating the strict laws that enforce Japan’s isolation. You find yourself holding your breath as Toru and his comrades race to build enough zeppelins, guns and steam engines to defend Japan from the Americans before the Shogun puts a stop to it. The build-up of the novel is well worth it. I found myself very much reminded of the spirit and bravery of the American Revolution, especially when it was juxtaposed against the grace and quiet dignity of Japan. While this is certainly steampunk alternative history, you definitely get a grasp of and respect for Japanese culture at the time.
The book is well-edited and flows well. Though I’m used to books with a lot more action, at no point did I feel the need to skim – which is to say that Sorensen kept me intrigued throughout. She violates the whole “show, don’t tell” periodically, but I think this is excusable given that her story is fairly ambitious in terms of the span of history it covers.
I happily recommend Toru: The Wayfarer and will anxiously await the next installment.
You can find out more about Stephanie Sorensen and the Sakura Steam series at: http://stephaniersorensen.com/
From the Bookwyrm’s Lair
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author for review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”