In Service of Samurai Gloria Oliver

In Service of Samurai

First Published 2003
317 Pages

ISBN: 1894869672

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Zumaya Publications
Zumaya Publications
Date Read
March 2003
Lesley

When Toshi is forced from his home by a powerful Samurai, Asaka, he is shocked to find that the man is obake, a demon. He is even more shocked when he finds himself "press-ganged" into helping an entire ships crew of undead to reach the Shakute Islands by reading the maps of the gaijin (foreigners).

He soon becomes friends with some of the crew; in particular a Geisha called Miko. She does everything in her power to make his time on the ship tolerable. As the time passes he learns more of the history of the undead crew and he starts to train in the fighting skills of the Samurai.

As he spends more time in the company of Asaka he begins to feel sympathy for their plight. They are unable to exist in daylight and are destined to continue in this half-life until they retrieve a teakettle from an ancient temple. This teakettle holds the key to their release.

As the ship gets closer to its final destination someone seems to be doing everything possible to prevent them reaching their goal.

Will Toshi and the crew make it to the Shakute Islands safely or will they be prevented from reaching the temple and finding the teakettle?

This novel is truly original. The premise of a ship of undead Japanese warriors sailing the seas in search of salvation is one I have never come across before. I particularly enjoy the way that the intricacies of Japanese society are woven into the storyline. The use of Japanese words (such as gaijin and obake) add to the rich tapestry that unfolds as you read this story.

The way that the relationship between Toshi and Miko develops is very well written. You can feel Toshi's initial reticence as he struggles to come to terms with his conflicting feelings. Although Miko is an undead demon he finds himself becoming very fond of her and is concerned for her welfare.

As the journey progresses Toshi's skills in the way of the Samurai grow. His development from nervous apprentice mapmaker to skilled warrior forms a significant part of the story. This is also quite unusual. On the surface this tale revolves around the search for a teakettle but in many ways this becomes a secondary storyline with Toshi's personal journey taking centre stage. I actually found myself feeling sorry for the undead sailors!

This is quite a difficult book to review, as there are so many aspects that I would like to refer to but in doing so I feel that I would spoil the enjoyment for future readers.

I do not know if this novel is Gloria Oliver's first book. If it is then I am extremely impressed. The writing showed fluidity that you usually find in an author of considerable experience. Oliver shows, in particular, a willingness to carry out detailed research when planning a storyline. There is no way that this level of accuracy could be achieved without many an hour being spent in the library or on the Internet.

I think that this book is a superb fantasy novel and I hope that there are many more to come from Gloria Oliver.

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Synopsis
Epic adventure set in a fictional Japan where magic, spirits, and demons are real. Toshi, a mapmaker's apprentice, is unwillingly drawn into the realm of the supernatural when forcibly taken from his home by an undead samurai. With him lies the key for completing a nine-year-old mission, which must be fulfilled before a clan's souls can be laid to rest. Yet the path to this end won't be easy, for there are those who don't want them to succeed--among them the dreaded ninja. Toshi will have to face many obstacles in the service of samurai.