Thursday, December 21, 2017

Review: Toru: Wayfarer Returns (Sakura Steam #1) by Stephanie R. Sorensen

Toru: Wayfarer Returns (Sakura Steam #1)

28605284Revolutionary young samurai take on the West in this alternate history steampunk techno-fantasy set in 1850's samurai-era Japan.

In Japan of 1852, the peace imposed by the Tokugawa Shoguns has lasted 250 years. Peace has turned to stagnation, however, as the commoners grow impoverished and their lords restless. Swords rust. Martial values decay. Foreign barbarians circle the island nation's closed borders like vultures, growing ever more demanding.

Toru, a shipwrecked young fisherman rescued by American traders and taken to America, defies the Shogun's ban on returning to Japan, determined to save his homeland from foreign invasion. Can he rouse his countrymen in time? Or will the cruel Shogun carry out his vow to execute all who set foot in Japan after traveling abroad? Armed only with his will, a few books, dirigible plans and dangerous ideas, Toru must transform the Emperor's realm before the Black Ships come.

My Take:
Japan in 1852 was a closed country, outlawing all trade or even contact with the outside world. The Tokugawa Shogun ruled in the Emporor's name with an iron fist. Anyone who violated the edict against contact with the rest of the world, met a violent untimely death. However, while Japan stagnates with primitive flintlocks, martial arts, and katanas as their primary means of defense, the rest of the world is industrializing, building cannon, airships, steamships, and rifles.

Toru begins his journey at the end of a journey. He is a humble shipwrecked fisherman who was rescued by American sailors and taken to the US, where his explorations take him across the country, gathering knowledge of the American factories, military, and people.

Their indomitable spirit, technological prowess and plans to force trade on the world, coupled with the recent forcing of trade with China, propels him to return at the inescapable forfeit of his life, to galvanize his beloved home country into action to prevent a foreign invasion. Armed with books, plans, and hope, he returns with the means to prevent the destruction of his beloved country.  Can he rouse his country to arms in time before he is executed?

Drug Content:
PG - Quite a bit of sake is consumed through the course of the book, and a touch of drunkenness. 

PG-13 - In several scenes, there are ambushes, where soldiers are dropped with arrows in their throats, through an eye, or decapitated by a sword. For a war book, there's not a lot of violence.

PG - Very few curse words that I recall.

Adult Content:
PG - There are a few scenes of geisha houses, but nothing happens. There is quite a bit of angst, but not even kissing.

Christian content:
The Christian book, the bible, is outlawed, on pain of death. But it is included in Toru's box of books he brings to Japan. Though it is mentioned several times as a dangerous thing to have, there is no scripture or even use of the book. It appears that no one reads it. A brief mention is made that Toru is afraid of what he has read in it.

There are multiple times when Toru and others pray to their gods, to Buddha, and even to the Christian god for help. Some characters have faith, but not in Christ. Toru and others are more than willing to give up their lives for the love of their country and others. Multiple people give their lives for others. The common people accept their starving and downtrodden lot in life under the boot of the samurai, but winds of change give hope for them, especially characterized in Toru's best friend Jiro, the coarse blacksmith. Friendship, self-sacrifice, patriotism, and hope are strong strokes in this beautiful picture of pre-industrial Japan.

Final analysis:
I gotta say, Japanese Steampunk is a rare combination, but it worked very well in this edge-of-the-seat action-packed adventure. From the time Toru hits the shore of Japan his life hangs by a thread. There is obvious a lot more to this humble fisherman than meets the eye. And as he stays one jump ahead of the headsman, he sets in motion a transformation of Japan from a stagnating relic to a world power. The characters, especially the supporting cast, are well defined and realistic. The setting is magnificent. The plot is stellar, and the action gripping. Five Stars!

About the Author:
Stephanie R SorensenStephanie is a writer based in the Victorian mining town of Leadville, Colorado, where she lives at 10,152 feet with her husband, five chickens, two bantam English game hens and one Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. After a former life in big cities-New York City, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Boston, Mexico City, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Santa Fe-she now enjoys the birdsong and quiet writing time she finds in Leadville. When she's not writing, Stephanie stays busy sewing fancy gowns, playing MMOS, running the historic Tabor Opera House and working as a part-time technology venture capitalist. Her first novel draws on her experience living and working in Japan; her next historical novel is set in Mexico where she also lived for several years. As a Leadville local, she likes her Victorian attire spiced with a little neo-Victorian futurism and the biggest bustle possible.

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