The Snow Empress: A Thriller (Sano Ichiro Novels)

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I have not read any of the previous books in this series, so I'm sure that I must be missing out on a huge amount of character backstory and understanding of Sano's political position by jumping into the middle of a long series. However, I happened to find this one on audio and found that I was able to follow the story just fine.

This book begins with the kidnapping of Sano's only son in Edo the city that is now Tokyo , but most of the action takes place on the far-north island of Hokkaido formerly referred to as Ezo. This setting is what I liked best about the story--it's depicted as a land on the far fringes of the world that is known to Sano and his companions. It's a distant outpost of Japanese society, where strange and mysterious things seem possible and where the usual rules of society don't always apply.

Sano is sent to this northern island on an errand for the shogun. It's politically risky for him to leave Edo, but he is more than willing to go because he believes his son is being held captive in Hokkaido. It's hard to imagine a world in which one's political rival would basically admit to kidnapping your son and sending him on a dangerous journey, but there you have it.

That's what Sano's rival hints at, and what motivates Sano throughout this book. So, Sano, his wife, his apprentice, two detectives, and a reluctant translator set off for the north. What they find is a powderkeg situation, ready to blow. The provincial Matsumae lord in charge of the area has gone way insane after the death of his mistress, and his household is in turmoil. The shogun's emissaries keep going missing.

And relations are worsening between the Japanese people living in the province and the native Ainu people who call the island home. All of this is connected, as Sano discovers when his party is taken captive and forced to investigate the murder of the Matsumae leader's mistress. Sano officially outranks his captor, but he has to play by these crazy rules if he wants to survive and look for his son. Reiko, his wife, is sick with worry and determined to get their son back, so she helps with the investigation.

The Snow Empress

She comes across as a bit of a firebrand, and is ready to achieve her goals by subtlety, troublemaking, or any means necessary! As I said, I especially enjoyed the unusual setting of this book. The clash of cultures between the Japanese and the Ainu was interesting from a historical standpoint and created fascinating conflicts in the book. I had only known a little about the Ainu people before reading this, but enjoyed learning more while reading and looking up additional information later.

There's a variety of rich characters in this story, both Ainu and Japanese, which infuses interactions with a certain level of complexity both between the ethnic groups and within them. Tensions are running so high that a single misstep in Sano's investigation or just a twist of chance could spark violence or even war. There was only one thing that I didn't enjoy as much, and that had to do with the writing style.

I thought that Japanese cultural details were often over-explained which would be useful for readers who know absolutely nothing, but unnecessary for most.


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Ditto for the step-by-step inferences Sano uses in solving the mystery. So, I guess I'm saying that the book is complex in content but rather easy to read in form Anyway, I enjoyed the story, suspense, and historical aspects. Jun 26, April rated it liked it Shelves: Yay review finally up albeit short. This was my first foray into Rowlands mystery world concerning fuedal Japan and that shocked me, I mean, a Samurai detective?

The novel might as well have sprouted clawing treelike arms to pull me in and I really, really enjoyed it. There were so many motives; so many leads! Guess I was expecting too much there. You don't necessarily have to read the other books in the series to engage with the characters, so I'm not too sure regarding the chronology of the books Some you may; I've yet to find out. Regardless, I became quite fond of the characters involved in The Snow Empress.

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I love mystery books, so it kept me guessing throughout. Always fast paced; a prolonging adventure of sorts, though sometimes the accusing flame was constantly and I mean constantly being passed to different characters and sometimes that was a little infuriating.

All the characters were quite interesting, actually, give or take a small few. I do possess a certain fondness for traditional Japanese culture, so the descriptions were not exactly exquisite but fascinating enough for me. I guess to award it more stars I needed it to happen. Or something a little more shocking, anyway. Aug 24, Kevin Vrieze rated it it was amazing. This is number 12 in the Sano series. A great rebound from the relatively slow pace of the previous two. It is a great combination of island spirituality and samurai spirit. The interaction between Aino Mosir and all the characters including the murder victim is a fascinating theme in the story.

The Hirata development in this area is a lovely step in his Samurai growth. Even Sano seems to grow as a result of the factors in this case. The story contains a very interesting exchange between Sano and This is number 12 in the Sano series. The story contains a very interesting exchange between Sano and Reiko with respect to the love of their son.

One understands Reiko's frustration. The flat-out statement that Sano could not care for their son as much as she is both over-the-top and unjust to both Reiko and Sano. Questions as a result will, necessarily, have to be addressed for this relationship to continue. One hopes that Reiko will figure a way of the hole she has dug. Admittedly, it is her efforts that locate their son. Equally certain is the fact that if Sano does not solve the murder they will all die. To save his son, and Reiko, he has to focus his efforts elsewhere. As smart as Reiko is, one might have expected her to get this.

One appreciates the "candor". One also understands the danger that has been raised. The issue of the reasons for kidnapping is almost untouched.

As implied, we will learn more in subsequent stories. The story line is well put together and keeps one reading to the very end. There are, very clearly, some tricky themes in the story. The role of the supernatural is interesting as an example. It is always there in a mystery. In a period story like this the portrayal is unlike a more "modern" presentation which, generally, has difficulty coming to terms with things spiritual.

So, accepting it for what it is makes the story much more readable. All in all a worthwhile and satisfying read. Sep 21, D.

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I was actually angry when I finished this--angry that this lazy and ridiculous book wasted my time and wasted my faith in this author. After 11 novels, I'd thought Rowland's series reliably entertaining, a nice diversion into historical Japan with a usually engaging mystery. Even with the weaker books in this series, I've always found something to redeem it, if for nothing but the fact that I was indeed entertained. It was a noticeably strained effort, an I was actually angry when I finished this--angry that this lazy and ridiculous book wasted my time and wasted my faith in this author.

It was a noticeably strained effort, and worse yet, did a great disservice to her characters and the series. It was certainly a betrayal of the reality she's worked so hard and long to create. Frustrating and horribly disappointing.


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  6. I'm hoping this was an aberration. The only reason I finished this book was because I've been a faithful reader of the series up to this one, but I'd honestly recommend skipping it and going on to the next in line which was an entertaining return to form. This particular effort adds absolutely nothing to the over-all arc of the series. Just go on to "The Fire Kimono" and don't look back. Feb 02, Kayeb rated it liked it. AS their son is kidnapped due to the ongoing battle for supremacy, Reiko and Sano go to an island, where the head guy has been taken over by his dead lover Meanwhile, a world away in the city of Edo, the ei AS their son is kidnapped due to the ongoing battle for supremacy, Reiko and Sano go to an island, where the head guy has been taken over by his dead lover May 02, Kandice rated it liked it.

    Except for the last few chapters, this would have been a 2 star book for me. I really enjoy and like the characters Joh Rowland has created. They have depth, and I actuallyc are for them. My complaint with her books is the ridiculous situations she puts these characters in.

    They just don't make sense. I've only read two other of this series, and admitedly, I've read them out of order.

    Even having done that, I genuinely like Sano and his wife. I really want to know what's going on in their lives. They are detectives, as unlikely as this seems, given the setting, so of course there's a mystery in each book. More often than not, it's a murder. Joh Rowland's mistake is that she gives us just way too many suspects.

    She then proceeds to make each look guilty and in the next chapter clear them. ALL of them, until she unclears one. It's too much effort. I've always enjoyed mysteries. Holmes, Poirot, Miss Marple, even Nancy Drew, but the best mysteries are those where the reader is given the clues to solve the mystery themselves. Often we don't, but the big satisfaction, for me anyway, is seeing the important clue I overlooked when the big reveal takes place. Because Joh Rowland throws out too many possibilities and backtracks so often, you never get that satisfaction.

    Jun 12, Indrani rated it liked it. This one did keep me guessing - so many suspects, all with such reasonable motives! Rowland pulls us out of the familiar streets of Edo, and into the strange world of Ezogashima for this adventure of Sano Ichiro and friends. She does a good job of capturing the mental journey that her protagonist must undergo, which mirrors his physical one, as Sano realizes that no, he doesn't understand the culture he is in, and that yes, he has made some assumptions that lead to errors in his own judgement.

    My This one did keep me guessing - so many suspects, all with such reasonable motives! I'm not sure how much I like the turn that is being taken with the character of Hirata. I had been quite enjoying that Sano and his team were solving crimes in ways that may have been unorthodox for his time, but that seemed true to the period in terms of the knowledge and understanding that was being used. No fancy gimmicks, just straight-forward collection of evidence, information, and deduction.

    Hirata seems to be pushing the boundaries into the quasi-mystical - perhaps still in keeping with the time period and beliefs of culture, but it's all a bit too convenient for me: To be fair, this began in "Red Chrysanthemum", however I had hoped that the next "bump-up" in his abilities would take mor effort on his part than a fortunate journey north. Aug 18, Alison rated it liked it Shelves: Goddamn New Year resolutions.

    One of mine was to review every book read this year, which I'll be honest and confess is the only reason I am writing this review. As this series has worn on, it has gotten decreasingly realistic, and increasingly sensationalist. I picked this one up because I have a curiosity about Japan's Ainu people, and no knowledge whatsoever. Other than being aware that they have a long history of conflict with the Japanese, a tradition of "shamanesses" a horrendo Goddamn New Year resolutions. Other than being aware that they have a long history of conflict with the Japanese, a tradition of "shamanesses" a horrendous word which hardly induces confidence I'm not sure this book taught me much more.

    Reiko, once a reasonably interesting character, spends most of this book in a state of rationally-paralysing hysteria, and if everyone else runs around being less dramatically stupid, they are stupid nonetheless. Rowland is effective at building tension and plotting an old-fashioned murder mystery with a body in every act and a surprising resolution that has laid some clues, but she seems to have lost the ability to make me care about anyone at all.

    I'm pretty sure this is the last of the series I'll be reviewing or, for that matter, reading. The only thing I vaguely remember about this book is anger. I was angry at Reiko for flat out saying that she as a mother loves her son more than her daughter. It's not that I don't understand her, because everyone knows that the 'I love them equally' talk is bullshit, but still. And the second one is the kille The only thing I vaguely remember about this book is anger. And the second one is the killer. Now, we either say that magic and ghosts are real and act accordingly or say that they aren't real and stick to it!

    Like, normal krimi, proper investigation with real suspects and BAMM! But you see, I don't hate L.

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    I'm sure that there were good things about it, but this bad aftertaste is the only thing I can remember from this book and that's not good. So yeah, two stars. It was okay, but nothing more. Apr 14, Laurel rated it really liked it. What intrigued me about this "detective" novel was its physical setting Ezogashima,a far northern island of Japan , its time frame , and the fascinating description of the indigenous people of the island Ezos, or, as they call themselves, "Ainu". As Sano, the samurai detective--and his clever wife, Reiko-- search for their young son on the island who'd been kidnapped by a political rival , they are involved in solving the murder of the provincial governor's indigenous mistress.

    Ghosts, What intrigued me about this "detective" novel was its physical setting Ezogashima,a far northern island of Japan , its time frame , and the fascinating description of the indigenous people of the island Ezos, or, as they call themselves, "Ainu". Ghosts, spirt possession, political and sibling rivalries, poison arrows, suspected poisoning - it's fun as well as thought-provoking.

    An interesting sidebar involves Hirata, Sano's loyal retainer, who studies dim-mak, an ancient mystic martial art This is the 12th book in the "Sano Ichiro, samurai detective" series, but the first one I've read. I'm going back for more. Oct 01, Caroline rated it liked it Recommended to Caroline by: I really struggled to get through this book, and had to force myself a few times to actually read the pages rather than let my mind wander.

    The murder was intriguing--I liked the setting of Ezogashima, Tekare posed an interesting murder victim--but I just it to be almost impossible to really get invested in the story. The final one hundred pages really picked up the plot better, but it was getting there that really wound up being a problem. Like in some of the previous novels in the series, there I really struggled to get through this book, and had to force myself a few times to actually read the pages rather than let my mind wander.

    Like in some of the previous novels in the series, there's some off-setting magical elements to the story that at times are a bit laughable, especially when I'm expecting a historical murder mystery, not a fantasy mystery. For me, this has definitely been the weakest of the series. It was still a good enough story, it just didn't sweep me away like I'd expected it to. View all 3 comments.

    This was an interesting tale full of vivid imagery and strong characters. I don't know how accurate it is historically, but it sounds right in the telling. Whether it is an historical novel, or a fantasy, I can't tell. The only serious difficulty I have with it is that the characters that are called "detectives" don't do much detecting, and the people most involved in the investigation, Sano and his wife, keep jumping to unfounded conclusions. This may be an aid to the plot twists, but most of t This was an interesting tale full of vivid imagery and strong characters.

    This may be an aid to the plot twists, but most of the writers I favor handle it much more deftly. This being the twelfth installment in this series though the only one I've read , I didn't expect to keep being confronted with conclusions that have so little supporting evidence. Write a customer review. Read reviews that mention laura joh joh rowland snow empress sano ichiro lord matsumae historical fiction feudal japan looking forward wife reiko forward to the next next book sano and reiko lord matsudaira ichiro series find his son chamberlain sano mystery ezogashima detective japanese.

    There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later. Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase. I have read several of this author's novels, which are really good detective stories set in Feudal Japan before "Last Samurai" days. The politics of this period are as complicated as our own are today. But in Feudal Japan, if you make a mistake while investigating a crime not only will you loose your job, but your head, too. And so will your Family.

    And, women are given strong roles in this series. This author will keep you guessing to the very end. One in a long line of crime thrillers set in samurai-era Japan. The hero, Sano Ichiro, combats crime as well as political intrigue within the local shogun's administration. In The Snow Empress, Sano's son is kidnapped and taken to a wild region of the country.

    The Snow Empress (Sano Ichiro, book 12) by Laura Joh Rowland

    Sano and his wife Reiko, a detective in her own right, trail the criminals and learn that the daimyo of the area has gone mad after the death of his concubine. They must deal not only with their son's kidnapping but with the concubine's murder. The plot is fresh and the Joh Rowland's writing is consistently descriptive and interesting. Some of her material can be repetitive in plot and theme. I have loved all of the Sano Ichiro mysteries. The stories are gripping; and they are very historically accurate and interesting about Japan in the 17th century. Rowland's style is unique in bringing, for Westerners, a world unknown.

    Kindle Edition Verified Purchase. If you enjoy historical fiction, you will enjoy this mystery An added plus to reading how people of Japan lived very long ago. Once again Laura Joh Rowland has created a great mystery. The descriptions and twists and turns are so well written. I definitely would recommend this book. Thank you very much. See all 34 reviews. Most recent customer reviews. A Thriller Sano Ichiro.. Published 5 months ago. Published on September 18, Published on May 19, Published on March 21, Published on November 5, Published on July 14, What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?

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