Shogun by James Clavell-A Review

A few weeks back, I wrote about challenging myself to read all of James Clavell’s Asian Saga. And every word of that remains true. 

Shogun is vast in scale, beautiful in its description, and absolutely frustrating in its conclusion. I’ve already said all of that in my last post. So why the need to write a review? 

(Hint: look at the title of my page) 

John Blackthorne is Pilot of the Erasmus, a Dutch ship, with Royal papers to attack any enemy ship. Before the story begins, the crew has attacked several ships, raised settlements in the Americas, and decided to set sail for “the Japans.”

The prologue of this massive book is set aboard the Erasmus, in the final days before the arrival. Blackthorne is lamenting about the voyage, and the onset of scurvy amongst the crew. It’s beautifully written, and instantly draws us in, allowing us to know the protagonist we will spend the next three weeks of our life with. 

The main narrative opens with Blackthorne waking up in Japan. He has been stripped of his clothes, cleaned, and bandaged. A female attendant comes in, bringing food. They converse, and thus the book continues to mislead the reader. The conversation is the setup for a gag that takes 100 pages to pay off, but it’s extremely well done. 

In fact, the first quarter of the book, as long as we are following Blackthorne, Omi, and Toranaga, the story flows amazingly well. But Clavell has a tendency to get bogged down in the details. In the first 300 pages, there is a large passage of a tertiary character’s thoughts about her mother-in-law. The reader already knows the woman is a bitch, we don’t need ten pages of an internal monologue about the ironic nature of the daughter-in-law eventually becoming the woman she loathed. 

And it only gets worse, because Clavell does this for every fucking character. The only thought the reader is not graced with is when they need to defecate. There is a lot of pissing, though. Including a scene where Blackthorne is pissed on. 

Around the 1/3 mark of the book, the reader is treated to the essence of the plot: how Toranaga maneuvers his way to become Shogun. For character study, and a primer on the Japanese culture and language, the novel is worth a look. As a story, it is overly padded and makes me want to scream at the author. 

Sadly, James Clavell passed away in 1994. Sadder still, Anita Blake is not real. I will be in need of a Necromancer at the end of this 6,000 page journey. 

Fortunately, the next book in my queue will offer a slight reprieve before my continued literary self-flagelation. 


About Jonathan Brett Kennedy

Husband, father to furry children, reader, writer, and lover of history.
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