8/19/2016

Toru: Wayfarer Returns by Stephanie Sorensen ~ Review

Toru: Wayfarer Returns
by
Stephanie Sorensen

Series: Sakura Steam #1
Genre: Steampunk, Historical
Release Date: February 16, 2016
Palantir Press

Revolutionary young samurai with dirigibles take on Commodore Perry and his Black Ships in this alternate history steampunk technofantasy set in 1850s 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.

Tōru, 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, Tōru must transform the Emperor’s realm before the Black Ships come.

Source: Publisher via Net Galley
Rating: 4 Stars ~ LOVED

What a splendid experience I got reading this blend of Japanese historical and steampunk set in the latter years of the Shogun era.  This slow developing story added the surprise of a mysterious hero who is much more than he seems and a sweet and lightly hinted at romance.  I enjoyed delving into the history and culture of historical Japan even as the clock is ticking on this medieval land working through a fast industrial revolution all to keep the foreigners from invading their peaceful shores with their forceful desires to dominate trade in the orient.

The story opens with lone Toru returning to his homeland after spending two eventful and educational years in America.  Toru knows he is risking his very life to return because under Shogun law, no one who has left Japan's shores may ever return.  The Shogun is the military leader under Japan's emperor and he fears that anyone who leaves and returns will bring in dangerous new ideas and change.

Toru does indeed return with dangerous new ideas- the Americans and British are circling and growing impatient with Japan's severe isolationism when trade and wealth is to be had.  He loves his homeland and doesn't want to see it fall.  Toru risks all to bring back plans and ideas to bring Japan forward into the modern age of steam trains, telegraphs, submersibles, air ships, guns, and more.

Toru is taken into custody by a minor nobleman who has the intention of following the law and taking Toru's head, but his hand is stayed by his curious daughter and his own secret desire to see the young fisherman live.  Lady Masuyo finds the fisherman, his journal, and his secrets fascinating because simple, poor fisherman Toru is not.

Toru's quest becomes the quest of others and even he is amazed as his dream takes flight.  Masuyo shows herself a master inventor and innovator, his childhood friend goes from blacksmith to builder to leader as great steam locomotives, dirigibles, and war machines are produced, and the lords supporting Toru do the work of engaging more to the cause.

Meanwhile, the mighty lord of the south showers approval and support on Toru causing the others to look at him askance with wonder and suspicion even as the ominous silence from the east where the Shogun watches does not reassure him in the least.  For Japan to survive the threat of invasion, he must find a way to unite the rebel lords and the Shogun even if it means his very life.

This book gets off to a slow start and delves deep rather than skimming along at a rapid pace.  Tradition, culture, characters, setting, and plot are richly developed.  Relationships are made and deepened though the focus is always the survival of their country.  I enjoyed the authors varied and colorful cast of characters from the fiery, fierce lady who will not be shunted to the side when she has the skills needed and the drive to fight alongside the men, to the humble blacksmith who proclaims himself the captain of the fleet, to the traditional, but open-minded lords who place their trusts, their wealth, and their own lives in Toru.  Toru, himself, is an engaging character and it was neat to see him go from enigma to something much more as his secrets are revealed.

I was not familiar with the Shogun era, but I do love what I know of the Japanese culture so it was a pleasure to read a story that felt authentic even with the deviation from regular history.  The inclusion of the steampunk aspect fit very well with this historical time period.  There wasn't much in the form of small gadgetry so much as the large tools, transportation, and weapons.  I look forward to more from this series both the history, culture, and steampunk inventions.

There is a light romance playing out in the background between Lady Masuyo and Toru.  It's rather understated because of the furious need to prepare for invasion and because of the class differences of that culture.  Toru has no hope of a lady of her noble lines and she doesn't think it is possible for her to be with a commoner no matter how uncommon he is.  They also bump heads over her need to be in on the action and his desire to keep her safe.  I thought they were a great pair.

All in all, this was a nice start to a new series by a new to me author.  I would recommend it for those who love to immerse themselves in Asian history, but like an engaging adventure to go with it.

I received this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Sophia Rose regularly blogs and reviews at Delighted Reader.


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