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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 27 July 2013
I feel so-so about The Last Concubine. It was alright, but it just didn't grab me. It's competently written, but it seemed to lack flair or any real imagination. It was only sporadically evocative, and I didn't get any sense of atmosphere or ambience to draw me into the historical setting.

The plot was well-constructed, and it wasn't predictable at least, but it wasn't amazing or awe-inspiring or gripping. The same thing for the characters. They were... there. I didn't dislike them, but I don't feel like I rooted for any of them. Even Sachi, the main character, came off as rather one-note and like I was barely scratching the surface of her personality. That made it hard to connect with the characters or get involved in the plot.

I wouldn't call this a bad read, by any means, and I did find it mildly enjoyable, but I felt disconnected and couldn't get into the world of the story or empathise with the characters.
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on 20 February 2009
I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. At first I started to read it because of the reviews refering to a romance between court lady Sachi(the last concubine of the Shogun) and ronin samurai Shinzaemon.
However this romance was very understated, as in the Japan of the 1860's there was not even a word for romantic love as we know it.You felt affection for your parents,respect for your wife, and lust for courtesans so the romantic love and passion that was a feature of the West was regarded as an affliction that usually led to death in the Japan of that time.
Those reviewers who described this book as being like a"Mills & Boon" book have obviously not read a Mills & Boon book lately.In Last Concubine there were no sex scenes, no overt avowals of love; just meaningful glances and bits of poetry.
Where this book really scores is in the depiction of the court life of the ladies of the Shogun. The scents, clothes, rituals,calligraphy,are all sumptiously described.
I don't know how accurate the historical events surrounding the story are but they seem well researched and to that extent are informative about a period in Japan that I knew nothing about.
I thought it was a good read
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on 2 November 2013
This book is a little westernized, but, even for me, who is probably oversensitive to that kind of thing, I didn't find that an intrusive quality. The characters are vivid, and the story is intriguing. I'd never heard of her before, but I'm definitely going to read more of her stuff.
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on 9 October 2012
I loved this book! Being a fan of historical fiction and of asian-inspired books I was keen to read this. A great storyline (with some truths in the dates/uprisings etc.) flowing through the book, which kept me eagerly reading on! The descriptions given are full of detail, enabling the reader to easily imagine the beauty and intricacy of the buildings, kimonos, scenery etc. Overall a very worthy read, able to transport you back to the beauty and tradition of 19th century Japan which I found truly fascinating to read and learn about- well recommended!
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on 19 December 2012
Lesley Downer is a fantastic writer. She takes you away to this amazing place where you get lost in forbidden love, where the word "love" doesn't really exist. This was the first of all her books i read. I instantly fell in love with Sachi (the last concubine). You get to watch her grow from this young girl to a young woman, with all the different obstacles that face her.
Japan was a world in itself at the time of the Shogun. This gives us a glimpse of that world.
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on 17 May 2011
I loved this book and got no work at home done until I finished it. Nice to know a lot of the characters were actual people. I have a great interest in the oriental countries Japan especially. I got totally transported back in time to the end of the Shogun rule , tradition , forbidden love and having visited some of these places I could just picture it. Someone make it to a film PLEASE. One of my favorite reads, along side Memoirs of a Geisha and yep I know they are kids books but... the young Samurai books
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on 3 March 2012
I have read Downer's book on life as a geisha and while it gives a wonderful insight I must admit even then I wasn't very engaged with her writing style, I think I just expected the book to be more concise and factual, less of a personal diary- not that there's anything wrong with that!

I got this book after reading Geisha of Gion, Memoirs of a Geisha, Anchee Min's The Last Empress and Sara Sheridan's The Secret Mandarin- I love Oriental dramas and romances. And yet, I was rather disappointed with this book, which is odd.

I found the characters simplistic and I expected Sachi to have more of a character by the hundreth page, but instead I just felt like the book was hopping along and she was an incredibly boring, demure character... Just a bit typical and uninspiring compared to the Empress Orchid I was used to recently, Sachi wasn't bringing any new thoughts or traits to me.

I've yet to really get into the thick of the story, but I'm struggling because despite interesting events happening it's generally dull and hard to follow. Characters are given quirky descriptions but dialogue is stiff and short, everything just feels skimmed over. I think part of it is that the recent books I've read have been in first person, and offer a very colourful protagonists full of emotions; whereas The Last Concubine is written in third person, and fails to make a strong connection between the reader (well, me) and Sachi. I was annoyed that despite her life drastically changing her emotions were trivial, the plot turns not that exciting, and her inner thoughts half-baked.

I am rather bemused by my own opinion of the book though, considering all the excellent reviews and five stars this book has received from other readers. I'm going to continue reading the book and hope it blossoms, but I still don't see how anyone could be hooked by the first few pages! If you liked this, then read Empress Orchid by Anchee Min instead, which I think does a much better job of creating characters, dialogue, describing, setting the mood and engaging the reader. Both stories feature a peasant girl being carried away to be a concubine on account of her beauty, surviving vicious friendships, struggling for an heir and coming into power.
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on 29 April 2011
I have never read this author's books before, but have found The Last Concubine to be informative and exciting, both from an historic as well as contents aspect. I have never read about the lives of the Japanese Samurai before and have found it quite engrossing. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fact-based historical/romantic fiction. I shall certainly be looking for more Lesley Downer novels in future.
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on 12 January 2013
I have an interest in Japanese culture of the 1800/1900's and have read quite a few books like this. It started very well as Sachi is drawn into the world of the Shogun as a conqubine. However, no sooner does this happen then he dies and the rest of the book is spent with her mooning over a man that she meets few years later and describing a journey she has to make in rather minute detail. I got sick of reading about how she swept her eyes longingly over his profile examining every feature-I know very well that was all she could do as touching or talking about her feelings was all but forbidden but goodness me! I very nearly gave up reading the book as it failed to hold my interest once Sachi left the palace but made myself persist.
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on 1 May 2010
The Last Concubine was recommended by a friend as a must read, and as we had both lived in Japan a long time I thought I would give it a go, you need to invest time to read it because once you start you won't want to put it down. Really good.
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