Top critical review
Poor description and characterisation make this an unremarkable work. 2 1/2 stars
on 16 February 2014
John Allyn's retelling of the 47 Ronin story is, sadly, a missed opportunity. The building blocks are all here - ready and poised for the epic treatment this story deserves - but unfortunately John Allyn was not the man to make it happen this time around.
The respectable Japaneses historian Stephen Turnbull is quoted on the front cover, hailing it a "masterful retelling" of the classic samurai tale, but unfortunately Stephen has a vested interest in providing a short essay at the start of the book, which he no doubt got paid for. Speaking of which, if you are going to read the novel regardless and have no foreknowledge of the plot then I highly recommend you skip the introductory sections until after you've finished reading the main story, otherwise crucial plot revelations and historical inaccuracies will spoil things for you.
The tale is told far too briskly for my personal tastes, and is woefully lacking in vivid descriptions of key events (including the all-important beginning AND finale). In addition, the majority of characters could benefit from from having greater depth to make the story as immersive as it has the right to be. It's not that everything badly written - far from it as there's some strong material in here - but it all just feels a bit too rushed.
So who might like this novel, then? Well, if this is your first foray into the realm of samurai literature and you haven't read James Clavell's 'Shogun' yet then this might be an okay place to start. Otherwise, I could only imagine adolescents being swept off their feet by the whistle-stop narrative.
Eiji Yoshikawa's samurai masterpieces 'Musashi' and 'Taiko' set the bar incredibly high, and unfortunately '47 Ronin' by John Allyn pales in comparison.