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on 2 July 2015
First things first, it's impossible to read this and not admire the effort, research and skill that clearly went into it. On this basis, there's no way I could give it less than 4 stars. The author skillfully combines all the worldbuilding of a fantasy novel with all the detailed research of a historical novel set in a time and place your average English reader is more familiar with. I felt like I learnt a lot about 16th century Japanese people, politics and culture, a subject I previously knew little about. The food, the places and the traditions are lovingly described, so you can both vividly imagine them and long to experience them yourself.

There were also some very good dramatic, romantic and tense moments, and the seemingly main character, an Englishman marooned in Japan, worked really well as both a genuinely sympathetic figure and a great lens for showing the cultural differences and mutual incomprehension between the two countries at the time.

When I picked up the book, I was a little nervous that it would either be a sort of boy's own adventure in which a plucky Englishman saved/educated the barbarians, or else an ultra-romanticized view of Japan. I was relieved that it was actually very well balanced, with each "side" regarding the other as uncivilised, and the narrative making clear that there are good and bad points about each culture, and good and bad people too.

On the more negative side, although I generally prefer to read something I can get my teeth into, this felt a little over-long. Between the huge page count and the dense and complex plot, it took me longer to read than anything I've read in several years, despite the fact that I regularly devour both heavy literary novels and fantasy doorstoppers. And to add insult to injury, after all those hundreds of pages, all those chapters that describe a hawking session or a trip to a spring or the intricacies of a family in loving detail, the book suddenly stops, and the outcome of the final, climactic battle is summed up in a single paragraph. I assumed the other books described as parts of "the Asian saga" were direct sequels, but apparently they are just works loosely linked by the theme of westerners coming to Japan at different times in history.

My other problem was the double-edged sword of recreating a culture that values honourably suicide over survival, and promotes absolute loyalty to feudal lords, right up to the point where you seem able to stab them in the back with total impunity. On the one hand, it was fascinating to read about, but on the other, it made it difficult to really understand or engage with the characters.

Similarly, the constant plotting and scheming was intriguing to some degree, but there was ultimately so much of it that it was hard to root for or be impressed by any one character, particularly as they had all done awful things. I struggled to see what made the man who ultimately comes out on top any different from his rivals, either in terms of morals or of cunning.

Overall, while I did enjoy it, I think this was a book I admired more than I loved. I'd still recommend it to people, but you need to be prepared to put in the effort to get through the length, get in the unfamiliar mindset of the characters and culture, and keep track of all the triple-crossing that's going on.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 January 2018
Absolutely brilliant story of the clash of European and Eastern cultures in 1600's Japan. The story is engrossing and I have to admit to reading this book a few times. As my paperback copy was falling apart I took advantage of an offer on the Kindle version and was not disappointed, as the conversion was excellent. If you like historical fiction and have not read this book then do give it a try!!

The TV mini-series of the book (made in the early 1980's I think) is well worth a watch as well, as it stays relatively faithful to the book and is decent entertainment for a few evenings. The storyline is simplified and condensed somewhat from the book, which is no real surprise.
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on 11 December 2016
Not read it on kindle yet, but read the paperback version 7 times. The depth and detail of old Japan is immense, and whilst the film DVD is brilliant, no film can ever approach the detail covered in a book of this nature. One of the musts for any collection. If you love samurai, you will love this.
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on 6 September 2015
Years ago I sae Shogun on TV it was compelling viewing then. When I noticed the book on sale with Amazon I thought I would give it a try.
The storyline again worked its magic, I found it very hard to put my iPad down I was so engrossed in the tale. This is a very well researched tale of Elizabethan times, when an Englishman is shipwrecked in Japan. It follows how he conformed to Japanese ways, bathing every day, unheard of in Elizabethan England, and used his knowledge as a sea pilot and shipbuilder to aid one particular Japanese man. He falls in love with a Japanese lady along the way. This is a complex story with many layers, although it is a very long book I read it to the end and was very sorry when I had finished the story, I think that is the best compliment I can give a book, to be sorry when I have finished it.
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on 4 January 2016
The classic tale.
I remmbered the tv series with Richard Chamberlin, and how controlled it was.
It is not an easy book to read, the style takes you a while to get used to.
You start off feeling for the crew of the ship. ship wrecked on what was supposed to be open friendly islands.
To your horror sumary beheadings are carried out without warrning and there is no out cry from the people. What kind of land is this?
Welcome to the land of the samurai, duty,honour and obedience are the virtues that matter.
They are a civilized people who honour thier fathers and mothers and consider thier goal in life but to serve the greater good. To die in battle is to die with honour. To accept ones own fate and to respect the situation and to take ones own life so others may live is honourable. To serve your lord without question and carry out your duty is the reason you hold the position.
The book is intriguing and looks at a situation from the long point of view, you somethings think if situations as events in the here and now and loose sight. How the events past and present can influence the future outcome.

By the end of this book you will have learned a great deal from Torranaga
The gift of Patience
As Angin San also learned - duty is everything
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on 27 January 2018
At over 1,200 pages this was a time consuming read. However I had to carry on once started to see what happened in the end. There is a lot of history of Japan included and some of it, the beheadings and the suicides, seem unbelievable to modern thinking. I now have some idea of how religion, trade, and the Japanese warlords affected Japan in the 1600s. This makes it a good informative read if you can stomach the more tramatic events.The tactics and double thinking of the warlords trying to out manoeuvre each other kept me surprised to the end.
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on 17 December 2012
After all these years this is still one of my favourite books, and no wonder: this one's got it all. Set in Japan around 1600 the story is told of the English pilot John Blackthorne who finds elusive Japan but has to quickly adapt or die in a culturally strange land. He not only faces strange customs and beliefs, but has to deal with the Jesuits as well, the first foreigners to be allowed in Japan and holding an enviable position in the lucrative trade with China - and they certainly want the 'heretic pilot' dead. And then he falls in love with Mariko, christian and well educated by the Jesuits but samurai at the core. Gradually the focus shifts to the plans and moves of the master puppeteer, the charismatic and influential daimyo Toranaga in his struggle for absolute power.

This is a fantastic story, based on historical figures. It's got well-developed characters and the whole gamut of emotions and it gives an insight into ancient Japanese culture contrasting it nicely with the English society at that particular point in time. And Clavell builds up the tension superbly as well - this is a first class page turner, all the more impressive given the number of pages. If you're won over by the first few pages I'm quite sure you won't be able to leave it for long until you've come to the very end of this engrossing book.
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on 3 October 2011
Of all the books I have ever read, this one by far best fits the description of "unputdownable". The pace is fast, and the story immediately grips you of the unfortunate ship-wrecked mariner in 1600's Japan. I recently gave a copy to a friend who complains that he was kept up until 03:00 several nights running because he just couldn't put the book down.

The story is about "John Blackthorn", an English pilot (i.e. chief navigator) on a Dutch fleet that gets shipwrecked in Japan after a storm. Japan at this time was in a period of uncertainty between two dictators, and the Portugese Jesuits were attempting to gain a foothold on Kyushu. Blackthorn is caught between the hostile Japanese factions and the heretic-burning Catholic church. This story contains fierce samurai, scheming priests, inpregnable fortresses, dishonourable ninja and everything else about feudal Japan which captures the imagination.

What makes this story even more fascinating is that it is based (extremely loosely) on a true story. James Clavell makes no claim to this, and has changed all the names involved (John Blakthorn is actually William Adams, and Toranaga is actually Ieyasu Tokugawa). William Adams was an English marina who landed in Japan and eventually became one of the Shogun's chief andvisors. This is actually taught in Japanese history lessons, as I found out while visiting Japan a number of years ago. There is a non-fiction book on the subject: Samurai William: The Adventurer Who Unlocked Japan.

The BBC also did a superb mini-series of Shogun starring Richard Chamberlain and Toshiro Mifune (who starred in Seven Samurai and many other Japanese classics): Shogun [5 Disc Box Set] [DVD]. This was superbly done and is also most definitely worth a view.
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on 21 January 2010
`Shogun' is quite simply one of the best books I have ever read. From the opening pages I was immediately hooked and I wasn't able to think of anything else until I reached the perfect conclusion. This book is epic, beautiful, full of intrigue, plot twists, machiavellian machinations, tragedy, comedy, honour and a whole range of emotions and feelings I am unable to fully express. It is truly vast and Shakespearean in it's depth of plot and overall scope. This book follows John Blackthorne who is an Elizabethan ship pilot who gets marooned in Japan and who gets embroiled in a war between samurai. He is made samurai and vassal to a Japanese lord and needs to learn about life in Japan quickly as his very life depends on it. There is SO SO much more to the story than that, but it is so densely woven and wonderfully written that it would take an essay to fully do it justice! The author has done exquisite research and the areas of Japanese life covered are rich, varied and authentic. These cover such topics as the tea ceremony, flower arranging, general day to day etiquette and Japanese sensibilities, garden arranging, the wearing of Kimono, the code of Bushido and much more besides. You could learn so much about Japanese life whilst also enjoying this engrossing and enthralling story. You will be fully immersed in the world of the story and I felt truly saddened when I finished the book and wanted to start all over again to keep myself in the time, places and emotions created. You will live and breathe Blackthorne's development with him and feel the confusion and isolation of his early days and the love and honour of his latter days. Some of the cultural differences and misunderstandings (like the willingness and openness to discuss matters of a sexual nature) will make you laugh out loud, the battles, sword fights and ritual suicides will leave your heart pumping and compelled to read on and the romance and moments of passions will make your stomach ache with emotion. This book manages to be historical, an adventure, a political thriller, romance and way more and all in one glorious book. This is an awe inspiring masterpiece and it will leave your life richer for having read it.

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on 29 March 2013
I read this book many years ago and it has not lost one iota of its enthralling nature. John Blackthorne, a pilot navigator is shipwrecked in Japan, and encounters what he considers barbaric customs against the surviving crew and himself. Gradually though he becomes embroiled in the enigmatic politics of rival factions trying to gain power, and a pivotal character in the subtle machinations of Toronaga, one of the factions into whose hands eventually he falls. Confused to the end by the deviousness of Toronaga's mind Blackthorne watches the unfolding of Toronaga's plans, the changing allegiances of the leaders, and the almost incomprehensible thought processes of the Japanese mind at that time.
A marvellous read, an insight into a society so far removed from ours, and just full of action and heroics. Go, buy it, read it, love it.
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