Book Review: ‘Shogun’ by James Clavell

Posted on December 1, 2010

First it sucked. Then it didn’t suck. Then it sucked some more.

Shogun takes place in feudal Japan, where samurai go around slicing and dicing peasants and each other for whatever reason they want. Our story follows the wayward pilot Blackthorne who gets washed up on the shore of the glorious Nippon.

He doesn’t know it at the time, but he is caught in the center of a great shift in power. A really important guy died a couple years ago and left behind a son who is his heir. Everyone is jockeying for position.

On top of that, the social order is all topsy turvy because now instead of just swords, there are muskets available to the warriors. How is a samurai supposed to show his valor in battle? How reader-san?

Things don’t start off too well for Blackthorne. He is cast into a dungeon where rotten food is thrown on him. He is also paraded around the town where he watches another dude, Omi-san, slice up a peasant. Blackthorne quickly learns that the Catholics hold all the power on this tiny island. He is a Protestant. Uh oh.

Things rapidly turn upward. Realizing that it might be a good thing to keep a skilled pilot happy and healthy, Blackthorne is given free range in the town and he starts taking baths. The powerful warlord Toranaga comes to town and also realizes the advantages of having a skilled pilot on his side. They go to Osaka so Toranaga can do important business stuff.

When Toranaga tries to escape Osaka (I know, why go there if you’re just going to have to escape?), his cover is almost blown, but Blackthorne saves the Japanese lord’s life for the first time. He does it 3 more times during the novel. Out of thanks and awesomeness Toranaga makes Blackthorne a samurai and gives him a house.

About here is where the book really starts getting stupid. Blackthorne meets a beautiful woman, Mariko. You will read at least 6 descriptions of her wonderful breasts. Remain calm. Unfortunately she is married to an abusive husband. Also her family line was shamed a while back, so technically, she shouldn’t even be alive. There are 3 major themes:

Toranaga is awesome. Seriously he is.

Blackthorne learns the ways of the glorious Nippon.

Blackthorne and Mariko develop a love that cannot be.

In the end it all becomes about Toranaga’s grab for power. This is cool and all, but the real story is about an English pilot making his way in a foreign land.

I picked this book up because a lot of people involved in business say it inspired them to do awesome things because Blackthorne makes the best with what he has. In reality it is a story about a dude who moves to another country, grows a pony tail and starts wearing slippers and swords everywhere he goes. There are some exciting parts, but it was not worth dredging through the mind numbing nautical passages, the ‘backstory’ about Japanese history and society and the ludicrous love story between Blackthorne and Mariko. Don’t worry, though, there are ninjas.


» Filed Under Book Review


Leave a Reply