Blog Book Tour | “The Iris Fan” by Laura Joh Rowland The conclusion of a twenty year Historical Mystery series wraps up inside the 18th Novel of the Sano Ichiro mysteries!

Posted Tuesday, 6 January, 2015 by jorielov , , , , , 3 Comments

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Acquired Book By:

I was selected to be a tour stop on the “The Iris Fan” virtual book tour through Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. I requested and borrowed the first novel (“Shinju”) as well as the 16th (“The Incense Game”) and the 17th (“The Shogun’s Daughter”) in the series to better understand the flow of continuity and the origins of the Sano Ichiro mysteries series of which I borrowed via my local library and their ILL services.

I read portions of these three novels back to back for the blog tour and was not obligated to post a review for them. I received a complimentary ARC copy of “The Iris Fan” direct from the publisher Minotaur Books, in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

Interested in reading:

Due to my intense love of the Shinobi mysteries by Susan Spann, of which I previously blogged about during the Blade of the Samurai blog tour via TLC Book Tours I was motivated to sign myself up for this tour! I was not entirely sure if the context of this series would be similar to the former, but I had hoped to become wholly enthused by a new author’s interpretation of a past era of Japan, whilst being able to soak inside a new version of samurai history and the variants of where an author could take the central theme of their narrative arc!

Blog Book Tour | “The Iris Fan” by Laura Joh Rowland The conclusion of a twenty year Historical Mystery series wraps up inside the 18th Novel of the Sano Ichiro mysteries!The Iris Fan
by Laura Joh Rowland
Source: Publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

The Sano Ichiro Mysteries:

The Way of the Traitor
The Concubine’s Tattoo
The Samurai’s Wife
Black Lotus
The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria
The Dragon King’s Palace
The Perfumed Sleeve
The Assassin’s Touch
The Red Chrysanthemum
The Snow Empress
The Fire Kimono
The Cloud Pavilion
The Ronin’s Mistress
The Incense Game
The Shogun’s Daughter
The Iris Fan

Book Synopsis for "The Iris Fan"

Japan, 1709. The shogun is old and ailing. Amid the ever-treacherous intrigue in the court, Sano Ichirō has been demoted from chamberlain to a lowly patrol guard. His relationship with his wife Reiko is in tatters, and a bizarre new alliance between his two enemies Yanagisawa and Lord Ienobu has left him puzzled and wary. Sano’s onetime friend Hirata is a reluctant conspirator in a plot against the ruling regime. Yet, Sano’s dedication to the Way of the Warrior—the samurai code of honor—is undiminished.

Then a harrowing, almost inconceivable crime takes place. In his own palace, the shogun is stabbed with a fan made of painted silk with sharp-pointed iron ribs. Sano is restored to the rank of chief investigator to find the culprit. This is the most significant, and most dangerous, investigation of his career. If the shogun’s heir is displeased, he will have Sano and his family put to death without waiting for the shogun’s permission, then worry about the consequences later. And Sano has enemies of his own, as well as unexpected allies. As the previously unimaginable death of the shogun seems ever more possible, Sano finds himself at the center of warring forces that threaten not only his own family but Japan itself.

Riveting and richly imagined, with a magnificent sense of time and place, The Iris Fan is the triumphant conclusion to Laura Joh Rowland’s brilliant series of thrillers set in feudal Japan.

Genres: Crime Fiction, Hard-Boiled Mystery, Historical Fiction, Historical Thriller Suspense

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

Also by this author: The Iris Fan (Interview)

Series: Sano Ichiro Mysteries,

Published by Minotaur Books

on 9th December, 2014

Pages: 352

Published By: Minotaur Books (@MinotaurBooks)
imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group,
which is now a part of MacMillian Publishers

Available Formats: Hardback, E-book

Converse on Twitter via: 

#LauraJohRowland, #SanoIchiro, & #SanoIchiroMysterySeries

About Laura Joh Rowland

Laura Joh Rowland

Granddaughter of Chinese and Korean immigrants, Laura Joh Rowland grew up in Michigan and where she graduated with a B.S. in microbiology and a Master of Public Health at the University of Michigan. She is the author of sixteen previous Sano Ichiro thrillers set in feudal Japan. The Fire Kimono was named one of the Wall Street Journal’s “Five Best Historical Mystery Novels”; and The Snow Empress and The Cloud Pavilion were among Publishers Weekly’s Best Mysteries of the Year. She currently lives in New Orleans with her husband. She has worked as a chemist, microbiologist, sanitary inspector and quality engineer.

{ Reflections on “Shinju” : Book 1 }

The opening sequence of Shinju is from the point of view of the killer: half cold-blooded with a determined methodology of why he chooses his victims and half awash in remorse – a unique paradox to give a murderer by far! We enter enter the scene after the murders and yet just prior to the discovery of where he left the bodies in the river. The whole of the sequence is quite matter-of-fact as if he were going about regular chores and marking of a task on his schedule rather than disposing of human lives.

Sano Ichiro is an atypical hero of the law as he is bound by both honour and duty to serve as an investigator. A studious man whose passion lies in research, yet who became bound by a set of connections which transplanted him to his new post. A post which felt to be a challenge and a quest to find a renewed joy in his daily work now that one chapter of his life had ended.

Shinju is defined inside the story as a double homicide known as a crime of passion between two lovers, yet this is merely the illusion to the public and the investigators as the reader knows the truth! Duty and honour corrode away truth and justice, where a thin veil of the law can be trumped by an order of confidence trust to stay reverently silent of any knowledge that could lead an investigation forward. Sano’s internal instincts match the law officers of centuries forward in time (mirroring modern day) whose main concern was to give voice and reason to the crime, rather to allow silence to erase the justice simply due to circumvent an embarrassment of certain (powerful) parties.

Rowland grounded Sano with a firm character of insight towards accepting who he was and who he wanted to become as an officer of the law. To compromise his ethics in order to please those who serve above him was not an honourable future, and therefore he quickly turnt his back on tradition for the sake of his own soul and clarity of mind. I appreciated the fact she made her lead character non-traditional to his class and the duties that are generally dictated of him. He pushed past barriers as he was appointed to his position rather than a son whose inherited it from his father. His peers never took sight of him as an equal and being on the job made him question his beliefs inasmuch as having to choose consistently between his faith, his moral code, and finding the truth. The path he walked was an unknown footpath that did not yield any formal sense of security.

{ Reflections on “The Incense Game” : Book 16 }

Happily I found a historical note of reference at the beginning of this novel, and a map of the entire region of whence the series takes place, giving me a proper look at the layout of where the events unfold! The key characters who started to come forward and give me the impression they were going to be the direct influencer’s of where the story would yield lateron were as follows: Reiko (Sano’s beloved wife; a woman he had no interest in sharing with a concubine); Masahiro (the elder son of Sano; not yet a man (of 15 years) but ready to prove his worth; aged 12 years); Akiko (the daughter Reiko would slowly come to realise was a younger version of herself; hence their oppositional strife; aged 5 years); and Hirata (a dearly trusted old friend who would test the limits of Sano’s friendship, trust, and beliefs).

The tradition of the incense was heightened by a game to inhale the sweet smoke and guess which type you were based on what you smelt. A rather benign sounding game to occupy the idle hours, yet turnt quite fowl when someone decided to mix in arsenic with the sweetness! Three women playing the game were discovered quite by accident when the earthquake which disseminated Toyko allowed their preserved bodies to lay claim to investigating a homicide amongst the ruble!

Whilst the backdrop of the story is a ravaged city heralded by an impatient and explicitly selfish shogun who expects all the damage to be effectively erased from sight within hours instead of days, we come to find our everyday hero is being blackmailed! His wife, Reiko who is his right hand in both household affairs and the affairs of investigating suspects, has become withchild at an age that puts her and the babe at greatest risk.

Reiko is a strong wife for Sano, in that she is a true partner to her husband. Most women who had recently learnt they had conceived their third child would not investigate anything further than how to stay calm, relax, and find ways to keep restful; yet if she refused to do her part to unearth the riddling truth out of the lies, the reputation of her husband and the safety of her family as a whole would be put to the test! The doctor’s warning of exertion would come to pass as a premonition but that was not to be revealed in this part of the story.

Reiko appreciates the benefits she receives to her self-worth by being in service to others, whether she was aiding with the rescue and recovery efforts after the earthquake itself or whether she could find a way to draw out a conversation with a suspect that might help Sano put the pieces together to shape into a reason for the murders to be committed. The hours she spent helping others helped her mind not turn idle and befall a deepening sea of melancholy over her heart and mind. To place herself in a position to help Sano, was in full effect of helping herself to better health by changing her outlook with a sense of duty.

{ Reflections on “The Shogun’s Daughter ” : Book 17 }

A further explanation of historical details greets the reader who picks up The Shogun’s Daughter whilst finding out Ienobu, the nephew Sano had presumed had only aligned with the shogun was in direct pursuit of acquiring power; yet no evidence could be sourced to give Sano leverage to prove this! It wasn’t until there were a series of unfortunate deaths that started to put pavers in a row for Ienobu to walk towards overtaking the position of shogun!

Between the quake that rocked Toyko in the previous novel became intermixed with a tsumani and a multitude of unexpected deaths, this installment proved to pack quite the punch to undertake reading! Rowland never disappoints you for an intricate plot which has many key threads of interest to root around inside and uncover what each hidden clue might reveal about the overall suspense that keeps the series fluid with intrigue. The shogun’s daughter dies a horrid death which Lowland expertly portrays even if it gave this reader quite a lengthy pause!

Only 5 months have passed since we last met-up with Sano and his family, but for me it felt as if a half of a lifetime had drawn out within the short expanse! His trusted friend Hirata was caught up in an ethereal and mystic branch of martial arts to the brink of abandoning his soul and his family. Hirata was easily convinced of joining a group of thieves and liars to purport deeds he was not entirely in belief were honourable but he did not know how to disengage once he was a part of their team. This would prove to be his downfall and finding redemption for his lack of courage would cost him everything in the end. As this is part of the conclusion of “The Iris Fan”. The men he was working with had agreed to a coup with a ghost of a deceased warrior, where nothing was scarier than a lie that bred vengeance through murder!

Reiko has a lot of stress throughout her pregnancy, but it would be the actions of the shogun’s wife, Lady Nobuko and her Lady-in-Waiting Korika that would shake the foundation of her world. In the background a budding romance is brewing between Hirata’s daughter (Taeko) and Reiko’s son, Masahiro, but she has so much on her plate, she pushes off their young love as something children will phase out of rather than something that will last.

I ended up reading the last chapters of this novel in order to set myself up to read the book I was hosting for the blog tour — yet part of me was completely emotionally choked on what was happen to Reiko, Masahiro and Taeko! The pure angst of the situation compounded by the building codes which were ignored, pitted all three of them in an aching and tenuous peril of  life and death! It held me to my seat and I had to take a full step back before I proceeded further with my readings of “The Iris Fan” as I was quite overcome by how this one ended! Powerful!

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A startling premise:

I was a bit gobsmacked to read on the synopsis for The Iris Fan the marriage between Reiko and Sano was on thin soil, as I had come to belove the interactive way this husband and wife team of sleuths would band together, and oft-times incorporate their elder son Masahiro into the fray as well! They were such a close-knit family, whose belief in each other was paramount to their successes in both life and in honouring the code Sano believed in with all his heart and soul on behalf of the samurai. This concerned me far more than if the Shogun himself perished (he was a particularly foul man!) or if there was a counter-play to gain control of the role of Shogun and thereby have one coup or another takeaway the controlling interest and befall the region of their homeland into a dismantled sea of angst.

At the heart of all the stories I enjoy reading is a sense of family and/or of community, if perchance there isn’t a relationship knitted into the context of the story itself. Serial fiction (especially in regards to Mystery & Suspense) is a bit trickier as all the leading and supporting cast of characters are being pulled forward and through the narrative arcs whilst the counter-balance is an elusive unknown slice of psychological suspense nibbling at the edges of your conscience; whereupon the worst anguish is not knowing how everyone will come to rights at the concluding hour!

My Review of The Iris Fan:

Five years have transpired between The Shogun’s Daughter and the opening of The Iris Fan, where both Masahiro and his father Sano are serving the Shogun as patrol guards; not a befitting role for two men who used to have higher positions of honour within the shogun’s court. Noting the difference in years, I could only fathom what befell Sano’s marriage, as the most shocking revelation of the last novel was the horrible miscarriage Reiko suffered whilst thinking her son was soon to perish off a crumbling wall straight above where she stood on the street. The depth of her grief welled throughout her soul and wrenched her emotional heart as though it were pierced by an arrow. The child she was carrying did not survive the crisis nor the fear of what she was witnessing even if Masahiro was saved by a young girl smitten with him by sacrificing her shoulder (by dislocating it) in order to keep him alive.

I decided to proceed further on two counts as part of me couldn’t completely give my heart to this series, as it was more curiosity than passion to read: I was dearly curious about how Sano and Reiko would repair what had come between them and I was quite keen on seeing if Taeko and Masahiro would realise how important they were to each other. Having found Sano restored to his Chief Investigator role in order to aide the shogun and unlock the conspiracy to take him out permanently, I did smile inwardly as Sano felt to me to be a man of justice even if his role in law enforcement was never his true calling nor choice. There are moments where certain characters etch themselves into my mind and I feel a need to satisfy a curiosity on their behalf — there were definitive components of the series overall (as observed in three of the previous novels) that did not sit well with me (the situation explained in my ‘fly in the ointment’ being only one of them) nor did I feel as though I wanted to devour every page as I had with the Shinobi mysteries; perhaps I have become spoilt on the style of Susan Spann?

I suppose you could say I approached my readings of this series as I might have picked up an anthology of short stories, as there are different veins of ‘shorts’ within the main sphere of the plot; you can find certain sequences overlapping into each other from one novel to the next, where each new installment leads you further forward on whichever path your choosing to follow quite closely. For me, this gave me a bit of enjoyment as I could gloss over some of the bits I simply could not find myself akin to wanting to know more about and latching onto the sequences which gave me the most joy to read.

I rejoiced inwardly watching Reiko tell Sano how bull-headed he was for attempting to prove the impossible (in regards to the conspiracy and the succession of power for the position of shogun) whilst not backing down from the fact his fortitude of owning his code of ethics was grating on her last nerves! A woman who was raised with knowledge outside the normal education for women, she had the tenacity to reproach her husband and know he would respect her for it even if he could not agree with what she was attempting to convince him of accepting.

At the very same time Taeko and Masahiro were embarking on a classic ‘star-crossed lovers’ affair which could shatter both their families apart, as their match was not a proper one considering how offending Taeko’s father Hirata had become to Masahiro’s father. Murmurs of the Capulet’s and the Montague’s were in my mind as I noted how far these two would go to be together and how painful the revelation of their intimacy grieved their parents.

The conflicting part for me was seeing how Sano was losing sight of what mattered most in his life, and that was the respect and honour he showed to his wife Reiko! He seemed to become a bit of a rogue somewhere between The Shogun’s Daughter and The Iris Fan, wherein instead of relying on the confidence of his wife’s consul when solving a crime, he was motivated by his own desires and marking his days towards vengeance rather than justice. When he elected to forsake his son’s happiness and life to align with his worst enemy, I felt a shift in his character. Partially because in previous stories, he was attempting to come out triumphant on exposing the criminal and making a distinction between the victim and the one person who took their life. In this ending of the series, it was reflecting his spirit was sliced in half between where his ambition to prove himself blinded him against his first duty to his wife and family.

I must say, most of the novels within this series are quite difficult to read as they are cuttingly real, not only visually but emotionally. In fantasy, I think this would be considered “Sword & Sorcery” due to the amount of blade on blood action, and I must admit, it is not a focus within the genre of Fantasy I am keen on exploring, which is why I truly did skip over most of the action scenes inside this novel. What made my heart happy is seeing Masahiro, Taeko, Sano, and Reiko having a fitting opus to their dramatic lives! To me personally, seeing how far each of them had come through the blighted darkness of the past and the uncertain cruelty of circumstances in their present, their futures look far brighter than the years since I first met them! The ending isn’t bittersweet, it is quite lovely and full of hope, something that I was hoping to find and am thankful I had!

On the evolution of Rowland’s writing style to bring 17th Century Japan to a reader’s eye:

A rougher edging of narrative greeted me in Shinju when cross-compared to The Incense Game; as I started to note slight differences in the textural tone of the series as I moved forward into the last three novels of Rowland’s 17th Century Japan. There are a lot of layers to Rowland’s story, as she has found a way to compel a reader to accept the historical accuracy of the time with a backdrop of historical events and an insertion of ethereal counterparts to draw her stories fully into vision. The depth of how evil has circumvented all attempts of Sano to restore a measure of peace and justice proves just how defying some will proceed with their plans to selfish goals and aims towards securing power.

Key references to events I had read in Shinju, The Incense Game, and The Shogun’s Daughter were brought into the folds of The Iris Fan; giving any reader who had not previously had the chance to become introduced to Sano or the events leading up to the end of the series would be given a bit of a refresher course without feeling as though they had lacked in knowledge of what was a precursor to the current events. The only benefit truly to reading backwards through the series before picking up The Iris Fan is to pick up the nuisances of Sano and Reiko’s characters, to better understand what drives Sano in his career as much as in his marriage, and to have a grounding of what gave light to this story being told.

I appreciated the history I generated for myself by selecting key books within the series, and being that books 16, 17, and 18 have interconnected stories of each other, I couldn’t quite fathom how fortunate I was my library had everything available to be read!

By the time I completed my readings of The Iris Fan, I can say I appreciated this emerging new style of approach Rowland gave to her latter novels. She softened some of the harder edges, left out some of the more harrowing horrific sequences that were a bit hard to swallow, and still gave a deepening impression of how reliant the system of government was on those who served within the court. Yet without the benefit of knowing whom to trust and who could betray you without remorse. It was an unsettling period of Japanese history, and Rowland gave an impressive effort to contort a series out of a character such as Sano Ienobu who defied his peers and stood his ground for the sanctity of honour.

Fly in the Ointment: { Content Note }

As I read only portions of the three novels I borrowed through my local library to gather a sense of the time frame of events which would be carried forward into The Iris Fan, I must say, there was one element of the stories I was not taking a liking to reading, which is of whom the Shogun took to his bed and of his preferences for sexual misconduct. I skittered over the majority of the previous passages involving the Shogun due to the fact he never impressed me, as I was too wrapped up in wanting to know more about Sano, Reiko and their children. To me, their central thread of the story was where the heart of the series could be found, but grievously quite a heap of empathsis was placed on the shogun himself.

Combined with quite brutal and visual images splattered here or there in-between the beauty of the narration for the scene of where Sano lived in 17th Century Japan, I was quite perplexed, betwixt, and aghast throughout my readings. Mysteries and suspense novels quake a keeling between being considered ‘cosy’ or ‘hard-boiled’ due to the nature of violence and the conveyance of how that violence is writ to the page; for me this distinguished itself for being neither and yet, more hard-boiled than anything else. I felt this was the first time I picked a Historical Mystery or Historical Thriller to be more accurate over thinking I had chosen a Cosy Historical Mystery.

Truthfully, there are a lot of hidden secrets involving persons of power, and this particular thread of whom the shogun took as his lovers is only one straw of unravelling history’s shocking truths. I simply am not one who likes to uncover these types of ‘truths’ nor read of the characters who were so blatantly misguided in their affairs. If this were a modern era novel, an SVU unit would have bee deployed if you gather the gist of what I’m hinting towards. I must have missed half the innuendos of the previous stories, but on page 22 of The Iris Fan it was quite apparent; which unsettled me. Uniquely enough if this part of the story were removed, the story and the series would stand on it’s own merits.

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The Virtual Road Map for “The Iris Fan” can be found here:

Be sure to visit my writerly conversation with Ms. Rowland!

The Iris Fan Blog Tour via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

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See what I am hosting next for:

Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours - HFVBT

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By checking out my:

Bookish Events badge created by Jorie in CanvaFun Stuff for Your Blog via pureimaginationblog.comReader Interactive Question:

What do you specifically appreciate about travelling back to a continent and era completely removed from our own timescape of origin? What do you look for inside of a novel set in the heart of Japan and Japanese culture? Is the 17th Century one that you regularly traverse in your reading queue or one you are piqued to try now? What motivates you to read serial fiction and does a series with 18 books invigorate you OR make you nervous?

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{SOURCES: Cover art of “The Iris Fan”, author photograph for Laura Joh Rowland, author biography, book synopsis, blog tour banner, and the HFVBT banner were all provided by HFVBT (Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours) and used with permission. Buy links on Scribd excerpt are not affiliated with Jorie Loves A Story. Book Excerpt was able to be embedded due to codes provided by Scribd. Ruminations & Impressions Book Review Banner created by Jorie in Canva. Photo Credit: Unsplash Public Domain Photographer Sergey Zolkin. Bookish Events badge created by Jorie in Canva. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2015.

About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Tuesday, 6 January, 2015 by jorielov in 17th Century, ARC | Galley Copy, Blog Tour Host, Content Note, Crime Fiction, Excessive Violence in Literature, Family Drama, Family Life, Fly in the Ointment, Ghost Story, Good vs. Evil, Hard-Boiled Mystery, Haunting & Ethereal, Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, Historical Mystery, Historical Thriller Suspense, Japan, Japanese Fiction, Japanese History, Library Love, Local Libraries | Research Libraries, Martial Art History, Uncategorized

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3 responses to “Blog Book Tour | “The Iris Fan” by Laura Joh Rowland The conclusion of a twenty year Historical Mystery series wraps up inside the 18th Novel of the Sano Ichiro mysteries!

    • Hallo, Ms Donna Marie,

      I think you scanned this one a bit too quickly — I selected three novels to become acquainted with prior to reading The Iris Fan which I gave reflections on before the review for this blog tour. I knew I couldn’t read all 18 novels, and technically I did not quite soak inside the four I had available to read to where I would want to read all of them; but after receiving the replies from Ms. Rowland on behalf of my interview with her (it just posted seconds ago!) — I have found one book further I’d like to borrow from my local library! It will allow me to be introduced to Sano & Reiko at the point of courtship (hopefully) and their marriage! They truly were the favourite part of the series for me, outside of the fact I reveal whom of the two is my favourite character on the interview! :)

      • Yes, I did scan quickly (as I have to do many times because I don’t often have time to read your thoughtful reviews due to length and my lack of time : /) I’m glad to hear you have another book to enjoy with your two favorite characters! :D

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