Off the Shelf—”Tomoe Gozen”

By Marcus Pan

Chain Border

Tomoe GozenI finished Tomoe Gozen quite some time before I sat down to write it up, and I promise to you all that I won’t wait so long again. However, I feel the review will come out just fine in this case because of the simple fact that I really enjoyed Tomoe Gozen, the first in a saga by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, and while I read a lot of fantasy it was the first of the Japanese samurai-laden fantasy that I have picked up. I started well – Tomoe Gozen’s writer was the winner of the World Fantasy Award, for a previous novel entitled Amazons.

The story keeps true to the samurai legends and caste make-up of ancient Japan’s Shogun era. It revolves around a female samurai that bears the name of the book. It first opens with preparations for a loyalty ceremony in which Tomoe and three of her samurai friends were to swear fealty to Lord Shigeno. But a dark force captures the minds of peasants in the valley before the ceremony is to begin and sends them swarming in to overthrow the warlord, leaving Tomoe and her friends to protect the estate. Badly wounded in the battle, Tomoe’s friend Goro swears loyalty to a dark warlord to help revive Tomoe from the depths of Hell, but once on our plane she finds herself ensnared in an even more powerful version of the mind control that was dictated over the peasant horde.

In a Hellish battle versus her previous Lord Shigeno, Tomoe fells her original lord and therefore disgraces herself (guilt can not be shrived by claiming “mind control” in those days), and must wander as a lordless samurai from here on. Her adventures along the way are very well read, and thicken the plot with a continuing string that unravels at the end on a barren island of the dead where Tomoe, for quite some time, again gets ensnared in a trance like state. She battles to remove herself from this predicament and eventually fights her way back to the side of Toshima, Shigeno’s daughter, to whom Tomoe had sworn an additional fealty to prior to felling Shigeno. Taking her rightful place with Toshima, the story moves onward I’m sure from here.

The travels of Tomoe as a wandering and disgraced samurai bring us to encounters with many legendary creatures of Japanese history and myth and also displays the clash of religions of the time between Shintoism and Buddhism. It also sheds a lot of light on the caste system of the time, and the honor system that was in effect for people of the warlord lifestyle. From trolls to Mikados, ninjas and Shoguns, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here if even vaguely interested in Japanese history. It certainly makes me want to break out my Oriental Adventures game rules, in any case.

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“Tomoe Gozen” by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Illustrated by Wendy Adrian Shultz
Copyright © 1981 by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Illustrations by Wendy Adrian Shultz
An ACE Book
Published by Ace Books ISBN: 0441816533

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