Spirit of the Ronin
Part Three of the Ronin Trilogy
by Travis Heermann
Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes
In the opening of Spirit of the Ronin the ronin Ken'ishi gets what he has always desired—service to a great lord. (Ronin were master-less samurai.) The lord in question is the honorable Lord Otomo no Tsunetomo, and his Captain Otomo no Tsunemori.
Of course, complications immediately ensue. Ken'ishi has long been in love with the beautiful Kazuko. But Kazuko is now the wife of Lord Tsunetomo.
Ken'ishi and Kazuko must constantly fight between loyalty, duty, and love.
In addition, Ken'ishi's arch nemesis Green Tiger is employed in the castle. The crime lord has kept his secret identity hidden from Lord Otomo no Tsunetomo. Green Tiger's ultimate goal is to aid the Mongols to conquer Japan, in order that his disgraced clan can rise again in the aftermath.
Always perceptive, Green Tiger learns of Ken'ishi's love for Lady Tsunetomo, and seeks to exploit this.
Don't worry. The Japanese names are easily recognizable even if you don't know exactly how to pronounce them.
If you watch Japanese movies or read Japanese literature, three of the most powerful forces in their culture are loyalty, duty and love. The way Heermann pits these forces against one another in the minds of the protagonists is masterful.
I have been a fan of Travis Heermann's work for many years. I previously published his short story "Shadows of the Deep" in NewMyths.com and "The Girl with No Name" is forthcoming in Issue 32. Spirit of the Ronin is Heermann in top form. He lived for several years in Japan as part of his research for this project, and the authenticity and love he has for the samurai culture breathes on every page.
In Heerman's Japan, the spirits and gods interact with the world on a daily basis, making for a "magic system" rarely seen in literature. If you want to read something with a Japanese flavor both accessible and unique, Spirit of the Ronin is as good as you will find.
Green Tiger is very much like Iago of Shakespeare's play Othello, poisoning the minds of those around him with his clever words. While Green Tiger's stated reason for his conniving is to raise his clan to glory once more, in reality he simply can't stand what is good and wholesome in the world.
Just as Iago poisons Othello's mind so completely that he murders his wife, Green Tiger manages to poison the mind of Hatsumi, handmaiden for Captain Tsunemori's wife, to the point that she—
Well, I'm not going to spoil it for you. But Hatsumi's fall and ultimate destruction become one of the most compelling and exciting adventures in the book.
And this poisoning of the mind is the greatest danger facing our hero Ken'ishi as well. For Ken'ishi wields a very powerful sword, Silver Crane, and the sword thirsts for battle and blood. Ken'ishi sees, endures, and yes, creates, enough suffering and bloodshed that through the power of the sword his mind too begins to transform.
It all flows to an exciting and memorable conclusion.
The Ronin trilogy covers what are arguably the most important years in Japanese history, from 1274 through 1281. In this period the Mongols twice invaded the islands. Twice they were repulsed through feats of arms and good fortune, typhoons destroying a large portion of their fleet on both occasions.
Several years ago I read part one of the Ronin Trilogy with great enthusiasm. Somehow I missed the second installment. While this final installment refers often to events of the past, it does so in a clear enough fashion that I had no difficulty following it. Still, if you have the chance it would be much better to start with part one and follow the story chronologically.
As the book nears its end, the Mongols attack from the sea with overwhelming force. Heermann brings his story and the Mongol invasion together in an exciting and satisfying conclusion.
The novel is beautifully illustrated inside and out. My only regret was that the story ended.
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