Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
This is a strange book, but strange in a good way. Salmonson takes the real life samurai Tomoe Gozen (a woman samurai who fought in the Genepi war) and creates a historical fantasy set in an alternate Japan.
The thing is, the book is meditation disguised as an adventure story.
Gozen starts as a sworn samurai who is debating taking a deeper oath with three others, but then a battle occurs in which despite heroic deeds, Gozen loses her status, loses herself. In many ways, the sequence of the rest of the book is about a re-discovery of self in terms of Eastern belief.
It is that quest, which is done in conjunction with various other adventures that is most engrossing as well as the look at what is a samurai, a wife, a lady, and who controls power. It is a thought provoking book.
Gozen comes to realizations about her place in the world though her adventures as well as in the mirroring of the past of those of that surround to her own. Salmonson combines Japanese folklore with Western fantasy elements to do so. The effect is beautiful.
The weakest part of the story is the love affair between Gozen and Tomiska. It is weak, not because of the lesbian relationship (which was beautifully referred to in the beginning of the book) but because the development of a two sided romance does not seem quite realistic. Gozen is too dispassionate. This could be playing on the idea of the dispassionate male hero that appears in several stories and films, but for some reason it falls flat here. Yet, when one considers when this book was first published, this relationship would have been far more different than it is seen today.