Kasumi’s life has dramatically changed. One moment she is working in her family’s inn – the next she is working for a fine lady. Everything appears very differently from how things are – but will she see the truth in time?
Title: The Peony Lantern
Author: Frances Watts
ISBN: 9780733332920 Language: English
Classification: Fiction – historical
Themes: Japan – Edo Period, coming of age, adventure
What’s it about?
A tale of 15 year old Kasumi who is the second daughter of an innkeeper. She is not considered to be particularly useful by her father especially as she opens her mouth before she speaks. When a powerful Samurai, Lord Shimizu, asks her father to take her to Edo (modern day Tokyo) to be a lady-in-waiting to his new bride, Misaki. Kasumi finds herself in a new city without much to do and so immerses herself in art while keeping her mistress safe. When Lord Shimizu is injured during an assassination attempt and Kasumi’s own blanket being cut to shreds she begins to feel uneasy about her new life in Edo except for Isamu, Lord Shimizu’s newphew.
The journey of how Kasumi grows as a person is clearly evident based on her experiences in Edo. There are scattered references to Japanese culture of the period as well as some vocabulary that is well explained. The writing is well paced and doesn’t get too caught up in descriptions that drag but gets to the point.
Boys may not appreciate her crush on Isamu but it isn’t overly “girly” and is necessary to the story. Suicide is in the book – though it is not detailed. Notes about what is fact vs. fiction is not included.
I haven’t read a really good novel in a couple of years now – at least not a new one. I was immediately draw to this point because of the cover. I knew it would have something to do with Japan and as you all know I do love the culture, history and language of Japan.
As mentioned this book does detail some facts about the Edo period in Japan (which is also known as the Tokugawa period). Some of these include about samurai family structure, how the classes of people are divided and fashion – including the blackened teeth (I must admit I just couldn’t picture poor Misaki with the blackened teeth however much I tried).
The story includes many keywords in Japanese which you may find some are more familiar than others such as ikebana (art of flower arranging) and samurai vs. tanuki (racoon dog) and kaiawase (a game of matching shells with pictures on them). Any Japanese words mentioned as explained so you don’t need a dictionary on hand.
There are also references to traditional Japanese stories including my favourite about Yuki-Ono/Minokichi. I shall have to do a post about the resources available to use with this book as many are available free online.
The ending is somewhat satisfactory but I did find myself annoyed at the last paragraph. It felt like just when there was a conclusion to the story that paragraph got shoved at the end. I am hoping perhaps it is a sign the author may choose to continue to follow Kasumi over the following year with her life. For me at least I feel her story is not yet finished.
My only criticism is that I felt something should have been put at the end in regards to the history or references about Japan made. A brief page about the Edo Period would certainly have provided necessary background information for a read and also a glossary of the Japanese terms used; I feel would make this book far more accessible to teachers and students who are not familiar with Japanese culture or history.
Overall though I do recommend you buy this book. It has enough factual base to be included as a literature study to look at Japanese history and culture. Plus, it was a really good read!
Other books by Frances Watts