Review: The First Samurai, Karl Friday

Rating: 3 out of 5

This is a story of a more-or-less accidental rebellion organised by Taira Masakado in the mid-10th century. The area and time are clearly one of the author’s strong-points, but I was somehow expecting more gusto in the writing. Overall, I was not inspired by the book but if you have an existing interest in the period, it’s probably worth reading it.

What I found best in this one is the coverage — the reader is drawn into the 10th century through the majority of the changes which had taken place since the end of the 7th century. As such, this book also provides a really good grounding into most relevant topics. When we get closer to the time period, the author starts to focus in and cover the story of Taira Masakado in detail though the book begins with his fate. As such, we know what is going to happen the entire time and it is for us to connect the dots between the two points.

In some ways, the way the main protagonist (if we can call him that) perishes is an anti-climax, but fortunately for the rest of us the story continues. I found the legends associated with both Masakado as well as his opponents to be one of the most interesting parts of the book (they are split into two). I was also appreciative of the scope the author tried to project in the epilogue where he covered the fates of the three most important people and their families that partake in Masakado’s rebellion (on either side).

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