Returning to Mystical Japan: The Chrysanthemum Seal by James Calbraith

Returning to Mystical Japan: The Chrysanthemum Seal by James CalbraithThe Chrysanthemum Seal by James Calbraith
Series: The Year of the Dragon #5

Published by Flying Squid on May 1st 2014
Also by this author: The Shadow of Black Wings, The Warrior's Soul, The Islands in the Mist, The Rising Tide, The Withering Flame, The Shattering Waves, The Last Dragon King
Also in this series: The Shadow of Black Wings, The Warrior's Soul, The Islands in the Mist, The Rising Tide, The Withering Flame, The Shattering Waves, The Last Dragon King
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 324
Format: ebook
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It's the middle of summer in the Year of the Dragon. The hunt for the Crimson Robe may be over, but the adventure continues...

With Bran seemingly gone from Yamato forever, his friends settle in their new lives, their common adventures a distant memory. Sato enrolls in Lord Nariakira's school of wizardry, while Nagomi joins her father's medical practice in far-away Nagoya.

But the revolution, once started, cannot be stopped. The foreign threat finally comes to Yamato's doorstep. A Varyagan submarine drops anchor in Kiyo harbour. A Bataavian warship arrives at Kagoshima, carrying Dylan ab Ifor, Gwen and Wulfhere. In Shimoda, the Black Wings reinforcements fleet brings with it a curious, unwanted guest...

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Where The Rising Tide was the conclusion of the first story arc of James Calbraith’s “The Year of the Dragon” series, the first book of new arc – The Chrysanthemum Seal – dives deeper into the making of a legend.The previous book in this series, The Year of the Dragon, was the conclusion of the first arc. Now we’re moving on to the second part of the series, starting with The Chrysanthemum Seal, and diving deeper in the making of a legend.

If you haven’t read the first four books in the series, you will see some spoilers in this review. You have been warned.

Bran returns to Yamato, unwillingly, with his new hosts. They are not the only foreigners, besides the usual Bataviaans, who crossed the Divine Winds. His father, Gwen, and Wulfhere were also in Yamato, following Bran’s trail from Qin. The arrival of the different foreign parties, however, has drawn little attention as every character with a point of view needs their time to sketch their situation.

Sato stayed in Satsuma after the battle with the Crimson Robe was over, for further training. She noticed that the daimyo of Satsuma still was loyal to no one but himself. Dorako-sama, the Fanged ally, saved her and helped her reach a safe place, as a teacher of the rangaku arts. She was surprised to find her old apprentice the head of the rangaku school, as was he with her application. Female teachers were looked down upon, but Sato pleaded- the school could keep her safe from Edo and Satsuma. Shoin, the head of the school, knew only of one option, marriage. That would allow her to join the Mori family, the family of the daimyo of Chofu.

Nagomi was reunited with her family in Nagoya, but soon had to separate from them again for the wedding in Chofu. Her visions had become worse, bad enough to influence her health, but Torishi, the Chief of the Kumaso, who had become her companion since the battle promised he would help her control her visions and master scrying. While presented well, Calbraith doesn’t spend as much time on this part of the book, despite its significance to the plot.

Nagomi’s prophecy from the first book is set in motion. The first predictions have already been fulfilled, while later parts still have to take place. Throughout the first four books these concluded parts went mostly unnamed as part of the prophecy. It would perhaps have been better if the full prophecy was repeated again in the first few chapters. There is already a perfect setup to do so,so I can’t help but see it as a missed opportunity that would’ve helped with clarity.

The fourth book ended strong. The climax was high and satisfying. It’s hard to follow up on that, even when it’s still the same story. It might be that setting has changed. There are many political changes, some happened before the book starts, others during. The shift in power has to be explained again and how this affects our heroes. That’s where the major growth is, in the development of the setting, not the character. The only main character with growth is Sato. She had to make a few important decisions which have a big impact on her life. Probably bigger than she thinks.

I’m curious to see how the story continues, and despite my criticisms I read The Chrysanthemum Seal as quickly as the rest of the series. However, I prefer to be deeply immersed in the characters and the increasing amount of perspectives doesn’t help with that.

About James Calbraith

James Calbraith is a Poland-born British writer, foodie and traveler.

Growing up in communist Poland on a diet of powdered milk, Lord of the Rings and soviet science-fiction, he had his first story published at the ripe age of eight. After years of bouncing around Polish universities, he moved to London in 2007 and started writing in English.

His debut historical fantasy novel, The Shadow of Black Wings, has reached Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semi-finals in 2012. “The Year of the Dragon” saga sold over 30,000 copies worldwide.

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