The Blade of the Courtesans

His sword is their shield

The Blade of the Courtesans

By Keiichiro Ryu

Translated by James M. Vardaman
Fiction / Historical
Hardcover, 304 pages, 5.625 x 8.5 inches
U.S.$21.95 / CAN$26.00

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The grueling, century-long battle royal that plunged Japan into “an Era of the Warring States” has finally ended, and the victorious Tokugawa clan rules the freshly-united Land of the Rising Sun. The shogun will come from the Tokugawa line for more than two hundred years, right until Commodore Perry’s “black ships” force the far eastern archipelago into modernity. While the Mikado or emperor retains prestige, he is but a figurehead. It is the beginning of the Edo period.

Yet, despite the onset of peace and prosperity, trouble brews in Yoshiwara, the pleasure quarters of Edo where geisha courtesans count among their clientele numerous bored samurai who are no longer called upon to fight. The issuance of a gomenjo or permit for the red-light district is threatening to occasion a momentous power struggle. The courtesans themselves have no blade of their own—not until an unspoiled young swordsman from the mountains of Higo province arrives in Edo.

Raised by the late legendary Miyamoto Musashi and mysteriously sent to the capital by him, the innocent but lethal Matsunaga Seiichiro bears a secret that is hidden even from himself: he is of the imperial family. Having barely survived as ruthless purge by Tokugawa minions as an infant thanks to Musashi, the youth is now more than ready to stand his own against forces that stubbornly seek his death. But the infamous Yagyu clan that serves the shogun includes ninja as well as daylight warriors among its ranks.

Filled with satisfying action, memorable characters, and a genuine aroma of history, The Blade of the Courtesans is a milestone of entertainment fiction, a perennial favorite amound younger and older readers alike in Japan for its accessible and layered exploration of bygone yet unforgotten times.

“The violence is ultra-modern and the fights are the literary equivalent of a contemporary martial arts film and are played out with cinematic speed and balletic grace. The novel is full of well-researched information… It is told in a straightforward manner yet includes elements of magic, fantasy, romance, and chivalry. Vertical has yet again published a book that, without its commitment to contemporary Japanese literature, would never have been translated into English.”
The Japan Times

Keiichiro RyuNominated for a Naoki Award, The Blade of the Courtesans, late-blooming novelist Keiichiro Ryu (1923-89)’s debut work, instantly made him a doyen of historical fiction. Prior to his debut, he had been first an editor and later an acclaimed screenplay writer. Although his meteoric five-year career as a novelist ended with his untimely and much-lamented death, with just a handful of works he won a firm place in the pantheon of a highly competitive industry teeming with storied luminaries. An influential voice, Ryu is especially credited for bringing unprecended numbers of younger readers into the rich folds of the samurai drama.