A streamlined version of Shogun, sacrificing some of the depth of characterization and subtlety of political power games in favor of extra servings of ninja duels, geisha seductions and personal vendettas The conflict between the Eastern and Western cultures is moved from 1600 to 1861, and the strongarming of the Tokugawa Shogunate by American and European warships into opening the country for trade (or legalized robbery as it turned out) Japan is on the brink of major shift in policy, not yet strong enough to respond to the foreigners provocations and held back by a medieval social system that has remained unchanged since the Battle of Sekigawara often mentioned in the text as the previous major turning point in the history of the nation.The main Japanese players are a progresive daimyo (Genji), his household retainers, his mentally deranged uncle, the most famous geisha in Edo , the chief of the Shogun's secret police and a ninja in his service The american actors are a fiery pastor trying to establish a Christian mission and convert the heathens with the help of his fiance and a new recruit that hides a past career as fast gun and bank robber in Texas.The first half of the novel, setting up the plot and giving the background stories of the main cast is very well done, fast paced, complex and competently written I was personally less impressed in the final chapters, where I felt the build up was a bit wasted in a rush to cram as many physical conflicts as possible and the plot twists proved to be less surprising than promised The prose is very good for a debut novel, and if it didn't capture the lyrical nature of the Japanese cultural identity as convincing as I would have liked, it made up for it in historical context and ordinary life details from the period.My major issue with the story comes from the use of prophecy and the gift of foresight a major component of the plot that has its place in a fantasy setting, but was anachronistic and fake in a historical novel Matsuoka tries to temper the supernatural by implying this ability to see the future is a device used by the daimyo to control his vassals and adversaries, but he gives too many hints about 20 Century events for the argument to gain traction.The dialogue and the characters have a Hollywood flavor that is a bit shallow and theatrical, but I believe the story would translate well on the big screen In fact, The Last Samurai has many similarities with Cloud of Sparrows It was not may favorite movie, but it was entetaining And so is the book. Reading Cloud of Sparrows the 1st time, you can't help but be reminded of Clavell's Shogun (subsequently, one of my favorite books), which in my opinion, is a very good thing Taking place in 1861, right when the west began to invade the east, the story centers around 5 main characters..Lord Genji, who has seen that his life will be saved by an outsider He has been the one chosen once in a generation to have the gift of prophesy Emily Gibson a chick that has come to spread Christianity..even though she seems to have shady past Matthew Stark here to accompany Emily, but is a straight up killer from Texas..of course with a heart of gold thoLady Heiko the branded lady of mystery from Japan And Shigeru Genji's uncle..who is a straight up bad ass, and legendary swordsman All 5 of these characters find themselves fleeing Edo for the legendary castle, Cloud of Sparrows..all these characters are extremely well written and fleshed out over the course of about 400 pages Theses quite a few twists and turns along the way obviously The best parts for me, we're obviously the battle scenesextremely graphic, and action packedthe only way I enjoy them The only opportunity regarding Cloud of Sparrows for me, was the length, it went by far too fast At no point in the book, did it seem to lag, and I would of (selfishly) liked it to continue on for another 100200 pages Check it, the book's money This was such a good book, but maybe not for the reasons most people will talk about Yes, it is similar to Shogun and The Last Samurai in scope, detail, and entertainment And the writing is so evocative; so many details about Japanese culture during the preMeiji era that I get off on For me though this wasn’t just a drama of that time period in Japan; it wasthan that I felt in some ways this was a very spiritual story Author Takashi Matsuoka incorporates a lot of Zen Buddhist philosophy that the samurai way of life embodied I enjoyed this the most Genji is a daimyo of a small clan He comes from a direct line of daimyo that have the ability of precognition It’s well known amongst the clans that this is the case I found it interesting how the author used this in conjunction with Zen Buddhism to show how Genji is able to lead and what drives him Genji feeling that he has precognition, does have visions as he was told he would He’s told that a foreigner would save him from death so he keeps the missionaries he agrees to host close to him, to the distain of his people and the Shogun’s allies His uncle Shigeru, who was the leader of the clan in the past, has literally gone mad from his visions of the future and is feared as a master samurai as well as someone who has lost it Genji on the other hand, trusts implicitly his gut feelings and existence He’s always calm even in the midst of his enemies He defies his guard’s recommendations on his safety and I felt this kind of interesting The concept of what will be will be and that it is karma was a theme throughout the story And he manages in this mindset One of the other things I enjoyed about this book was how the author shows how much ambiguity plays a role in the constant power plays and shifting alliances and in how Japanese get on with each other This is definitely a hard concept for the western mind to relate to, but this is where I love to read Japanese historicals and even any Japanese fiction that is written by a Japanese author So much of the unsayable of Japanese culture comes through In this type of sweeping Japanese historical drama, I felt this book definitely wentinto the Japanese traditional POV than many others, even though several of the main characters are western missionaries who are there to set up Christian missions to spread Christianity This book wasabout the internal struggles of Japan as a country within that context I enjoyed the constant strategizing thought processes of those in power on how to beat their enemy clans Also interesting and I liked this, is that the author didn’t put any judgments on either religious or philosophical viewpoint Meaning, it didn’t present Christian ideology that the missionaries are bringing as better or worse than Zen Buddhism They are each a belief system that exists I definitely recommend this if you have any love of Japanese culture. Beautiful story about two Americans and an amazing cast of Japanese warriors whose lives are intertwined in 19th century Japan Lots of political intrigue, cultural references, gorgeous settings and descriptions And Lord Genji is on my list of favorite heroes ever A truly amazing book. Uneven, but still enjoyable. The method of story telling I thought was quite different The author took you back and forth in time flawlessly I think if you had a prior understanding of Japanese culture it would make the story muchinteresting as some actions in the story do not fit western culture. Cloud of Sparrows reads like a cross between an action film, a western, and a cheesy melodrama That may sound bad, but this pretty much describes most good samurai stories The senseless violence and insufferable arrogance of the samurai is often juxtaposed with his intense passion, loyalty, depth of feeling, and often ridiculous sentimentality Set at end of the Edo period, the last years of the samurai, the book opens 6 years after Japan opened its borders to foreigners for the first time in 200 years and 8 years after Commodore Perry threatened to bombard Edo if the shogunate refused to trade and negotiate with the West Like most books of this period, it's a nice way of seeing the mindset and historical setting that led to Japan's transformation into the empire of WWII, growing from a feudalistic society into modern military powerhouse in just 70 years or so (arguably 18681945).The author depicts what the samurai were in interesting ways He'll romanticize the samurai lifestyle, then suddenly mock it, and then he exposes it for the terrible thing it was a class system that allowed for the worst kinds of atrocities to befall the peasant and working class The biggest strength of the books is having characters that you grow to like commit the worst acts of cruelty because of this class system and their sense of duty The author doesn't pull any punches when it comes to violence I grew up with Kurosawa films and the Zatoichi series; I've grown pretty use to the things that might bother others This book is not without it's flaws, but it is a good samurai story It's also got a nice western revenge tale thrown in the mix with cowboys, six shooters, prostitutes everything except Indians really It's not for everyone and it won't change any lives I wouldn't strongly recommend it unless you're specifically looking for a historical fiction that's heavy on the action If you liked Clavell's Shogun, this is kind of like Diet Shogun less pages,ninja battles, and less characterization But I liked it and will probably give the sequel a hundred pages or so to woo me into finishing 3 stars. It is the dawn of the New Year,After two centuries of isolation, Japan has been forced to open its doors to the West, igniting a clash of cultures and generations And as foreign ships threaten to rain destruction on the Shogun’s castle in Edo, a small group of American missionaries has chosen this time to spread the word of their God Among them, Emily Gibson, a woman seeking redemption from a tormented past, and Matthew Stark, a coldeyed killer with one death on his mind Neither realizes that their future in Japan has already been foreseen For a young nobleman, Lord Genji, has dreamt that his life will be saved by an outsider in the New Year Widely reviled as a dilettante, Lord Genji has one weapon with which to inspire awe In his family, one in every generation is said to have the gift of prophecy And what Lord Genji sees has struck fear in many around him As the Shogun’s secret police chief plots Genji’s deathand the utter destruction of his entire clanthe young and untried lord must prove that he is than the handsome womanizer of legend, famed lover of Edo’s most celebrated geisha, Lady Heiko, and that his prophetic powers are no mere fairy tale Forced to escape from Edo and flee to his ancestral stronghold, the spectacular Cloud of Sparrows Castle, Genji joins his fate with Emily and Stark, unaware of the dark forces that drive them Together with Genji’s uncle, Lord Shigeru, a legendary swordsman kneedeep in the blood of his own kin, and the enigmatic Lady Heiko, the unlikely band embarks on a harrowing journey through a landscape bristling with dangerto prepare for a final battleHere, on a snowscape stained with blood, horror will mix with wonder, secrets will unravel, and love will duel with vengeanceas East and West, flesh and spirit, past and future, collide in ways no oneleast of all Genjicould have imagined An exquisite book! I immensely enjoyed every page of it I loved the story, the complexity of the characters, the style, the imagery, and every little detail of the narrative I was thrilled at last to encounter a read which, in my view, truthfully portrays the inner workings of Japanese feudal society, the rigid codes that used to rule the behaviour of each member of that nation Even a daimyo a Great Lord, who is answerable only to the Shogun and the Emperor cannot really do what he pleases because he is required to adhere to the unspoken, ageold codes of conduct which have governed the actions of every individual from every social stratum throughout Japan for centuries.The story takes place on the brink of collapse of this system and we are given glimpses of the future through the incredulous, horrorstricken eyes of a true samurai I really liked this beautiful and powerful approach by Takashi Matsuoka.Overall, I am greatly impressed by Cloud of Sparrows and I look forward to reading Autumn Bridge by the same author.P.S October 2012: I gave Autumn Bridge 2 stars, it was a disappointment which, however, didn't manage to overshadow Cloud of Sparrows. In spite of the bloody, brutal and gory scenes, I found myself liking this book It wasn't just about fighting and getting revenge by clans of samurais, but also about how Edo responded and reacted to the forced opening of the country to the world It was interesting to read the clash of cultures between Japan and the rest of the world, such as how one would perceive beauty and express its appreciation At the same time, this difference is also balanced by how compromises can be reached, even though it can get bloody To make the storygripping, Matsuoka inserted an element of the supernatural in the story and this adds suspense to the narrative I'm now eager to readof the characters and started reading the sequel, Autumn Brdige.