He knew he was taking a tremendous risk in coming home. For two years, Tōru had lived among Americans, learning their language and their ways, studying the technology of the West that far outmatched that of his homeland in the East. It would have been much safer to stay where he was, even if he would never fit in completely, than make the forbidden journey back to a land where the Shogun's law demanded his death as a "spy," But Tōru also knew that Japan was a ripe plum in the eyes of the Western powers, and before long, the Americans or perhaps one of the European nations would sail with their mighty ships of war to pick it. So he felt compelled to return with the knowledge and secrets he had gained and to try to convince his people of their danger before it was too late, even if that meant paying for his courage with his life.
In an impressive debut Sorensen weaves a page-turning tale of alternate history that examines what might have been if Japan had been on a more equal footing militarily when Commodore Perry attempted to open up trade with the island nation through gunboat diplomacy. That question alone would be enough to fuel an interesting novel, but the author takes the narrative up a notch by adding elements of steampunk to her storyline along with some familiar characterizations from Japanese anime and manga. The result is a satisfying blend of serious historical speculation, military action, suspense, and romance that at times also evokes the mood of a Miyazaki film. Tōru's tale is just the first installment in a much bigger saga. If future volumes are as well-written and entertaining as this one, Sorensen's future as an author looks extremely bright.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review