Of Death and Black Rivers
By Ann Woodward

Avon, 1998, 210 pages

Reviewed by J. Ashley (12/98)

This novel looks at ancient Japan through the eyes of its women, in particular, Lady Aoi, lady-in-waiting to the emperor's sister-in-law.

The static pace of court life becomes disrupted when the governor of Muthlu, a northern, semi-barbaric province, appears in the capital, his rough ways a jarring note in the ultra-civilized court. Then a minister dies, seemingly of nothing, and shortly after, another drops dead. This intrigues Lady Aoi, but she has her own troubles. Lady Saisho, an overly shy and sheltered young woman, has fallen in love with the governor and allowed him to carry her off in the night. Lady Aoi, fearing for Saisho's safety, follows and becomes trapped in the intrigue surrounding the governor, his past, and the political murders.

Aoi is observant, shrewd, practical, and curious--the marks of a good amateur sleuth. I liked her, and I liked the book in general. The setting of 11th century Japan is interesting, but the author doesn't overshadow a good story with historic details. She expertly portrays the vivid contrast between an advanced aesthetic culture and the violence of a warlord society and offers an eye-opening look at a non-Western culture in which women's wisdom is constantly sought and a servant's respect is prized.

I recommend this book for a slow, but compelling, read.

This is the second book in this series; the first book is The Exile Way.

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