A friend recommended an audiobook called Heart of a Ronin the other day, so I snagged the first chapter and gave it a listen during the morning walk. I couldn’t even get through the first 45 minute chapter. (And he’s released more than 30 chapters at 45 minutes a piece! My god…It’s already longer than DUNE and doesn’t seem to be done!)
The writer’s okay, but he doesn’t know his history or Japanese culture that well; he’s a typical anime/manga fan who’s slapping a Japanese veneer on top of his own Fantasy story. For example, in the first ten minutes he makes reference to his Ronin hero being lower than a Geisha, which is great, but the story is set in roughly 1240, and the Geisha didn’t exist until the 1700’s. Ooops.
Oh, and his starving Ronin who can talk to animals could be one of the richest men in Japan overnight. How? The Japanese nobles were super-crazy about horses, and a man who could talk to horses would (even if he didn’t tell them about the talking part) be so valued you can’t imagine it. Again, he’d know this if he studied the culture instead of his comics.
Moral of the story- if you’re going to set your tale in a historical period then at least bother to learn about more than the superficial aspects you think are cool.
Looking back on this now, I can see it looks a little harsh and flippant (mostly because it is!) but I thought I should probably explain a little more about why I reacted so badly to this piece. After all, if some guy wants to write Samurai fantasy stories, then what’s the harm, right?
The reason I reacted badly is because as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more and more a fan of historical fiction, and as a result of that I’ve become less and less tolerant of people who try to write historical fiction and then write off their own laziness by saying the inaccurate parts don’t matter. While there’s always going to be inaccuracies in any history-based work, the point is that I expect to get a sense than the author at least tried to understand his setting. The Geisha thing might seem small to you, but it’s basic common knowledge to someone who knows their Japanese cultural history. (A bit like writing a Civil War story, but not knowing who the major generals were, for example.)
As a fan of historical fiction, I find I love good historically based stories for 3 reasons:
1) It lets me learn at the same time I’m being entertained.
2) It gives me a chance to have history come alive before my eyes. (Especially in the hands of a good writer, like Forrester, or Yoshikawa)
3) It gives me a new view on history that perhaps I hadn’t thought of.
Within ten minutes, I knew Heart of the Ronin was going to give me none of these, and nothing I couldn’t see done better (with more or less accuracy) by real Japanese writers.