The 47 Ronin Story by John Allyn is a Japanese story about Lord Asano of Ako and what is known as one of the bloodiest campaigns in Japanese feudal history. It’s an intricate and extremely well-written story about a group of men who became ex-samurais when their master was executed for drawing his sword in the court of the Shogun. There are many wonderful aspects to this novel, but there are also just a couple of things that got under my skin.
Things that I loved about this book? Well, the storytelling for one was very good. The culture of feudal Japan is extremely different from the Western cultures, especially in comparison to modern times. The book shows us a sense of sophistication in the loyalty and honor that is displayed by the ronin and the respect they had for their master. I believe that Allyn does a phenomenal job at illustrating this culture and the beliefs of the Japanese society, both of the samurai who become ronin, as well as the higher up, wealthier men in this era to his audience rather well.
The novel really touched issues of loyalty, justice, suicide (especially when trying to understand seppuku, or ritual suicide), as well as consequences of ones actions, but didn’t explore them as much as I was hoping it would. They were left as very simplistic images in this story of vengeance. Because of this, I felt that the reader’s connection to the characters was diminished somewhat. Even though I was enjoying the reading process, I felt as if something was missing, almost like a small bit of emptiness in my interest.
The story is slow. I was told ahead of time not to expect a story full of action, blades clanging, and blood splattering. I’m glad that I was forewarned otherwise I would not have been able to continue reading it. As the events unroll to the climactic ending, I found that a great deal of patience was needed to push myself through the book. This is where all of that attention to detail in relation to Japanese culture came in handy. I found it enlightening and I loved how much of that cultural history was being revealed to me.
When I finally got to the epic finale, I felt that it was utterly stolen from right beneath me. Before I could even wrap my mind around it, it just came and went so abruptly. Almost 200 pages of careful anticipation for this battle, and I was left with a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth, only because I wanted so much more. But I will confess, that the quick action of the climax was a very nice ending to the story overall. Even if the plot was slow, the buildup to that particular scene inching excruciatingly closer, the battle was felt just perfect for what it was. I think it did a nice job of illustrating to the audience the realistic aspects of revenge. We spend so much time plotting and waiting, and when that moment finally arrives it ends before we even have the chance to blink. It was lovely.
Overall, The 47 Ronin Story was a spectacular read, especially if you can be patient with it. It’s a short book and can easily be read in one day, one sitting even. If you’re a fan of Japanese history, then I highly suggest you check this book out. It will definitely give you something to think about. I give it 4.5 of 5.