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Toru: Wayfarer Returns

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Japanese Steampunk.  I wanted to live in this book and was saddened to know it only existed in these pages and had permeated the air and world about me.
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When the plot is "Revolutionary young samurai take on the West in this alternate history steampunk techno-fantasy set in 1850's samurai-era Japan." I felt I was destined to fall in love but it was maybe too many things happening at once? Also the pacing was ridiculously unsupported by reality. I like some reality in my techno-fantasies apparently.
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Sometimes you get the privilege of watching an artist hone his or hers trade. You see the dissorderly beginning, and then you see the work of art progress and develope as its artist progresses and ultimately completes the work.  And you can't help but marvel at how it's complex pieces end up fitting together so nicely. 

It is so with this book. I love (love being an understatement here) a book that grips me from the first page. That weaves a tale around me so marvelous I can't help but grin like an idiot while I read it. This is such a book.

Taking place in 1853 at the end of japans isolation policy this book tells the story od Toru, a young man who at the behest of his father intentionally shipwrecks and gets picked up by an american trade ship and is brought to america where he spends 2 years learning their ways, customs and gleaning any information he can that will help Japan if or when Americans try to force Japan to open its borders. Upon his arrival back in Japan he is discovered by a minor lord who is law-bound to execute him, but the lord grants him a dying wish and escorts him to see his mother one last time. On their journey Toru tells the lord of his voyage and stay in America and the fact that the Americans are going to come to Japan even if force is necessary and Japan needs to be able to defend its shores. And so the lord decides to heed Toru's warning and they begin to industialize Japan, a crime punishable by death. 

While the heroes in this tale are fictional, the story is built against a backdrop of the “real” cultural and historical Japan of that period, with historical figures being woven into the tale, staying true to their motivations and agendas even as the alternate history warped their actions, history and a few laws of physics. 

In the authors own words, this is an "what if" tale.

Tōru: Wayfarer Returns is the first book in the Sakura Steam Series, an alternate history of the tumultuous period from the opening of Japan in 1853 to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. This volume covers the year prior to the American Commodore Perry’s arrival in Japan and follows the hero and his young allies as they lead Japan through a massively compressed industrial revolution, dramatically altering that pivotal moment in history in their favor. I have pondered the question of “what would Japan’s path— and the world’s— have been if the Japanese had possessed the military might and the will to drive Perry away instead of opening under duress as they did?” The Sakura Steam Series explores this “what if” question. Unlike traditional steampunk stories that unfold in a world already steampunk, the story of Tōru and his friends begins in the “real” world and together they create a steam-driven alternate universe, with a dramatic impact on the course of history.

What sticks out the most about this tale is the lenghts the author went through to set up the story. The painstaking details of the landscape, the characters, all the machinery that was constructed. You get a piece by piece description of every detail. Not just the looks, but the emotions, the customs, whole 9 yards. It is not something many authors do these days, especially not at these lengths. So it is refreshing to see. Makes you excited for the next book in the series.
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I'm going to start with what I learned from the author's afterword, and work backwards. 

The author has been a foreign-exchange student in Japan, where (it seems) she was welcomed, treated with great hospitality, and came to love the country and its people. This is great, but it also leads to the main problem of the book. 

The problem is that the author has then written what's essentially a wish-fulfillment fantasy about how great it would be if Japan had become that peaceful, hospitable, amiable country more or less directly from being a rigid, feudal despotism under the shoguns, without going through all the pain of the invasion by Commodore Perry's Black Fleet, the subsequent long and difficult process of modernization, and World War II. 

Instead, she shows us - or, often, tells us about - a Japan in which a young man, sent clandestinely to America to spy and bring back its technology, is not executed on his return (as was the law) but convinces everyone - fearful peasants, harsh feudal lords, everyone - to modernize in an absurdly short space of time, leapfrogging American technology so that they can confront Perry on his arrival with a superior force. 

I didn't believe it. I didn't believe (having worked on projects for 20 years) that such a major program could be completed so quickly; I didn't believe that an illiterate peasant blacksmith could become, first an engineer (maybe sort of believable), then a pilot, then captain of an airship, then admiral of the fleet; I didn't believe that someone we're told was a conservative old feudal lord would let his daughter dress and behave like a man just because she wanted to; I didn't believe that everyone would listen to a commoner; I didn't believe that the feudal lords would do away with their own power because of love for country; and I certainly didn't believe, though we were repeatedly told, that the heroes would be executed (almost nobody died at all, in fact, nobody in warfare and almost nobody from industrial accidents, which, again, I didn't believe). 

That was the problem: there was a lot of telling, and what we were told contradicted, as often as not, what we were shown, and I didn't believe any of it. And then what we'd been told, over and over again, just ended up not being true, because it had to not be true or else the story would be tragic. And there was no believable reason why it wasn't true. 

As a result, it barely squeaks three stars, and that's only because there's a good heart behind this unbelievable story, and I don't want to be any harsher to it than I already have been.

I received a copy from Netgalley for review.
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I loved the concept of this book and I will be around for the next one in the series I'm sure. What I've grown to really like with being privileged enough to read stories before they are released, is watching them grow. Sometimes they come from a really rough version and grow into something refined and lovely. I think this story can do that. The version I received was in need of some editing to be sure, but what I hope the writer takes the time to examine is the concept of time they used in this book. I think what stood out most to me was the unrealistic expectations they set in certain time frames. There seemed to be a theme of trying to pack too much in for the time or scene depicted. Aside from that though, I think its a lovely concept and a fun read!
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This one was hard for me. I really wanted to like it, but I felt so bogged down with all the preparation for the story that when it actually started, I wasn't interested anymore. I was really hoping for a good old steam punk samurai story, but I was sadly disappointed.
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Now to me, this was what I hoped to read about and it’s representation. Setting it in the Edo era as an alternate history, during the times when Japan is indeed struggling to modernize itself or keep to their ideals.

And I do really like how it handles female characters here. Masuyo is just more than the love interest, I do feel her strength and also her love for her family. Besides, she outsmarts her father but still will try to abide by his wishes when he insists. As well as being truthfully loyal, and never wavering from her beliefs. And her favourite moments were with the Lady Tomatsu as she is a woman who thinks survival is above all, and her ask to just have her denounce her own father. Although it does show her tenacity, but I find Lady Tomatsu to be a more sensible character than anyone else.

As for Toru, he was indeed middle ground. He dreams and wishes to see, and doesn’t like people taking advantage of his country. Strong patriotism, nice personality. But to me, he doesn’t really have much of an arc and his identity is just there and under utilized when it could have added more tension and is it just me but it does seem that he has no noticeable flaws. The one who I did feel was stuck a little more in between and still someone who will dream is Masuyo. And that he doesn’t seem to have much of any character arc apart from that.

The setting is basically perfect, I mean who wants to be overthrown in their lives. Their fear was real, and unless the whole bakufu power really weakened until the Meiji restoration which allowed it implant changes. Otherwise, I can see why almost anyone who was rich back then really wanted to keep their power. Same thing with the need to keep up with them, since they were facing plenty of threats from outside. And I do like the way that it does, although the Meiji restoration is still far away but nonetheless a step to the Japan we know of today. Although the other complaint is that it doesn’t make sense how industrialization can happen over the span of a couple months, not really believable if you ask me.

So, overall I just like this book due to the Japanese culture which was authentic. The way that it generally was for Masuyo did feel real, but she still overcame those boundaries. And last but not least, that this tale was satisfying overall, as my complaints was as above. But otherwise, it was pretty much enjoyable.
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In Toru: Wayfarer Returns, we as readers are once again exposed to way too much exposition and a nearly suffocating amount of passive voice. Normally, use of passive voice doesn’t really bother me. In most books, I am unable to identify said voice because it doesn’t disrupt the flow. Unfortunately the passive voice saturates this book so thoroughly that I am unable to make it past 15%. In fact, I can barely remember which parts of what I read were relevant to the current action of the book.

I gave this book several attempts, but each page felt like the written equivalent of trying to force-feed myself Miracle Whip. For that, I must unfortunately drop this novel. I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with the opportunity to read this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
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The beginning of the book just didn't get me hooked on as I expected it would.
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A charming story at an interesting time in Japan's history. The steampunk elements worked well along side Japanese need for innovation. Toru was a well drawn character, a natural leader, and because of his time in America, he has much valuable knowledge, skills and new ways of organising a workforce to help Japan ready itself against a Western onslaught. It almost has a fairy tale feel which will please some readers where, metaphorically speaking,  everything  Toru touches turns to gold. For me it felt a little too easy..
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What to say about Toru?

Toru is a young man who was born illegitimately, lost at sea, rescued by americans, and then finds himself back in Japan (the country of his birth).

We start our journey into the life of Toru as he is coming home to Japan, and what a journey it is.  Toru finds himself in the midst of conflict, with the constant companion of his imminent death.  His overriding concern is the protection of his country, and he has come back to Japan to share his discoveries about the American people and their technologies. 

Toru is a persuasive individual who manages to convince anyone he comes in contact with the risk the Americans pose is real.  He plans to use the technologies, that he managed to come across while in America, to convince the Americans that Japan is a strong country and capable of defending itself.  He sees a future with Japan and America having a mutually beneficial trade agreement.

Toru is a journey back to a Japan that wants to keep its culture the way it has always been, but, as technology advances, finds itself thrust into the midst of an industrial age.  This journey is heartbreaking, yet exciting, as one age transitions into another while trying to minimize the destruction that comes with it.
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This one was though to judge. Since I've read quite a sum of slow-paced, extremely detailed fantasy novels lately (Mr. Sanderson's, mainly), the pacing of this book was awfully fast for my liking. 

The setting takes us to an alternate Japan in 1850-ies, where the protagonist returns home after spending two years in America after a shipwreck. The book is built on a "what if?" scenario, where Commodore Perry, instead of age-old technology and culture etc, finds a Japan thats in the middle of an industrial revolution of it's own.

The setting was fine, excellent even, but something about the writing rubbed me the wrong way. The main character, Toru, was a Gary-Sue of EPIC magnitude. The guy came home from America, pockets and bags full of secret plans and stolen knowledge and with a flick of his fingers, at a drop of a dime, he brings a country deeply rooted in tradition and very resistant to change into a whole new technological era. 
"No railways, no dirigibles?"
"No problem. Just turn the page."

All things concidered, it was a suprisingly enjoyable read, one I suspect I might enjoy even more the second time around. I will definitely read the sequel, once it's out :)
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I really enjoyed this alternative history/steampunkish look at 1850s Japan. It was interesting reading and makes me want to learn more about the actual time period. The story really rolled along well and I can't wait to read the next books in the series.
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Standard Victorian England Steampunk stories have to work to get my attention, I'm a little more drawn to the steampunk stories set elsewhere in the world and in different cultures. For example, there is Cherie Priest's series that started with Boneshaker, set in Civil War-era US, and there are multiple writers who tackled steampunk in Asia.

Toru is one of the later. It's set around the historical event of Admiral Perry forcing feudal Japan to open up to the world, and incorporates historical persons, either as themselves or transformed into fictional persons. Toru, himself, is loosely based on a real person, but in this story he is the son of a fisherman who was rescued by an American ship from a sinking fishing boat. He travelled to America, learned English and travelled the country, collecting books and technology, before being cheerfully returned to his homeland by his very friendly American acquaintances (which seems a little silly, considering the prejudices of the time).

Once home, he talks his way out of being executed (as required by the isolationist laws of the time), and goes on to convice local lords that the US will be coming to force an end to the laws constricting contact with the outside world, and that they would use force if need be. To resist, he brought back steam technology, and convinces people to rapidly industrialise.

I have to admit, the fact that he is so convincing is hard to believe, and the fact that they develop steam trains, telegraph, dirigible, Babadge machines, and mini submarines all in a single year is ridiculous. However, I was willing to ignore this based on how likeable the characters were, and how enjoyable the plot line. I did appreciate the fact that there are references to things like just how depressing the landscape was in places because all the trees had to be cut down in the work.

But despite plot quibbles, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and I very much look forward to the second book when it comes out.
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I just finished "Toru: Wayfarer Returns" by Stephanie R. Sorensen.  It is a fabulously descriptive and detailed alternate history of the invasion of Japan by Admiral Perry.  It is mostly about the preparations of the people of Japan for this invasion with help of a humble fisherman, Toru.  Toru returns to Japan having spent the previous two years in America after being rescued from a fishing boat accident.  His return is in violation of the Shogun's laws thus he is condemned to death immediately.  Toru is a persuasive captive and manages to sway the local Lord Aya to hear his reasons for returning to his homeland.  The story unfolds with the development of an industrial revolution albeit a speedy one with the hope of defending Japan from foreign invaders.  This novel reminds me of "Across the Nightingale Floor", "Shogun" and the movie, "The Last Samurai."  It has elements of all of these.  There is the beauty described in the landscapes of the country of Japan, the struggles of a Shogun who fears the future loss of his power and the struggle of a nation to come into a new technological age.  "Toru: Wayfarer Returns" is the just the beginning.  There are subsequent books that further the tale.  I look forward to seeing how this alternate history panes out.
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Sometimes it’s a synopsis that catches your eye. Sometimes it’s the cover. Sometimes it’s the author’s name, or the genre. For me, it was the setting the setting and cover design. Toru: Wayfarer by Stephanie R. Sorensen is a book that’s been on my radar since it was first released back in February of 2016. When I finally got my hands on a copy, I was quite the excited bookworm. 

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last. 

Toru: Wayfarer is an alternate history novel set in Japan during in the 1850s. The main character, Toru, was picked up by an American ship after being found adrift some ways off the coast of Japan. After spending two years in America he returns to his homeland, bringing with him books, blueprints for military goods, and more. But in returning he’s broken Japanese law, and is condemned to death upon his return, despite his warning that America is sending ships to forcibly open Japanese ports to trading, much as they’d done with China. Two shogunate lords first take pity on Toru, then take his warnings to heart, and aid him in protecting Japan from the American forces and a Shogun who refuses to break tradition, even if it is for a greater good, and believe Toru’s word. 

I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. To be honest, if I hadn’t gotten this novel from the publisher I may have put it down after the opening chapters. But after sticking with it, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the concluding chapters. 

The prose itself is very good, and feels perfect for the location and time period portrayed in the novel. The story is told in the third person, largely from Toru’s point of view. When appropriate, the point of view does switch to some of the other characters. It does so very naturally; at no point did I feel that it jumped too much or grew confused. 

There were several issued I had with the opening chapters, the main ones being unrealistic occurrences and extremely slow pacing. The story is by no means fast paced, and the first several chapters in particular felt as if they were dragging. A lot is explained to the viewer, all pertinent to be sure. But it did give certain sections an almost passive tone which I found less engaging. While there are some more fast paced, action-y sequences, these don’t occur until past the halfway point. These scenes were quite well done, and honestly, did make me want to continue reading.  

The characters are all very interesting, and it is them that really carry the story. I liked Toru, despite him being just a little too good at just about everything. The cast is rather diverse, at least in the sense of social cast, something which does play a part within the narrative. The characters feel very real, and are, overall, extremely relatable. Their fears are understandable, whether or not they are on the same side as Toru and whether or not the reader agrees with their actions. 

Something interesting to note is that some of these characters are real, historical individuals. The most easily spotted is probably Commodore Perry, appearing later in the novel. Other historical figures are sprinkled throughout the tale. The majority of the main characters, however, are all original characters. 
I did like the ending of the novel. It was much faster paced than the vast majority of the book. Loose plot threads were wrapped up very nicely, leaving very little unanswered. Despite being the first book in a series, this can absolutely be read as a standalone novel. This is something I really appreciate. There’s real payoff at the end of the novel. It feels like a conclusion to a narrative while leaving room for the characters and world to grow. 

Despite liking the characters and overarching plot, there is something that ripped me out of the novel time and time again. 

Toru and his companions begin working on building things like factories, trains, and dirigibles at a furious pace. Too furious, really. Within three weeks there were sixteen factories built. Sixteen! That’s completely astounding for any place or time. But considering the time period, location, and the fact that all of this is financed by only minor Lords (as opposed to the very rich, powerful ones met later in the novel), along with lack of transportation, raw materials, and manpower its more than a little jarring. I found myself ripped out of the novel time and again, my suspension of disbelief completely shattered. On a similar note, Toru is good at everything. Sure, part of this is his upbringing. But I did find myself not quite believing just how good he was at things. Fighting, math, languages. There was no subject he seemed unskilled at. 

The concentration of these things does seem to be within the first few chapters. This did make getting through the first half of the book particularly difficult. Do similar things appear later in the novel? Yes, but by no means at the same quantity. There were a few time I paused and considered the implausibility at things, but overall the novel took a bit of a more realistic tone. 

Also, I found a new pet peeve. The author has a habit of using Japanese words and phrases within the text. I have no issue with this in itself. However, quite often the English translation is included directly afterwards. It may sound funny, but this really grate on me. I do know a bit of common Japanese words and phrases due to nothing but the sheer amount of exposure through anime and manga. Having the English translation directly afterwards made me say ‘yes, yes, I know,’ quite often. Also, I found that this, too, ripped me out of the story. Why would characters who are presumably speaking Japanese to one another repeat words and phrases in conversation? For that matter, why add the Japanese at all? Aren’t they already supposed to be speaking Japanese? 

Maybe I’m just overthinking things. Still, if this is a pet peeve of yours as well, take this as your warning. 

Now, as for genre, this is most definitely an alternate history. Though it has some steampunk elements, I myself hesitate in calling it steampunk. However, the author does point this fact out in a note at the end of the text. As Sorensen says, this is a world only first building its more modern technology. It’s very easy to see how this could become a very steampunk-like world. There are already dirigibles, seen mostly in later chapters, and steam engines abounding. 

Is it steampunk, really? You know what? I don’t really think so, but I see very easily how it could be. I think it’s a fascinating approach, and something I want to see more of in this series. 

Despite issues and pet peeves I had with Toru: Wayfarer, it ended on a high note and made me interested to learn what happens next to Toru and his companions. I would honestly enjoy reading the next book in the series. The prose, characters, and plot are all intriguing. If you enjoy alternate history, stories involving Japan, or steampunk this is a book you should definitely check out. If you like more realism in your fiction or don’t enjoy alternate history this book may not be one for you.
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I greatly enjoyed my reading of Toru: Wayfarer Returns, the first book in the Sakura Steam series. The author deftly sets the stage of 19th century isolated Japan, complete with great descriptions of the customs and usage of the actual language. Sorensen certainly did her history research for this book and, as a history lover, that made it so much more immersive. An alternative history for this time and place is a wonderful idea and the story is well-constructed to be both entertaining and (mostly) plausible. I really enjoyed the growth and complexity of the characters and their natural interactions with each other. The twist of how Toru was actually placed in the path of American ship was great! And the pacing was good, not too fast but exciting and I wanted to know what happened next. 

There are some clunky bits in Toru though. One is that the main character himself is a bit stale so I would have liked it better if his personality could stand up more against the other characters. The timeline for the industrialization was super quick but I'm willing to suspend that thought for fiction's sake. The conclusion of the romance line was super quick and unsatisfying considering how little it was shown in the story. Since there's more than one book, I would have rather there been more build up to that and had to wait into Book #2 to find out what happens between them. 

My biggest complain comes down to steampunk-ness. I would have fallen head over heels for the book if the author had made the inventors actually INVENT something. As in, make something totally new. Unfortunately the engineers, the heroes of steampunk, are just re-engineering and copying existing Western technologies the whole time. I hope that these awesome characters create something distinctly Japanese and totally awesome in future Sakura Steam books. 

Lastly, I hate the quotations at the beginning of the chapters. Why are there quotes from Bob Dylan and Cormac McCarthy in this 19th century alternative history novel? It was jarring and completely broke the immersion as a reader. I really hope those don't continue.

All of that said: I really enjoyed it and I think future books will only get better. I even went so far as to subscribe to the author's site and Goodreads profile so that I can snatch up a copy of the next installment.
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Note that this was an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher. It's been a while since I've fond something I really wanted to read on Net Galley and this was worth the wait in gold to coin a phrase!

It was an awesome novel - steampunk set in Japan (kinda)! But that's not why I liked it. I've read a few steampunk novels and found too many of them less than satisfactory, the author being far more in love with steampunk than ever they were in good story-telling. This is a different tack. This author clearly loves to tell a great and well-put-together story and steampunk is just an accessory.

It's not even really steampunk as such, but the story of an alternate-world Japan entering the steam age perforce to save themselves from falling under the thumb of an expansionist and capitalist USA in the form of Matthew Perry, not the actor from the Friends TV show, but a US Navy Commodore who also happened to be a belligerent bully who, in the real world, forced under threat of arms, a very feudal and unprepared Japan to sign a so-called treaty which treated the US and no-one else.

In this novel, things happen differently. Toru is the name of the mysterious "fisherman" who arrives back in Japan after two years of living in (and closely observing) the USA, and in this world the Japanese, because of Toru's efforts, are fully armed and very dangerous when Perry arrives in the last twenty percent of the novel.

So no, it's not a novel full of battles. Instead, it's a story of perseverance and bravery, and of hardship and ingenuity, where Toru has to overcome one prejudice after another in a very strict, very isolationist nation which rejects him to begin with because he's 'soiled goods' having lived outside of Japan. Rejection here, please note, means no less than ritual beheading. It's a story of codes of honor, of class separation, and of how barriers can be worn away with diligence and dedication. The story is one of change, and skin-of-the-teeth survival, and of a slow awakening (in this case militarily) of a nation which in the real world enjoyed a similar rise, but economically after World War Two.

The author quite evidently knows her stuff (or at the very least, fakes it beautifully, which is fine with me!), and while - now and then - I found the frequent use of Japanese terminology annoying, for the most part it was fine and even educational. Some readers who are seeking only a story of martial might, may find this rather restrained and slow-moving, but for me it was a comfortable, easy read which entertained, educated, and showed how non-violent change can come even to a nation as rigid as Japan was (and still is in many regards).

It's not all about the men, either. We have a strong female character who is admirably understated but very much to the fore. We also have a restrained love story which even I liked, so if you've read my reviews of not a few young adult stories, you must know that this one had to be well done to please me!

I had one or two minor issues, but nothing that put me off the story overall. For example, we're told that Toru meets Helmuth von Moltke at West Point, which is highly unlikely since he was stationed in Magdeburg in charge of the 4th army corps when Toru was supposedly in the US! Moltke is the guy who goes uncredited for saying "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy," when what he actually wrote was rather different: "No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force." I honestly did not see the point of referring to him or to what he supposedly said. This guy was an appalling racist and doesn't deserve to be remembered for anything.

While the author conveys a good feel for Japan, when it comes to preparations for war - in this case a huge build-up of steam power - the idea of powering steam engines is a bit too easily accomplished. Coal was not scarce in Japan in terms of being available for mining, but in order to mine it to power the steam engines, a lot more work would have had to be done than there was time for here! Perhaps this is why it gets so little mention, but I'm not convinced that there were enough trees to do everything they did either - not to do it and sustain it! The same problem exists for mining iron to build those engines and the tracks upon which they would run.

But I wasn't about to let minor quibbles spoil what was otherwise an excellent and very much appreciated read. I fully recommend this one.
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[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]

I really wanted to love this book.  I expected to be sucked right in.  It has almost everything I love about alternate history - lots of technology, action and adventure, danger, breaking gender stereotypes, and even a little romance while still being rooted at least somewhat in reality.  But while it was very well-written, and should have been a great book, I found that I couldn't connect to a single character.  By about 70%, I realized I was actually bored.

My main problem which tainted my reading of the entire story is that the industrial revolution Toru starts is so insanely compressed that it was absolutely implausible.  And yes, I realize this is fiction, and an author can do whatever s/he wants with the story, but if there's not one ounce of believability in it then I'm not going to be able to connect with it.  The fact that Toru was even able to learn enough English in two years as to not even have a Japanese accent (but instead picked up a "slight New England accent") just did not make sense to me.  On top of that, he returned to Japan with apparently knowledge of every single technological advancement ever ever ever, understood every bit of it (except the French) enough to explain it to others, and spark an inventing bug in a woman who had never heard of any of this but for some reason suddenly understood it all immediately with zero study or thought - how ridiculous.  It's like every single person in the book was incredibly gifted with genius brains, knew exactly what to do and how to do it, and somehow managed to not only create dirigibles and submarines within a year but also get entire fleets of them made.  Everything about this book is impossible.

I'll break away here to say that I am an avid F/SF reader.  Steampunk isn't exactly my thing, but I have enjoyed the random steampunk novel here and there.  Some were good, some not so much.  I read the author's note at the back of the book and agree with her that it's not exactly steampunk.  The genre is there in the dirigibles at least.  However, every bit of steampunk I've ever read has had some measure of believability to it.  It's at least somewhat grounded in reality.  Even the F/SF I read, despite my need for "suspension of disbelief," has some grounding for me.  I can imagine magic existing, but if it's just used to create a deus ex machina where a character can do whatever they want with no limits or reason to it, then it's not plausible.  If there's an actual system with rules and functional magic, then yes, it's believable.  The same with SF.  You can't just create technology that would never actually function and claim that it does.  That doesn't work for me.

With this book, none of it was plausible.  None of it made sense.  The accelerated timeline made such a suspension of disbelief necessary that I couldn't focus on anything else.  Some of the characters were great, the story was very well-written, and the action was moderately thrilling.  Jiro's genius revealing itself in the personage of a foul-mouthed blacksmith was entertaining and uplifting.  Masuyo's ability to become an engineer and inventor in a still-traditional Japan was an awesome challenge.  But I didn't really care about any of them.  When Toru, Aya, Tomatsu and Takamori were sentenced to death, it didn't wrench my heart.  When they were all fleeing the capital city to escape their sentences, I wasn't riding hard with them.  When the death sentences were ultimately (and obviously) set aside, I wasn't giddy with excitement.  For me, this was a completely unemotional read tainted by the accelerated timeline.  I feel like maybe, just maybe, if we'd had years instead of a single year to get to know these people, and let them make discoveries at a more normal pace, I may have had more of a connection.  But that's hard to say really.

Overall, this was a good book.  It wasn't badly written - it was actually very well told.  The author clearly has talent.  But I feel like it could have been so much more than it was, and all thanks to that damnable timeline.  I recommend it for people with great ability to suspend their disbelief and overlook obvious genius-plants.  Otherwise, I would find something with a bit more of an emotional connection.
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