Clavell’s Shogun is certainly a very good book, but it doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be. It’s a historical novel, but instead of presenting historical personages doing what they historically did, and then filling in a lot of gaps to make a good narrative, or having bunch of non-historical people with a historical backdrop, Shogun splits the difference.

It’s really in latter tradition, with the scenario of Japan in 1600 populated by fictional people who don’t have to be tied to specific actions, places and characters. But… the major movers are closely based off of real people, notably Yoshi Toranaga being Tokugawa Ieyasu and Ishido being Ishida Mitsunari, and this was somewhat distracting to me the entire way through. Perhaps a little more surprising is John Blackthorne being William Adams, who did get shipwrecked in Japan (a lot further west) and did become a samurai.

My knowledge of this period is more confined to the seven weeks following the end of the novel, which saw a short war that did for Japan what the war between Augustus and Antony did for Rome: it finished demolishing the previous power structures that had allowed several nearly-equal leaders to fight over ultimate control. It’s a heck of a tale in its own right, and I was surprised the novel didn’t cover that at all.

I don’t know how accurate Clavell is with the political maneuvering in the period before that, except that its certainly true to the types of things that happen and people do. That’s really the strength of the novel, and what makes it so good is the strength and variety of the characters. At the same time, there’s a wealth of detail in there about Japan that so far as I know is accurate, and very well presented. (Not so much the musket regiment being a new thing though, muskets had been in use for some time, and the power of massed fire had been shown off 25 years previous at Nagashino.)