THE LAST CONCUBINE by Leslie Downer. London: Bantam Press, 2008, 480 pp., £12.99 (cloth)

The beautiful young Sachi grew up in the mountains of rural Japan, but she always seemed to herself more than a mere farm girl, samurai stock though she was. As the book jacket puts it: "Sachi has always felt different, her pale skin and fine features setting her apart from her friends and family."

Just how different she is proves to be the subject of this long, intricate novel, which the publisher calls "an epic evocation of a country in revolution, of a young woman's quest to find out who she really is."

The year is 1861 and the revolution is the civil war between the shogunate, the side where Sachi finds herself, and the royalists who have taken the emperor as their supreme commander.