Set in the early 17th century under the reign of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun, “The Swords of Silence” — the first book in a mooted trilogy — focuses on the plight of Japan’s hidden Christians and the closing of Japan to foreign trade and relations.

The Swords of Silence, by Shaun Curry.
324 pages

Jesuit proselytiser Joaquim Martinez begins the story in a village in Kyushu, converting locals and learning how to wield a sword, but as bad luck compounds bad decisions, he is forced to flee with his band of converts. They are pursued by an evil daimyo, bakufu officials and the shogun himself, set on eradicating Christianity from Japan’s shores by any means necessary.

Curry’s loyalties are clear from the off: The Christians are likeable innocents; their enemies are vile torturers and murderers. This is a world of black and white, good and bad, and lacking a seasoning of nuance that would really bring depth to the characters. This is a small quibble though, as the novel is an action-packed page-turner, perhaps written with one eye on a future screen adaptation, and Curry’s research, while worn lightly, is evident.

The publisher describes it as historical fiction, but perhaps historical fantasy would be more accurate. While this is very much Edo Period (1603-1868) Japan, it’s also a world in which, as in ancient Greece, a literal deus ex machina intervenes in the action. Five miraculous events save our heroes each time they seem doomed. We are left with the sense that an unseen hand is pulling the strings from above in all sorts of mysterious ways.

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