Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Book Review: Diamond Chariot

Book Review: Diamond Chariot

This is the tenth (some say 11th) Erast Fandorin novel by B.Akunin. The work is in 2 volumes, first, much smaller one, deals with events during the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 (same one T.Roosevelt won a Nobel Peace Prize for ending). The 2nd, much longer and better one deals with Fandorin's sojourn in Japan. While written at the end of the series, the book actually takes place, chronologically, between the 2nd Book - "Turkish Gambit" and 3rd - "Murder on the Leviathan ".

For those who read the whole series the book feels in some important gaps in Fandorin's personal development. For those who have not - this is a pretty tight thriller with many, many, crosses and double-crosses. Akunin, in real life, is a scholar of Japanese culture and history, so while some of the thoughts echoing through the book struck me as overly stereotypical, I will defer to his expertise on those items.

The double-crosses are done very well, IMO. As each side tries to lure Fandorin to itself we are reasonably well-swayed by their arguments, and the ending is sad without being overly melodramatic. Granted, I read the each volume in under 24 hours each, but I definitely felt this was one of the best Fandorin novels. The whole series is reasonably strong, by current standards, with Azazel ("Winter Queen" in English), "Death of Achilles", and "Coronation" being far stronger, IMO, than the rest.

Volume 1 is clearly designed to bridge the gap between the time when we last "saw" Fandorin - fin de ciecle - and the past that ties him to Japan. As a stand-alone book it is too short to allow for any sort of character development or many twists and turns that would make it a good mystery. As an introduction to volume 2 it does pretty well.

In contrast, the 2nd volume of the "Diamond Chariot" is very good in character development both as a single book and a part of the series. Akunin certainly engages in some hindsight for a lot of his dialog regarding Japanese development and role in the world. However, the novel does such a good job of transporting the reader into the 19th century that I kept remarking to myself about how prescient some of the characters are. Instantly, of course, I remembered that the book was written almost a 100 years after the Russo-Japanese war, and 60 years after WWII, and thus the author had some insight into how Japan is going to turn out. Nevertheless, the fact that I had to think about this bodes well for the well-crafted mystery that is the 2nd volume of the "Diamond Chariot".

After treading somewhat low on the intensity scale with the "Mistress of Death" book, Akunin has created a strong thriller to carry and develop the image of the protagonist. For anyone who likes "Azazel", the "Diamond Chariot" is a must read.


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