Back to feudal Japan, which now enters the modern world, from the master of the three-decker behemoth (Shogun, Tai-pan, Noble House, etc.). Once you're into it, you forgive Clavell his galloping grammar and anachronisms and are swept along by spirited storytelling. Although Clavell clearly takes this hackwork as weighty and worthy entertainment, the heart quails at a serious weighing of a novel peopled with larger-than-life comic-strip characters caught up in cliches of Japanese exotica and international business deals as well as of internecine warfare--all of which Clavell writes at full throttle as if infused by the soul of Alexandre Dumas. A sequel to Tai-pan (1966), this is the sixth novel in Clavell's Asian saga and takes place in 1862. The gai-jin (foreigners) have arrived, intent on doing business with the Japanese. With laws against the use of the wheel in carriages or carts, the Japanese, their tradition- bound Emperor and competing warlords detest the foreigners, who have ruined the Chinese with the Opium Wars. The mighty Struan shipping empire, Noble House, has built a base in Yokohama, but with the illness (fatal) of Culum Struan, tai-pan (head) of the business empire, 20-year-old Malcolm Struan stands ready to become tai-pan. In the first chapter, however, he's attacked by samurai assassins on the Tokaido road and lies either bedridden or hobbles about for the rest of the novel. Young Angelique Richaud, 18, Parisienne daughter of a gambler who has lost what money the family had, sets her eye on Malcolm. Angelique is raped by a rogue samurai and now secretly carries his child, unbeknownst to the love- besotted Malcolm. Angelique's syphilis-stricken fellow Frenchman Andre Poncin wends his way through the plot toward a glorious love- death with his Japanese mistress while Japanese warlords fight each other, samurai endlessly behead samurai, earthquakes shiver, and Yokohama burns. You get your money's worth if you want to spend it here.