A naval thriller set during the Civil War that dramatizes internecine conflicts in both Japan and the United States.
In 1863, in the midst of global upheaval, the USS Wyoming sets sail for Japan under the direction of Cmdr. David S. McDougal. His mission is to scour the Pacific for threats to American interests—in particular, a Confederate ship, the CSS Alabama, led by the charismatic Capt. Rafael Semmes. When McDougal finally arrives in Japan, he discovers that that country, too, is roiled by internal discord: while the Shogunate favors modernization and an opening of diplomatic relations with the Western world, the emperor disdains the corrupting influence of foreign powers and encourages his loyalists to rebel against their presence. Lord Mori Takachika, a powerful, wealthy clan head, throws his lot in with the emperor, and conspires to repel the Americans by force, eventually taking over the Shogunate. However, his designs are not merely countered by governmental resistance but also by the irrepressible tide of modernity itself: “The Choshu are overcome by modern military technology and tactics but most of all by changing times.” Japan struggles to balance the preservation of an ancient culture with progress, which is beautifully depicted in the plight of women seeking equality. Likewise, the United States looks to propel itself away from the vestiges of a less progressive version of itself, built upon slavery. In his debut effort, author LaBute impressively captures not only the spirit of the age but also the most minute historical details. The naval battles are electrifying, captured in all their horror and valor. The situations in Japan and the United States offer timely case studies of the sometimes-blurry lines that distinguish patriotic freedom-fighting from subversive terrorism; one could argue that Mori Takachika and Raphael Semmes both interpret their civil disobedience as justified by their ends. The plot proceeds briskly, intermingling complex storylines of bureaucratic intrigue with paroxysms of spectacular violence.
An engaging historical study, rendered as dramatic fiction.