Review: “Sensei” by David Charney

Review: "Sensei" by David Charney

A brief review.

You will probably be astonished to read that one of my favourite novels is not science fiction or fantasy. It is a novel set in feudal Japan.

“Sensei” by David Charney was a novel that I read as a young man (around 20 years old). I rarely say that any novel had a profound impact, but this one did. It made me look at myself.

The story is about a spoilt, self-indulgent and fairly useless young man, son of a minor lord. His name is Tadamori-no-Yoshi. Yoshi comes back to his home town (and castle) from his training to be a court administrator. Here he finds his male cousin covertly helping peasants (a bad thing) and his female cousin engaged to a wealthy, older and somewhat arrogant neighbour. Without giving anything anyway, the situation turns bad and then worse. Yoshi ends up as a criminal on the run. The novel then chronicles Yoshi’s transformation into a caring human being and a mighty fighter.

OK, I can here you saying that this is a fairly standard story-line. Yes it is. And there are all the standard obstacles and villains, so it’s a lot like one of those games where you have to beat a bad guy at the end of each level before you can proceed. Being a journey, the story takes you through the lifestyles of various elements of the feudal Japanese society, from petty nobles, to sword smiths, to entertainers, to monks and so on. The characters themselves are a little stereotypical, but I did not mind. Thing is – it works. Charney’s writing style is simple yet elegant. I have read this more than any other novel with the exception of Lord of the Rings (which I read several times a s a teenager).

I also love his fight scenes. Indeed, as I taught myself to write fiction I studied his descriptions of fight scenes. So yes, thank him if you eventually read my never-ending-novel and enjoy the fighting.

The major criticism of the book comes not from me, but from countless Japanese purists. Apparently the costumes are all wrong. The names are all wrong. Yep – pretty much every detail they criticise. So if that is important to you then avoid this like a plague. But if story and good writing is your thing, then read it. Anyway, I love it.