Tuesday, March 12, 2013

BLOG TOUR: The Shadow of Black Wings by James Calbraith

Thanks to FMB Promotions for hosting this blog tour. I have James Calbraith, author of The Shadow of Black Wings, here to talking about women of Japanese history. Welcome!



I strive to have strong female characters always present in my books, so I found it very inspiring to discover that, for a society so stereotypically patriarchal, Japan has had its share of great and famous women, almost from the beginnings of its known history.


The legendary history of Japan begins with a woman: the goddess of the Sun. The chief of the second generation of Japan’s Gods (born from Izanagi the Creator’s tear), Amaterasu is the most important of Japanese Gods, her Sun mirror worshipped in the famous shrine of Ise. But her main claim to fame lies in being the legendary progenitor of Japan’s Imperial Dynasty, through her grandson Ninigi and his great-grandson, Jimmu, the first Emperor of Japan. According to official mythology, even the current Emperor is still descended from the same line.


The first known person in Japan’s confirmed history is also a woman; Himiko, a priestess-queen of the ancient land of Yamatai. Living in the 2nd century CE, she is known from Chinese records of the time as a wise ruler, chosen by her people to replace male rulers who plunged the country into decades of war. Her reign was peaceful; she remained unmarried, surrounded by thousands of female attendants, and when she died, she was mourned by all her subjects.


Lady Murasaki lived in the 10th century CE, as the lady-in-waiting at the Imperial Court in Kyoto. Raised in an erudite household, she taught herself to read and write in classic Chinese (women at the time could not get official education). She soon began to write, first a diary, and then the work for which she will remain forever famous: the Tale of Genji. Called variously the first novel, the first modern novel, and certainly the first Japanese novel, the Tale of Genji is an all-time classic, possibly the greatest masterpiece of Japanese literature.


There were a few famous female warriors in Japan’s history, but Tomoe Gozen is the most famous, archetypal one. The wife of a great warlord, Minamoto no Yoshinaka, she was his first captain, leading his armies into battles and performing great deeds of valour. Strikingly beautiful, good with bow, spear and sword, Tomoe Gozen is known to have slain at least two skilled samurai in battle. She survived her husband after the failed campaign, and grew to old age as a Buddhist nun.


Of all the unfortunate characters of the Tale of Heike – a 12th century saga of two warring clans, Taira and Minamoto, vying for control over the Empire – Taira no Tokuko was perhaps the most tragic one. Adopted daughter of one Emperor, wife of another, and mother of the third one, throughout her life Tokuko experienced greatest splendour and greatest tragedy in equal measure, as she had to witness her imperial mother and son drown in the sea during the battle of Dan-no-Ura, which marked the end of this particular strain of the imperial dynasty. Forced to live as the last survivor of her family, the once most powerful woman in Japan died alone in a hermit’s hut. In literature, Tokuko had become a symbol of impermanence of things.


Lady Oeyo first became famous because of whom she was related to; niece to Oda Nobunaga and adoptive daughter of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, two of the most powerful men of 16th century Japan, her life was destined to be extraordinary from the start. Always in the centre of historical events, she was ten years old when her uncle was assasinated, and twenty five when her father died as the first man to unify all of Japan in over a hundred years. Oeyo then married Hidetada, son of the first Tokugawa shogun, and gave birth to Iemitsu, the third shogun.

Oeyo’s influence was perhaps most important in this last aspect. We will never know how much exactly her strict upgringing and memories of the terrible Civil War, which she must have imparted on her son, have impacted Iemitsu’s rule. But it was the third shogun, not his most famous grandfather, who introduced the policies synonymous with the shogunate: sankin kotai system, by which all aristocrat families were kept hostage in the capital, and the sakoku edict, which closed Japan off the rest of the world for two centuries – and Oeyo’s shadow hangs heavy over these decisions.


Lady Tama Hosokawa, daughter of Nobunaga’s assassin Mitsuhide, got the name of Gracia after a secret baptism when she was under house arrest in Osaka after her father’s death. A devout catholic, Gracia remained loyal to her faith even after the anti-christian edicts of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. She became embroiled in high politics after Toyotomi’s death. In the political vacuum, two great warlords, Tokugawa and Ishida, fought for control of Japan; Ishida’s seat of was in Osaka, and he planned to take the aristocrats living there as hostages, including lady Hosokawa, who’s husband was loyal to Tokugawa.

Despite believing that suicide is a sin, Gracia accepted her familial duty and ordered to have herself and the household killed and destroyed so that it wouldn’t fall into Ishida’s hands. Ultimately, Ishida had to abandon his plans and lost the war. This act ensured Gracia’s name was immortalized in songs and theatre, and although never officially canonized, lady Hosokawa is Japan’s foremost catholic saint in the minds of many.


The final stage of the 1868 Boshin War, which marked the fall of shogunate and birth of modern Japan, was fought in the north of Honshu, in the Aizu province. Fighting fiercely for survival against the onslaught of the entire new model Imperial Army, the shogunate loyalists in Aizu accepted many female warriors into their ranks. This „Woman Army” was led by Nakano Takeko, martial arts instructor and a champion of the naginata halberd. Takeko died in the final Battle of Aizu, leading a charge. Dying from a bullet wound, she had asked her sister to cut her head off and bury it in the family temple, so that it wouldn’t fall into the hands of the enemy.

Another famous member of the Aizu Woman Army was Yamamoto Yaeko. A gunnery specialist and instructor, Yaeko survived the war and became a nurse in Japan’s many wars of the early 20th century. She also became a master of the Urasenke tea ceremony.


A symbol, and result, of the union of East and West, Kusumoto Ine was a Dejima Daughter: daughter of a Dutch trader from Dejima outpost, and a Japanese woman from Nagasaki. But her father was not an ordinary trader: he was Philipp Franz Von Siebold, a physician and botanist of world renown, and a founder of the school of Western medicine in Nagasaki.

Ine remained in touch with her father after his exile for spying, and taught herself medicine. Welcomed into the, then, all-male world of scholars and physicians,by 1859 she became the first female doctor in Japan’s history, and established her own gynaecology clinic.


About the Author
James Calbraith is a 34 year old Poland-born writer, foodie and traveller, currently residing in South London.

Growing up in communist Poland on a diet of powdered milk, Lord of the Rings and soviet science-fiction, he had his first story published at the ripe age of eight. After years of bouncing around university faculties, he moved to London in 2007, found a decent IT job and started writing in English. His debut historical fantasy novel, ""The Shadow of Black Wings"", has reached ABNA semi-finals. It was published in July 2012 and hit the Historical Fantasy and Alternate History bestseller lists on Amazon US & UK.

Find the author:

Shadow of Black Wings

It is the Sixteenth Year of Queen Victoria. In the powerful empire of Dracaland, Bran, a young dragon rider, joins his father on a military expedition to the mysterious lands of the Orient. In the reclusive Yamato, Sato, a tomboy samurai girl, strives to prove her right to inherit her father's school of western magic. Nagomi, a timid shrine apprentice, is haunted by the visions of dark future she must keep secret even from her best friend.

They don't know it yet, but their paths will cross... And when they do, nothing will ever be the same again.

Welcome to The Shadow of Black Wings, a steam-powered romp across the land of dragons, wizards and samurai. It's big, it's fast, it's been compared to Tolkien in terms of world-building, it has strong female characters and lots of carefully researched detail. You will meet the Royal Marines sailing mighty ironclads and Chinese walking machines; mysterious warlords and crazy inventors; you will discover dark prophecies, family secrets and blood-thirsty demons. And all that in just the first volume!

***Up for grabs on this tour are two print copies of Shadow of Black Wings, and eight e-copies. Enter via the Rafflecopter below!***

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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