Cloud of Sparrows slings an impressive amount of full-blooded plot material at us along with an intelligent weighing out of historical fact. Young Lord Genji is a samurai whose blood feuds with the Shogun go back centuries--his family have predictive powers that have shown him that his future lies in forming alliances with the incoming Americans. Emily is a young missionary who considers Japan to be a place where her looks will be considered hideous and she will be free of male attention; Heiko is the most beautiful geisha of her generation, and also a ninja assassin who has fallen in love with her prospective victim, Genji. And Stark is a gunslinger posing as missionary who has come to Japan to find a man he has sworn to kill.
The strength of all this lies, in part, in the fact that both sets of characters are as exotic to us as they are to each other--Takashi Matsuoka is wittily smart about how much things change in a century and a half. He also writes brilliantly and excitingly when describing a scene of battle, a gun or sword duel. This is a startlingly good debut. --Roz Kaveney [via]