I talk some times about books that I absolutely devoured. This was one of those. I started reading in while working on my review for The Shield of Daqan and had a bit of a hard time working on that because I kept wanting to read this instead of writing. It is definitely a solid showing by Josh Reynolds and, perhaps, the sort of mystery I was looking for last time I visited the genre. This one is thanks to netGalley and the awesome folks at Aconyte Books, Poison River: A Daidoji Shin Mystery. Enjoy!

Poison River cover

The City of the Rich Frog sits within a fragile peace between the Lion, Unicorn, and Dragonfly clans. Each has a claim to it and only imperial edict keeps them from each other’s throats. When a shipment of rice the Lion had purchased turns up poisoned, that peace is threatened. When the Imperial Governor finds himself in a position where his neutrality might easily be called into question with regard to the case he calls in Daidoji Shin, trade envoy to the Crane Clan and general wastrel, to get to the bottom of the case. In a city filled with crooked merchants, pirates, and shinobi, trying to save the city might just be the only thing that can convince Shin to do an honest day’s work.

It has been awhile since I last read a mystery and, while The Legend of the Five Rings’ setting of Rokugan is very much a fantasy setting, Josh Reynolds’ Poison River was a nice step back into mysteries as well as making for an enjoyable exploration of the way strict rules and the political balance of the various clans works, at least within the City of the Rich Frog.

Daidoji Shin is a stand out in a book full of well done characters. As a lay about noble he has sunk a lot of time into learning things that would not normally be useful. Things that, coincidentally, help with the case at hand while also establishing him as particularly well read. He pays attention to people, how they behave, what they say and do not say, something in text expected of the Crane clan. Shin comes across as very much the smart guy but done in a way that brings the reader along, many of his conclusions are things that the reader could have also figured out or that he explains to his bodyguard, Kasami, as he works. In looking for who poisoned the rice he looks both for evidence of the culprit as well as the intent behind the poisoning and clues why this was all done.

Poison River lives by its characters and, while Shin might be the stand out, Kasami was absolutely my favorite. Despite the setting having very strict rules about proper behavior and difference to social superiors, Kasami is allowed to be just completely done with Shin’s being terrible at being a noble. It is established more than once that this is deeply odd and that she really should not be allowed to act this way, but that she is allowed and does so obviously express her frustration adds to the characterization for both her and Shin as well as making her a fantastic Watson for Shin to explain his thought process to the audience through. It expands beyond that though. The shinobi, Nekoma Okuni, is key to setting up the background happenings of the mystery while also telling a solid side story of its own. The various clan representatives are both clever leaders as well as shifty in their dealings with Shin’s investigation. Minor characters like Daichi the gambler and the ship’s captain have their own background happenings that add nicely to the story and to our understanding of other characters.

The mystery itself is less about who poisoned the rice and more about who was behind the poisoning being ordered and why. I confess, I think I had figured out the broad strokes of the solution by around half way through the book, but the story was good enough for me to want to keep going and Reynolds’ use of the tangle of clan politics in the City of the Rich Frog meant that there were still some really well laid turns in what was going on that kept it engaging. I did have a little bit of frustration with the ending, it was well done and what was necessary for things to be tied up neatly, but it felt very like a matter of necessity versus justice and that sort of left an iffy taste in my mouth.

I said back in my Wrath of N’kai review that I looked forward to seeing what Josh Reynolds would do next and if Poison River is anything to go by I stand by that completely. The character work is solid. The story is enjoyable and well plotted out. Even with my single issue regarding the ending, which is entirely my issue, it easily earns a four out of five. I am definitely looking forward to the next Daidoji Shin novel later this year.