GSvSTA: Ninjas, baby! YEAH!

Bitchery reader and aspiring writer Sarah (not me) writes in with a request:

I am an aspiring writer, and am working on some of my first manuscripts after years of anime fanfiction and original fantasy shorts. Most of my readers have been saying I should get published, even if I’ve never taken one creative writing course, and am finally breaking down to maybe give it a try. Most of what I write currently is almost kitchen-sink type stories, some action-adventure, some suspense, plenty of humor, deep philosophical discussions, and lots of sex and romance.

Problem is, I’ve never picked up a full-blown romance before. I’ve been a fantasy/paranormal reader for the longest time, but after getting down right pissed after reading Sara Douglass assassinating her own female characters in the Troy Game series, I gave it reading mass-market fiction of all kind . . . except the last book of Harry Potter. I’ve been working on my own stuff ever since, and want to try to get something published. Only, I don’t know if my ideas would even stand a chance of being publish since the one I’m really rooting to research and start is completely off the wall with what I know of all the books floating around out there.

So, here’s where I need the bitchery’s help.

Has anyone ever written (or read) a romance set in Medieval Japan involving ninja? That’s right, I said ninja. I asked a friend who reads a lot more than I do and whose husband actually studies ninjitsu, and neither of them has seen ninja novels outside of Japan. Are there any ancient Asian culture novels outside of the East? Historic romance maybe?

Jade Lee’s books come to my mind first, but what recommendations do you have? And would you as a reader be interested in romances set in historical Asia?

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    JaneDrew says:

    Hmm… I’ve never read them, but I know that Lian Hearn’s “Tales of the Otori” series (the first book is called “Across the Nightingale Floor”) is set in Heian Period Japan, and features ninja.

    First book is linked here:

    The other things I can think of off the top of my head are manga/anime.

    I would definitely read romances set in historical Asia, with or without ninja!

  2. 2
    Erastes says:

    I second the Otori suggestion – they aren’t actually based in Japan, but some fictional Japanese-like place but they are very very good for all that.

    Olivia Lorenz’s Ghosts is China in gang warlord time.

    There’s a lot of manga on the period.

    but i have to say, needless of the time you want to write – you need to read read read read read and then read more.

  3. 3
    ladypeyton says:

    I would definitely read a book set in Medieval Japan, but not with ninja.  I’d rather read about a well researched samurai story than a story that would by necessity be fantasy.

    I really value historical accuracy in my reading material and there isn’t enough verifiable historica data on Ninja to make it interesting to me.

  4. 4

    The question shouldn’t be ‘Would you read?’ but “Is there a market for?” As it won’t ever get on the shelves to be read unless you can convince an editor to buy it.

    Given the wide, wide range of romances published nowadays, IMO there’s a market for just about anything, as long as it’s well written and you manage to get it on the desk of an editor who’s looking for that sort of book.

    Not an easy task but not impossible. :-)

    Good luck.

  5. 5
    Elaine says:

    The Paladin, by CJ Cherryh.  It is considered fantasy, though it doesn’t have magic, due to the setting, a non-historical blend of Japan and China.  Shoka is an embittered noble, swordmaster to the former and current Emperor, who went into exile after a palace coup where he was on the losing side.  Despite a still active injury, his reputation is sufficient to protect himself and the adjacent hamlet, which keeps him supplied with staples in return for furs from his trapping.  One day, a peasant girl shows up and demands martial arts training, so she can take revenge on her enemy, the noble who killed her family, and incidentally part of the faction to which Shoka’s enemies belong.  Shoka’s noble training revolts at the idea:  teach a peasant girl to fight?

    Best hero ever.

  6. 6
    Rachel says:

    Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichiro series are set in samurai-era Japan, but are detective novels rather than romances. I’m pretty sure there are ninjas in them—and I’d definitely read ninja romances!

  7. 7
    Robinjn says:

    Oh boy, this is going to be a HABO. Yes, I’ve read one, by an author that I used to read a lot of. It’s about a young girl who escapes a city one part of Japan and walks across country. I believe a Shogun or Ninja was involved. There were people after her and this is one of those “rich in historical detail” books that is fairly light on the sexxors. I believe the author is the same author that wrote a book on a Cherokee medicine woman who walked the Trail of Tears and had an affair with Sam Houston, again huge book, long on historical detail.

  8. 8
    saltypepper says:

    Back in the early 80’s Robert Shea wrote his Zinja novels (Time of the Dragons and Last of the Zinja), which are set in a sort of semi-historical Japan.  They are not 100% romance technically speaking, but there are certainly strong romantic elements.  They are delightfully trash-tastic, too.

  9. 9
    Maya says:

    I love stories set in unusual places! Bring it on! Recently blogged about stories set in India.

  10. 10
    Katherine says:

    Well, I guess it’s broadly in the right time frame, but a novel with romantic elements, and so well written. A chapter every night is like a well-thought out dream…The Tokaido Road, by Lucia St Clair Robson just rocks my world. It’s a sort of alternate look at the story of the 47 ronin as told through the eyes of Lord Aso’s illegitamate daughter, Cat. No ninjas, but lots of authentic historical details and weapons fighting, and a wonderfully understated love story within the bittersweet revenge story, as Cat tries to reach Kyoto to speak with Oishi, her dead father’s disgraced retainer, travelling the Tokaido road ahead of Lord Kira’s assasins.

  11. 11
    Liz D says:

    Try “the Initiate Brother” and “Gatherer of Clouds” by Sean Russell.  It’s a 2 volume fantasy/epic adventure set in an amalgam of medieval Japan/China.  It doesn’t involve ninja, so it’s probably not exactly what you are looking for.  But there is war, dynastic succession & politics, romance, complex & interesting characters, and an elegance to the writing that just swept me away.

  12. 12
    Robinjn says:

    Well, I guess it’s broadly in the right time frame, but a novel with romantic elements, and so well written. A chapter every night is like a well-thought out dream…The Tokaido Road, by Lucia St Clair Robson just rocks my world.

    That’s it!! That’s the novel I was trying to remember (and doing a very bad job of it I must say). It’s been many years since I read it. I should dig it up and try again.

  13. 13
    Gail Faulkner says:

    If its well writen the story will find it’s readers. Don’t hesitate because no one is doing it. That’s one of the things going for it.

    Remember when goblins/vampires/demons and ghosts were scary? See what good romance writing can do? LOL

  14. 14
    NHS says:

    Both Fantasy and non-traditional locations for Historical Romances (ie. Not England) are hot right now.
    So I think if you can get something out there to shop around in a resasonable amount of time you will be on the up swing of these trends and an agent or editor might be out there looking for just what you have.

  15. 15
    lijakaca says:

    I would love a story not set in England, not about English people.  I haven’t read any romances set in Japan, but thanks to these comments, I now have a TBR list :D

    Ninja…might be tough, as someone mentioned there’s not much real info about them – then again, that means you can make up your own system for them without worrying much about contradicting history.

  16. 16
    AgTigress says:

    I don’t know off-hand of any novels set in medieval Japan, but I would happily read one if it were well-written, entertaining, and if I felt I could trust the background information in it to be correct.  I have no time for any historicals in which factual background is shaky, and if this is the case in a European historical, one can spot it fast and toss the book straight into the recycling bin:  if it is set in the more unfamiliar context of ancient Asia, that’s not so easy.  One could be thoroughly misled.

    Another very attractive setting would be Mughal India, say in the 17th C AD. 

    There is a superb precedent for novels set in Medieval China:  Robert van Gulik’s wonderful Judge Dee mysteries, which take place in the 7th century AD, the Tang Dynasty.

  17. 17
    Another Damn Sarah says:

    Laura Joh Rowland has already been mentioned, but the Sano Ichiro series also feature his wife.  It’s definitely not a traditional romance, but they are in love with each other.  The third one in the series (The Concubine’s Tattoo) is about love of all kinds, really:  obsessive love, marital love, romantic love, love from respect, etc.  The mystery in it is pretty sensational, but the relationship between Sano and Reiko is pretty enjoyable.

    My greatest fear with a romance set in medieval Japan is that it would be turned into a medieval European romance that just happens to be taking place on a different continent.  The way the heroes and heroines behave in medieval European romances is out of character enough; it would be obscenely out of place in Japan. 

    I’m not saying Lady Reiko isn’t pretty strong-willed for a 17th-century Japanese woman.  Just try to imagine a Judith McKnaught novel . . . where everybody is wearing kimonos.

  18. 18
    Grace says:

    You know, the first thing I thought of isn’t a genre romance at all, but it is a love story – Shogun, by James Clavell has to be the ultimate for historical Japanese culture with a romance plotline. I don’t know how closely that Tom Cruise film followed it.

  19. 19
    Lara says:

    Ladylord by Sasha Miller is a fantasy set in a strongly Asian-influenced world…although I read it so long ago that I can’t remember whether it was Chinese or Japanese. But it was good!

    Kara Dalkey retold the Andersen fairy tale “The Nightingale” for the Datlow/Windling Fairy Tale series some years ago, and set it in 15th/16th-century Imperial Japan. I don’t think there were any ninjas, but it’s lovely. The book is out of print, so far as I know, but that’s what the Internets are for.

    And I can second the recommendation for the Tales of the Otori.

  20. 20
    Suzanne says:

    Grace – that is the first thing that came to my mind as well – SHOGUN.  I saw the TV miniseries first – I was 7 when that came out – and even then I loved Richard Chamberlain! 

    I have a book called “Peony In Love” by Lisa See in my TBR stack, but I think that takes place in China, not Japan.  Haven’t read it yet, though.

    I would definitely be interested in a romance set in Japan, but I agree with Another Damn Sarah…it needs to fit the culture, not just be an English romance happening in Japan.  And you could definitely build something around the folk lore of Ninjas…could be very mysterious and sexy! 

    Another book that comes to mind is Laura Kinsale’s “The Shadow and the Star”, not set in Japan, but Samuel was trained as a ninja in Hawaii.

  21. 21
    SusannaG says:

    I haven’t seen the Tom Cruise movie of Shogun, but I loved the Richard Chamberlain miniseries!

  22. 22
    JolieBlanc says:

    The Tom Cruise movie wasn’t related in any way to Shogun, except that the story involved a white guy in Japan. ;) Shogun was set about 2-3 centuries earlier, prior to the foreigners being expelled from Japan and then later the Black Ships of Admiral Perry forcing Japan open to trade with the West again.

    As for books, there’s plenty of literary fiction set in Japan. Straight-up romance is harder because it tends to be dominated by certain themes and none of them really have involved ninja up until this point. —I recommend “Cloud of Sparrows” by Takashi Matsuoka. Good story with romantic/paranormal elements.

  23. 23
    Rebecca Allen says:

    Second the recommendation for Cherryh’s _The Paladin_. Along similar lines, IIRC Tamora Pierce’s series Protector of the Small has some ninjitsu in the backstory. The main character is a girl/woman who becomes a knight. As a child, she spends some time when her parents have some diplomatic role in a Japan-like land and both she and her mother learn some martial arts there. In a later book, some of the friends they made then visit with a princess who will be marrying their land’s prince there’s a really great description of a lethal sharpened metal fan, along with some other weapons.

    It is not the main line of the story, but it was interesting enough to really stick in my mind, and seems like it could carry a story on its own. I think the series would be considered YA Fantasy.

  24. 24
    karmelrio says:

    While there is a long tradition of the warrior in romance fiction, one area of the market you might want to investigate is paranormal or time travel.  Could you set your ninja story in an alternate world or future timeline? 

    One thing I especially enjoy is when writers break the rules or bend genres.  Sounds like your set-up definitely has some possibilities!  Keep going.  Keep pushing.

  25. 25
    Masha says:

    Karen Harbaugh had a novella set in medieval Japan in Dragon Lovers.  I haven’t read it though.  But I do think there’s a market for romances set outside of Europe and the U.S. with non-white characters, although maybe not as big as Avon/Kensington/etc. would like.

  26. 26
    Racy Li says:

    Well, I wrote an ebook last year called NINJA (it’s out with Loose Id), with a ninja hero but it was more of a urban fantasy / superhero story with no historical truthiness whatsoever. Ebook publishers are much more open non-traditional untested ideas.

  27. 27
    Jackie L. says:

    I read the Harbaugh, it was enjoyable, the guy is either a ninja or a samurai who is also, coincidentally enough, a dragon.  The heroine is the classic English orphan.

  28. 28
    Linda says:

    Thirding the rec for Laura Joh Rowland. There’s quite a lot of romance in them (recently I’ve been desparately seeking fanfic for Yanagisawa, who’s the baddy in the series and is totally hot).  A female ninja turns up in the second book, ‘Bundori’.

    And seconding the rec for Robert van Guilik’s Judge Dee series, I have the whole lot and love every one. Also seconding the rec for Lian Hearn’s Otori series, although the last 2 books were pants.

    Barbara Sheridan and Anne Cain’s earlier books (‘Blood Brothers’, ‘Soul of the Night’) feature vamps in medieval Japan. Olivia Lorenz also has ‘Son of Heaven’ in 19th century China.

    Lisa See, Anchee Min (‘Empress Orchid’) and Shan Sa (‘The Girl Who Played Go’) etc are Chinese women writing for Western audiences about China. Su Tong is a genius (‘My Life As Emperor’). These aren’t strictly romances but all have a romantic element to them. Time periods range from early dynasties through to 19th century.

    For the Heian period of Japan, Liza Dalby’s ‘The Tale of Murasaki’ is a very good fictionalised account (with romance!) of the life of the author of ‘The Tale of Genji’.  Also ‘The Book of Loss’ by Judith Jedamus is absolutely spectacular. No ninja in it, though.

    I would happily read a ninja romance in medieval Japan.

  29. 29
    Kimberly B. says:

    Assuming it was well-researched, I would absolutely be interested in a romance set in medieval Japan! It’s a fascinating time period, and I am particularly intrigued by the literary world of the court ladies (i.e. Sei Shonogan and Lady Murasaki).  You’d have to sell me on the ninjas, but if they were realistically done, you probably could.
    I second the recommendation of Lian Hearn’s books, and add a recommendation of my own:  Kij Johnson’s The Fox Woman and Fudoki.  These are fantasies, and though the first definitely has romantic elements, both are rather bittersweet and beautifully done.  And though it isn’t fiction, for the flavor of medieval (specifically Heian era) Japan, I can’t recommend highly enough The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, which is a court lady’s diary.  It’s a really fun read.

  30. 30
    Grace Draven says:

    I wouldn’t be as interested in reading one about ninjas, but you’d have me snapping up a title involving samurai.  Medieval Japan is such a culturally rich, fascinating time period.  I’d love to see more books addressing this age on the shelves.

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