Author and Journalist

The Shogun’s Queen

The Shogun's Queen

The Shogun’s Queen – Now out in paperback and kindle

Only one woman can save her world from barbarian invasion but to do so will mean sacrificing everything she holds dear – love, loyalty and maybe life itself . . .

“Lesley Downer’s romantic novel of 19th-century Japan is a brilliant blend of fact and fiction. The Shogun’s Queen is both gripping and historically accurate.
And the sex is good, too.”

“The shogun, his wife and their advisers grapple with a great question … a choice that makes Brexit seem simple. … This is the fourth novel – although chronologically it is the first – in a quartet about Japan’s 19th-century dilemma, seen through the eyes of its women. Downer … is a persuasive storyteller and the setting is mesmerising.”

“Impeccably researched, packed with intrigue, adventure and romance, this is a wonderful evocation of a bygone time.”
FANNY BLAKE, Women & Home 

“It is completely absorbing, showing Lesley Downer’s deep knowledge of Japan and her mastery of its complex history during the nineteenth century.”
LIAN HEARN, author of Across the Nightingale Floor

“What Hilary Mantel is to the Tudors or Mary Beard to the Romans, Lesley Downer is to ancient Japan. History in a kimono. …The finale would make for great cinema, if you could round up a Mark Rylance to play the shogun and Glenda Jackson as Lady Honju-in…”
DREW SMITH, 101 Great Reads

“Lesley Downer has pulled off a remarkable achievement in making the beautiful, strange and dangerous world of one woman in a 19th-century Japan facing Western invasion utterly believable, and utterly gripping.”
VANORA BENNETT, author of Portrait of an Unknown Woman

“Atsu is what we all want to be: a courageous woman of heartbreaking intelligence… set against our own darkest selves. This tale of western imperialism has so many resonances in the modern world, written with passion, depth and brilliance, and a sense of time and place that is earning Lesley Downer a reputation as the Shogun’s Writer for the twenty first century.”
MANDA SCOTT, bestselling author of the Boudica novels

“What a wonderful storyteller Lesley Downer is, and what an amazing story she tells in The Shogun’s Queen. Set at a pivotal moment in Japan’s history, her novel effortlessly transported me to nineteenth century Japan. At its heart is Okatsu, Downer’s heroine for all seasons, plus a vivid cast of characters – some loyal, some treacherous – all caught up in the turbulent politics of the time. I was only sorry to reach the end of this gripping and deeply suspenseful novel.”
MARGOT LIVESEY, author of The House on Fortune Street

Japan, and the year is 1853. Growing up among the samurai of the Satsuma Clan, in Japan’s deep south, the fiery, beautiful and headstrong Okatsu has – like all the clan’s women – been encouraged to be bold, taught to wield the halberd, and to ride a horse.

But when she is just seventeen, four black ships appear. Bristling with cannon and manned by strangers who to the Japanese eyes are barbarians, their appearance threatens Japan’s very existence. And turns Okatsu’s world upside down.

Chosen by her feudal lord, she has been given a very special role to play. Given a new name – Princess Atsu – and a new destiny, she is the only one who can save the realm. Her journey takes her to Edo Castle, a place so secret that it cannot be marked on any map. There, sequestered in the Women’s Palace – home to three thousand women, and where only one man may enter: the shogun – she seems doomed to live out her days. But beneath the palace’s immaculate facade, there are whispers of murders and ghosts. It is here that Atsu must complete her mission and discover one last secret – the secret of the man whose fate is irrevocably linked to hers: the shogun himself . . .


Read more about Lesley Downer’s earlier books…

Welcome to my website!

Lesley DownerMy great passion is Japan.

I’ve just completed my fourth novel, The Shogun’s Queen, to be published in November 2016. It’s the true story of Atsu, sent at the age of twenty to marry the shogun and rule over the Ooku, the Women’s Palace, a sort of harem where three thousand women live among surroundings of unimaginable luxury and the only man who can enter is the shogun. There Atsu finds herself up against her most deadly enemy – the shogun’s all-powerful mother.

The Shogun’s Queen is a prequel, chronologically the first of my quartet of novels set in the tumultuous fifteen years after American ships arrived off Japan’s coast, sparking civil war and regime change. I found myself wondering what became of the losing side – the shogun and the great lords who supported him. I’ve loved absorbing myself in the glittering and passionate world of nineteenth century Japan.

Here are the other three books of the quartet and a couple of others that I’ve particularly enjoyed writing.

The Last Concubine

The Last Concubine

Shortlisted for Romantic Novel of the Year 2009, translated into 30 languages.
Chosen as the shogun’s concubine, Sachi is forced to flee the Women’s Palace as the civil war comes to its bitter end. In the course of her journey though Japan she must discover who she really is.

The Courtesan and the Samurai

The Courtesan and the Samurai

As the civil war ends, Hana, who has lost home and family, works as a courtesan in the sprawling Yoshiwara pleasure quarters, the heart of the Floating World. There she meets a rebel warrior eager to lead a last uprising.

The Samurai’s Daughter

The Samurai’s Daughter

Taka, the daughter of the greatest general on the winning side, meets Nobu, whose family have lost everything in the civil war. But can they find a way to be together as the new Japan dawns?

Geisha: The Remarkable Truth Behind the Fiction

Geisha: The Remarkable Truth Behind the Fiction

I entered the world of geisha and lived among them for half a year to research this book. Everything you ever wanted do to know about geisha – their origins, history, why young women still want to become geisha and stories of contemporary geisha who became my friends.

Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha who Seduced the West

Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha who Seduced the West

The extraordinary true story of the geisha who became Japan’s first actress and travelled the world, performing across America and Europe where she became Puccini’s model for Madame Butterfly.

Read more