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The Incense Game (Sano Ichiro #16)

3.83  ·  Rating Details  ·  465 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
Winner of RT Magazine's Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Historical Mystery

In the wake of a terrifying earthquake, Sano Ichiro races to solve a crime that could bring down the shogun's regime

When a massive earthquake devastates Japan in 1703, even the shogun's carefully regulated court is left teetering on the brink of chaos. This is no time for a murder investigation—exce
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 18th 2012 by Minotaur Books (first published 2012)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,088)
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Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
I'm going to keep this short... What the hell has Rowland done? She's taken an interesting series of detective stories set in Seventeenth/Eighteenth Century Japan, with all its political machinations and feudal undertones... and ruined it! She has introduced an element of... FANTASY! Super-hero ninja-type samurai, evil spirits... Excuse me? I know that the Chinese Asian culture fantasises about their ability to tap into some sort of self-discipline which enables them to become amazing super-warr ...more
D. T.
Mar 02, 2014 D. T. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At sixteen books into this series, Rowland still manages to write an intriguing mystery and set it amidst the historical backdrop of the devastating 1703 earthquake. As always, it's a quick, light read with plenty of political machinations and personal perils that keep the pages turning.


My continuing irritation with the series is once again Hirata and the increasingly ridiculous mystical, magical martial arts. It adds so very little to the series and detracts too much from the meticulous
Jan 04, 2013 Katherine rated it it was amazing
Beginners beware, this is not the place to start this excellent series; you'll spend too much time wondering who is who, and not enough marveling at Rowland's ability to spin a murder mystery in the middle of a tale about recovery from terrible disasters. The story opens with the murder itself, which takes place just prior to the earthquake of 1703, also vividly described. Rowland deftly juxtaposes the small tragedy against the backdrop of the larger one, as people scramble to recover from the d ...more
Jul 31, 2014 Susan rated it it was ok
Two noblewomen are buried in a house after an earthquake that destroys most of Edo and the surrounding countryside in 1703. Although thousands have died, Sano Ichiro is called upon to investigate these deaths because the women were poisoned by deadly incense fumes rather than the collapse of the building in which they were participating in the game of identifying the various components and fragrances of the incense. As usual, if Sano is not able to solve the murders both he and his entire family ...more
Mar 12, 2013 Denise rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites, read-2013
Another brilliant historical mystery by Laura Joh Rowland, this newest installment in the Sano Ichiro series is set against the backdrop of the devastating 1703 Edo region earthquake. This has been one of my favourite series for a long time, and this book was IMO one of its best. And of course I'm very glad to see Yanagisawa back in business after the events of the last book - noone does scheming and intriguing quite as delightfully as him. Can't wait to see what the next book will have in store ...more
Mar 19, 2015 Adan rated it it was amazing
Laura Joh Rowland has done it again!

This 16th entry into the Sano Ichiro series is as exciting as the rest of them.

I left off in the series at "The Fire Kimono" and was worried to start this one because it is two novels later. However, I forget that the author hardly requires readers to start at the beginning in order to catch up.

There's only one or two minor spoilers based on the previous novels mentioned here but it's not really revealing.

A) Using the real-life 1703 Edo (Tokyo) earthquak
Clay Stafford
“Here’s my numerical review: 16-15-1. It’s a lottery number you’ll win by. Sixteenth Century mystery. Treacherous politics. History. Culture. An earthquake bringing the city down upon them. Number 15 in Rowland’s Sano Ichiro mystery franchise. One of the best and most realistic historical mystery novels I’ve ever read, educating me in a world I knew nothing about. If you’ve never read a historical mystery, this is the one you should read.”

The Incense Game on Killer Nashville
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Joe Slavinsky
Jan 16, 2016 Joe Slavinsky rated it liked it
This being the 16th book in the series, you can expect some predictability, as it's obviously difficult to make each book fresh, and new. Virtually every book has a plot based on Sano being extorted to do something, under the pain of death, to him and/or his family. The refreshing part of this book, is that the story is set against the backdrop of the massive earthquake that struck Edo, in 1703. There is some further development of the characters, as this book has Sano at age 46, yet still vital ...more
Jun 09, 2014 Sherri rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, it was the first one by Rowland that I have read. I see that some followers are disheartened by the addition of fantasy to the story and characters, but I loved it. Having studied the martial arts for over four years during grad school, and having watched just about every famous martial arts movie out there, I have to say that the fantasy part is the most fun and intriguing part. Fantasy can blend mind over matter in a fascinating way, and the several scenes that used ...more
Pmalcpoet Pat Malcolm
Jul 06, 2014 Pmalcpoet Pat Malcolm rated it it was amazing
The Incense Game takes place in feudal Japan, and is the sixteenth in a series featuring able detective Sano Ichiro. We have witnessed the changing events and allegiances which have allowed Sano to rise to his current position as Honorable Chamberlain, second in command only to the shogun himself, dictator and ruler of all Japan. This story takes place in 1703, in the aftermath of an earthquake which has devastated Edo, the capital, and the surrounding countryside. Much of the city has been flat ...more
Jun 15, 2013 Iejones rated it it was amazing
AMAZING!! The graceful and passionate story telling of Rowland has kept me coming back lo her 15+ Sano Ichiro stories. The Incense Game - took me a long time- but was worthy it!! The earthquake in Edo - would have been an historical fact - however, after experiencing an earthquake on the east coast I have a new appreciation for technology and the modern age. The carnage that people experienced and the fallout and clean-up must have been tremendously involved and timely. Sano and his ilk - the in ...more
Dec 01, 2012 Beverly rated it really liked it
• I find that I need to “like” the characters in a mystery series and Sana Ichiro and his wife Lady Reiko are very engaging and intriguing characters, so the books are more enjoyable to me.
• This is more than a mystery but a very good period literature – the combination of the mystery with real events – in this case the devastating earthquake of 1703 – with the description of the Japanese feudal society is interesting and informative.
• Enjoyed how I learned about the culture/history without it s
Amy Lignor
Oct 31, 2012 Amy Lignor rated it liked it
Readers may be surprised to learn that this interesting title is actually book #16 in this author’s series featuring Sano Ichiro, who is now the Honorable Chamberlain, not to mention the Shogun’s second in command. (Let’s face it, when you’ve written sixteen novels about a character, you know that it’s one of the ‘best-of-the-best’ in literature).

The year is 1703 in Edo (Tokyo), Japan. Sano is about to look for the truth behind a suspicious suicide that was made to look like an ‘Incense Game,’ (
Jan 09, 2013 Sallee rated it it was amazing
This is a mystery about feudal Japan starting out when 3 women are playing an incense game where insence is burned and the particpants try to decide what the componets are. In this case one of the components happens to be arsenic and all three women die. At first thier deaths are blamed on a massive earthquake that hits the region, killing thousands and demolishing cities and villages. Two of the women are daughters of a powerful nobleman and he wants Sano Ichiro, Honorable Chamberlain, second i ...more
Aug 21, 2013 Hattie rated it really liked it
The Incense Game by Laura Joh Rowland is a mystery which happens during a natural disaster in the ancient time of 1763, Year 16. The natural disaster is an earthquake and a Tsunami. This is Feudal Japan. The shogun is the ruler. Each character in the mystery adds wonderful detail to the novel. It's well into the novel before the secret of the shogun's heart are told. His secret reminded me of the lion in Wizard of Oz. The lion in the Wizard of Oz is cowardly, always afraid. He wants to be courag ...more
Deanna Drai Turner
Mar 19, 2013 Deanna Drai Turner rated it liked it
About 5 chapters in, I was fidgeting in my chair and sweat was beading on my upper lip. I thought, oh dear, this is a book about Feudal Japan. I don't really enjoy books on Feudal Japan. Then I looked at the cover again and saw the tagline below the title "A novel of feudal Japan." Ooops. I had been so drawn in by the lovely woman on the cover and the title "The Incense Game" that I failed to really pay attention. I wanted, after all, to know what the heck the incense game was. As it turns out, ...more
Oct 12, 2012 Kate rated it it was amazing
I love this series, which is very well-researched and includes well-developed characters. This book continues the saga of Chamberlain Sano and Lady Reiko, set in the Tokugawa era of historical Japan just after the huge earthquake in the 1700s that destroyed Edo and so much of the countryside. Sano must discover the perpetrator of a triple murder by poisoned incense - as well as carry out his responsibilities to clean up the destruction left by the earthquake. Of course the shogun doesn't really ...more
Monica Williams
Oct 03, 2012 Monica Williams rated it it was amazing
Yet another brilliant entry in the Sano detective series. I don't know Rowland has kept this up all this time, but she maintains a near perfect balance between smart mysteries and the interesting setting of Feudal Japan with its cultural and political intricacies. This time an earthquake has hit and nearly destroyed the country, both physically as well as politically. Money is short and the Shogun is precariously positioned and totally unprepared and unable to cope with what has happened. During ...more
This felt like a much stronger entry into a series with which my interesting is waning, and the tumult following a massive earthquake in Edo made for an interesting setting. Things felt less "comfortable" and steady than normal for Sano, as between the earthquake and the ensuing fires even he's thrown off by how different his city is.

There were some unexpected twists in here, and overall I really enjoyed the way this panned out and the mystery itself. Unfortunately, the writing still feels weake
Apr 03, 2013 Missyjohnson1 rated it did not like it
I ordered this book due to a recommendation of new mysteries either on Oprah or B&N. What a disappointment. after putting my rating on Goodreads, I saw the book was #16 in a series on the detective Sano. I will not be reading the 15 before this or the 17th. one of my difficulties with this book was that the descriptions of the destruction from the earthquake was repeated over and over from different characters. The characters may have been different but the descriptions were eerily the same. ...more
Oct 17, 2012 Viccy rated it really liked it
In 1703, a terrible earthquake hit Japan, destroying Edo and a vast part of the country. The ensuing tsunami swept away much of coastline away as well. Sano Ichiro, the shogun's chamberlain, is working hard to help the devastated country recover, but it's hard when the great dictator does not understand why nothing is the same and his life has been turned upside down; the Tokugawa reign is under attack. Then Sano finds three bodies buried in the rubble, none of whom died from the earthquake. Who ...more
Kathy Motley
Sep 02, 2013 Kathy Motley rated it liked it
I dearly love to read books in a long-standing series and I always expect to be entertained and to catch up with the beloved characters in those series but I felt a little let down by this entry in the Sano Ichiro saga. It wasn't that this was a bad story; in fact the backdrop of the great earthquake of 1703 was fantastic. I just felt like there was something missing. I guess it was the intense rivalry of Sano and Yanigisawa I missed. I also didn't enjoy the side story of Hirata and his mysterio ...more
Feb 21, 2016 Mantelli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would have given this stirring mystery five stars save for an annoying subplot. The portrayal of restless, earthquake torn Edo is outstanding. However, I just can't suspend disbelief for the mystic martial arts plot. It's gotten so bad that I roll my eyes whenever Sano's aide, Hirata, comes on the scene.
Anne Slater
Jun 08, 2013 Anne Slater rated it really liked it
If you like historical fiction that engages AND enlightens you, I heartily commend Laura Joh Rowland's series set in feudal Japan (late 1600s -> early 1700s).

I just finished The Incense Game which held me captive most of today (I'm a fast reader and have no oen to demand my attention). I do recommend that you begin with the first book in the series,Shinju, and get to know samurai Sano Ichiro and his(ultimately) wife Reiko... that he marries her is as much as I'll give away.

The plot does get p
May 10, 2015 Mark rated it really liked it
My first Laura Joh Rowland novel, it won't be my last. A very intricate thriller/mystery set in Feudal Japan, I found my self enthralled by the characters set against the backdrop of earthquake ravaged Edo. I heartlily recommend this book to historical thriller lovers.
Sep 15, 2014 Julie rated it really liked it
When I listed to this book in audio format I felt like I was among Feudal Japan and it's society. The writing was top rate and I like a good mystery, which this one was. I hope to read more in this series.
Margaret Sankey
Jan 09, 2013 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Samurai Chamberlain Sano and his family cope with the aftermath of the 1703 Edo earthquake and the ineffectual rule of Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi while investigating the death of three women found in the rubble, but clearly poisoned before the walls collapsed. If this death isn't solved and revenged, a powerful noble will throw his weight behind a plot that could easily lead to civil war. Rowland is another historical novelist who accepts the ugly and constraining values of the time she's chosen ...more
Dec 26, 2012 Bob added it
Shelves: own
There has been a major earthquake and Sano is to lead the cleanup and reconstruction of Edo by order of the Shogun. Complicating his task is his discovery of the murder of 3 women who died while playing an incense game. Two women are sisters and daughters of a diamyo who is involved in a plot to overthrow the Shogun. The diamyo tells Sano that if Sano solves the crime then he will not support the revolt and supply the Shogun with funds for rebuilding after the earthquake. Sano has to solve the c ...more
Dec 30, 2012 George rated it really liked it
#16 in the Sano Ichiro Fedual Japan mystery series set in December 1703 into 1704. A massive earth quake causes considerable damage in Edo as well as other portions of Japan. Sano, the Shogun's Chamberlain, is responsible for overseeing the clean up and rebuilding. In the middle of this, a murder is discovered and Sano is pushed into investigating it by an important nobleman. There are the usual subplot lines regarding Sano's relationship with his main retainer and what is happening with him and ...more
Jun 08, 2016 K rated it liked it
I think I've reached the end of my interest in this series. Despite a nice plot twist re: the murders, I have found Rowland's formula for Sano, Reiko, and the "usual suspects" to be too repetitive and predictable. It's basically the same "good guys " versus the same "bad guys" every time. I found the earlier entries in this series more to my liking and find myself wishing for more focus on the Bushido and Samurai elements-- whether that involve sword play or unarmed martial skills-- woven into t ...more
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Granddaughter of Chinese and Korean immigrants, Laura Joh Rowland grew up in Michigan and where she graduated with a B.S. in microbiology and a Master of Public Health at the University of Michigan. She currently lives in New Orleans with her husband. She has worked as a chemist, microbiologist, sanitary inspector and quality engineer.
More about Laura Joh Rowland...

Other Books in the Series

Sano Ichiro (1 - 10 of 18 books)
  • Shinju (Sano Ichiro, #1)
  • Bundori (Sano Ichiro, #2)
  • The Way of the Traitor  (Sano Ichiro, #3)
  • The Concubine's Tattoo (Sano Ichiro, #4)
  • The Samurai's Wife (Sano Ichiro, #5)
  • Black Lotus (Sano Ichiro, #6)
  • The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria (Sano Ichiro, #7)
  • The Dragon King's Palace (Sano Ichiro, #8)
  • The Perfumed Sleeve (Sano Ichiro, #9)
  • The Assassin's Touch (Sano Ichiro, #10)

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