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5.0 2
by Libby

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The Apprentice takes place in a remote mountain inn in northernmost Japan, where a raging blizzard has brought together wayfarers who share only fear and suspicion of one another. It is the winter of 1903, the country is beset with smallpox and war is brewing with Russia.

In the flickering shadows of the crowded room, the apprentice, charged with


The Apprentice takes place in a remote mountain inn in northernmost Japan, where a raging blizzard has brought together wayfarers who share only fear and suspicion of one another. It is the winter of 1903, the country is beset with smallpox and war is brewing with Russia.

In the flickering shadows of the crowded room, the apprentice, charged with running the inn during the owner's absence, finds himself strongly attracted to one of the performers lodged there. His involvement with the mysterious travelers plunges him headlong into murder, passion and heart-stopping chases through the snow.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Although set in Japan in 1903, Libby's first novel avoids the exoticism and antiquarianism of James Clavell and sets its own tightly dreamlike tone. Setsuo, apprentice innkeeper at an isolated mountain hostel in Northern Japan, finds himself marooned with a dubious cast of travelers during a blizzard. His youthful navet unfortunately draws him not only to a mysterious young woman with a band of itinerant performers but also to a half-frozen and half-crazed visitor. When this stranger flees back into the storm, Setsuo and another guest separately pursue him, leading to robbery and murder. With rumors of political intrigue enveloping the action and the apprentice in possession of a Macguffin as enigmatic as a haiku image, Libby maintains a sense of mystery and claustrophobia through pared-down prose and minimalist characterization. Setsuo's love interest, for instance, is simply the "girl in the cloak of yellow fur" for much of the novel. Even after he learns her name is Yukiko, her actions, history and motives remain ambiguous to the end. Spare and muted, Libby's debut has distilled his diplomatic experiences in Japan with the U.S. State and Defense Departments into a subtle, if sometimes attenuated, story of innocence and temptation halfway across the world and a century ago. (Sept.)
Library Journal
When Setsuo, an apprentice innkeeper in turn-of-the-century Japan, follows a bearded man into a blinding blizzard, he sets into motion a convoluted set of events. Robbery, murder, love, politics, mystery, and intrigue are all parts of the deadly game, but what exactly is the game and is Setsuo truly a player or merely the pawn of forces he cannot even comprehend? First novelist Libby skillfully devises an exotic and extreme but plausible story, creating fascinating characters and maintaining dramatic tension while dropping false leads along the way. Despite an unresolved Hollywood ending, this is recommended for general and mystery readers, particularly those interested in Japanese history and culture.Jim Dwyer, California State Univ. Lib., Chico
Kirkus Reviews
First novel set in northernmost Japan in 1903, when war is brewing with Russia.

The impending war, however, seems to have little to do with Libby's protagonist, an apprentice innkeeper named Setsuo, usually referred to as "the youth." While the youth's master is gone, a terrible blizzard sets in and a motley crew is snowbound, including the various exotic members of a theatrical troupe. A bearded man and a hunter also prepare to enter the inn, but at the last moment plunge onward in the storm. Their action seems suicidal, and, partly to impress a young woman in the troupe, Yukiku, and partly out of genuine concern, the youth chases after them. He witnesses the bearded man's murder of the hunter, but the bearded man spares the youth and tries to warn him of something. The youth in turn, warming his hands on the dead man's body, takes his purse and discovers a mysterious box. Murders ensue, as well as a quite literally steamy scene as the youth spies upon Yukiku in the inn's hot spring. Though questioned insistently by members of the troupe, the youth stubbornly denies knowledge of the box, thinking he could be linked to the theft of the dead man's purse. The youth is beaten and left for dead, then befriended by a samurai in league with the bearded man. The theatrical troupe are spies, it develops, and Yukiku an enemy seductress. The bearded man is a loyalist who returns with spring to explain that the youth has been a true patriot, shielding his country's war plans. "Arise. You are reborn," the bearded man says. The youth accepts a reward and leaves the inn, his apprenticeship at an end.

Mostly atmosphere, but it's a satisfyingly romantic atmosphere, like that of an old, swashbuckling boys' novel dropped down in Japan, with a dash of Yukio Mishima for good measure.

Product Details

Graywolf Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.29(w) x 9.26(h) x 0.96(d)

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Meet the Author

Lewis Libby is the current Chief-of-Staff and National Security Advisor to Vice President Cheney and Assistant to President Bush. He previously held positions at the U. S. Departments of State and Defense. The Apprentice, originally published by Graywolf in hardcover, is his first novel.

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The Apprentice 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Simon25 More than 1 year ago
I found The Apprentice by Lewis Libby by chance and since it looked interesting I decided to give it a try. The book is not "slow" in traditional terms of drawing out and over explaining things but there is little plot development and it feels more like you are reading a diary then a story. True it was hard to put down at times but with the end of each chapter you were not on the edge of your seat wondering what was going to happen next. Many mysteries arose during the story, most being left unanswered and no way to resolve then without the story containing more. The Apprentice was a new and original story just off mainstream that made it very interesting and a good read but made for a certain kind of person, not just anyone. Overall I enjoyed the book and closed it with a good feeling though still wondering about many unsolved mysteries that it contained. Great book for a weekend getaway or rainy day if there ever was one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Libby has married a murder mystery, sex and japanese history (a smallpox epidemic). Wow! Simply not to be missed. Mr. L: where is the next one! We are waiting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Libby is a genius at plot and tone. Really makes you feel like you are in turn of the century Japan, with all its bizarre rituals, and supersitution. One of my top 5 books ever. Cannot recommend it highly enough.