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Toru: Wayfarer Returns

Toru: Wayfarer Returns

4.4 5
by Stephanie R. Sorensen

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Revolutionary young samurai with dirigibles take on Commodore Perry and his Black Ships in this alternate history steampunk technofantasy set in 1850s samurai-era Japan.

In Japan of 1852, the peace imposed by the Tokugawa Shoguns has lasted 250 years. Peace has turned to stagnation, however, as the commoners grow impoverished and their lords


Revolutionary young samurai with dirigibles take on Commodore Perry and his Black Ships in this alternate history steampunk technofantasy set in 1850s samurai-era Japan.

In Japan of 1852, the peace imposed by the Tokugawa Shoguns has lasted 250 years. Peace has turned to stagnation, however, as the commoners grow impoverished and their lords restless. Swords rust. Martial values decay. Foreign barbarians circle the island nation’s closed borders like vultures, growing ever more demanding.  

Tōru, a shipwrecked young fisherman rescued by American traders and taken to America, defies the Shogun’s ban on returning to Japan, determined to save his homeland from foreign invasion. Can he rouse his countrymen in time? Or will the cruel Shogun carry out his vow to execute all who set foot in Japan after traveling abroad? Armed only with his will, a few books, dirigible plans and dangerous ideas, Tōru must transform the Emperor’s realm before the Black Ships come. 

Tōru: Wayfarer Returns is the first book in the Sakura Steam Series, an alternate history of the tumultuous period from the opening of Japan in 1853 to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. This volume covers the year prior to the American Commodore Perry’s arrival in Japan and follows the hero and his young allies as they lead Japan through a massively compressed industrial revolution, dramatically altering that pivotal moment in history.

While Tōru and his dirigibles are fictional, the story unfolds against the backdrop of the "real" Japan of that period, with historical figures and their political environment woven into the tale, staying true to their motivations and agendas even as the alternate history warps their actions, history and a few laws of physics. Underpinning the adventure plot is a young man's yearning for his father's approval and an honorable place in his world.

Readers who enjoy steampunk alternate histories more typically set in Victorian England or the American Wild West may enjoy this steampunk story made fresh by the Japanese samurai setting, as well as readers who enjoy historical fiction set in Japan. 

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

FINALIST, Fantasy 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards

BRONZE MEDAL, Multicultural Fiction 2016 eLIT Book Awards

SHORTLIST (Winners TBD) Science Fiction, 2016 Cygnus Book Awards

APPROVED, Five Stars, Awesome Indies


"The paths of sword and steam cross brilliantly....Approachable and satisfying." -- Awesome Indies, Approved, 5 Stars

"First-time author Sorensen launches her Sakura Steam series with a well-told what-if story that brings a steampunk aesthetic to real-life 1800s Japan... Sorenson cunningly blends far-out fiction with actual historical personages....Young adults as well as older readers can partake of the delicious genre-blending bento. Cool alternative-history yarn of yester-century Nippon, a promising steampunk-energized start." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Sorensen immerses readers in a compelling and provocative story....an absorbing read." - BlueInk Review

"Toru is an enjoyable and believable work of alternative historical fiction." - Foreword/Clarion Reviews 5 Stars

"TORU: WAYFARER RETURNS is a fast-paced historical adventure steeped in Japanese culture." -- IndieReader

"A terrifically vivid historical novel set in an 1852 Japan re-imagined along Steampunk lines...Anyone reading it will eagerly look forward to the next volume." -- Historical Novel Society

"I loved this book and I definitely recommend it for anyone who is looking for Steampunk that pushes the boundaries of the genre. Airships and samurai swords collide in this thoughtful and compelling alternative history about a culture every bit as rich and nuanced as those usually featured in Steampunk literature, but far less familiar." -- Phoebe Darqueeling of For Whom the Gear Turns

"Rather than just a simple steampunk setting, Sorensen steeps her world in history, and finds a fascinating theme to play with: the conflict between tradition and the future, to say nothing of Japan's complex relationship with the outside world." -- Josh Mauthe of Umney's Alley

"Outrageous book with strong characters and compelling story" -- Fred Fanning on Amazon

"Steampunk adventure sharing a tale of patriotism, honor and love" -- MarthasBookshelf

"Good book. Good idea....Anyone interested in Japan, in samurai, in traditional cultures, or in the clash between tradition and modernity -- you should read this book. And the sequels, when they arrive. And anyone who likes a well-written story of one man struggling both for and against society, anyone who is interested in the struggle to break out of a rigid class system and become more than the role created by one's birth, you should read the book, too." -- Theoden Humphrey, VINE VOICE Amazon reviewer

"Toru is a vast thought experiment, at times touching and engaging, it is also optimistic. There is the sense that we, in our time, with increasing levels of injustice in our society, could learn from a bunch of open-minded dreamers on the edge of revolution. And who wouldn't want dragon airships after all!" -- BlackRainbowBlade blog

"There will probably be some debate as to exactly what genre this book belongs. Is it Alternate Historical Fiction? Is it Steampunk? Is it somehow both? Or neither? My answer to those questions is that it is all of the above. With the addition of dirigibles, it clearly enters the realm of Steampunk, but since it is set in an actual period of our world's history, this takes it away from the Steampunk genre and instead into the realm of alternate historical fiction. All in all, the genre does not really matter. It is the story that matters and the story is superb." --AmiesBookBlog

"If you're into the Steampunk genre or even if you're not, it's a beautiful read." - T.S. O'Neill.

"If you're looking for something out of the ordinary, something that is gripping, intelligent, and utterly unique, read 'Toru: The Wayfarer Returns.'" - J.M. Lipp.

Kirkus Reviews
Defying his shogun's ban on contact with the Western world, a young Japanese in 1852 uses smuggled blueprints and technology to create a hyperindustrial movement to thrust the nation forward into the modern age. First-time author Sorensen launches her Sakura Steam series with a well-told what-if story that brings a steampunk aesthetic to real-life 1800s Japan. Tru Himasaki, illegitimate son of a noble lord, arrives on the shores of southeastern Japan in 1852, having completed the first phase of a dangerous mission for which he was raised. Masquerading as a fisherman, Tru pretended to be lost at sea and allowed himself to be rescued by passing Americans and taken on a grand tour of their country. Now, with two years of careful notes, books, factory blueprints, gadgets, and intel, Tru comes home—facing execution as a traitor for violating Japan's centuries-old policy of sokoku, or isolation, that has time-frozen the island nation into a feudal condition. Fortunately, Tru manages to convince a few local lords of the desperate need to drive Japan forward into industrialization before the inevitable invasion by America and other foreign imperialists. In just a few seasons, Japanese facsimiles of guns, telegraphs, railways, early computers (Charles Babbage's "difference engine"), submarines, and airships are under feverish construction—but with as much secrecy as possible due to the iron rule of the myopic, dictatorial Tokugawa Shogun, who may view such progress as a threat to his own power. Sorenson cunningly blends far-out fiction with actual historical personages (many of whom may be unfamiliar to round-eyed barbarian readers) and a Meiji Restoration-era mindset. If there seem to be a few stereotypes reinforced here (math-crazed, sword-swinging Asians, as industrious as ants as they vastly overhaul their whole culture nearly overnight), the urgency and echoes of real-life drama can still resonate. It's no accident that the author name-checks Hiroshima and Nagasaki as historically vital port cities of old. Young adults as well as older readers can partake of the delicious genre-blending bento. Cool alternative-history yarn of yester-century Nippon, a promising steampunk-energized start.

Product Details

Palantir Press LLC
Publication date:
Sakura Steam , #1
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
545 KB

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Meet the Author

Stephanie R. Sorensen is a writer based in the Victorian mining town of Leadville, Colorado, where she lives at 10,251 feet with her husband, five chickens, two bantam English game hens and one Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. After a former life in big cities-New York City, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Boston, Mexico City, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Santa Fe-she now enjoys the birdsong and quiet writing time she finds in Leadville. As a Leadville local, she likes her Victorian attire spiced with a little neo-Victorian futurism and the biggest bustle possible. Recognition for Stephanie's debut novel "Toru: Wayfarer Returns" -- Finalist, Fantasy category, 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards -- Bronze Medal Award, Multicultural Fiction category, 2016 eLit Book Awards -- Awesome Indies Approved -- IndieB.R.A.G Medallion Award -- Shortlisted (winners TBD), Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction, 2016 Cygnus TORU: WAYFARER RETURNS draws on her experience living and working in Japan; her next historical novel is set in Mexico where she also lived for several years.

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Toru: Wayfarer Returns 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
indiebrag 3 months ago
We are proud to announce that TORU by Stephanie R. Sorensen is a B.R.A.G.Medallion Honoree. This tells a reader that this book is well worth their time and money!
Yzabel 8 months ago
[NOTE: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.] More an alternate history novel than a truly steampunk one, "Tôru: Wayfarer Returns" deals with late feudal Japan faced with the potential intruding of American civilisation—more specifically, the last years of the Tokugawa bakumatsu, and the arrival of Commander Perry and his "black ships". The idea: what if, instead of feeling inferior to this technology, Japan at the time had had an industrial revolution of its own, and had been able to withstand such demonstration of power? Enters Tôru, a young fisherman who, after being shipwrecked, was saved by Americans, and spent two years in their country before coming back to Japan with books, blueprints, and lots, lots of ideas about how to revolutionise his country for the day Westerners come to impose their trade and culture on it. Things aren't meant to be easy for him, first and foremost because bringing western books and machinery to these lands, and sneaking in at night, are deemed traitorous acts, punishable by death. When Lord Aya catches wind of this, his first reaction is to get the traitor executed. Except that ideas are contagious, and Tôru's more than others. This first volume in the "Sakura Steam" series shows how a handful of daimyôs and commoners manage to find common ground to dig the foundations of Japan's industrialisation: first in secrecy, then by ensuring the support of some of the most powerful coastal lords, to make sure that when the Shôgun hears about this (and he will), they'll have grounds to argue their case, machines to show off, and engineers to explain how said machines will allow their country to stand strong and proud. These rebels definitely go against the stream in many ways, by also allowing commoners and women to take part in engineering trains and dirigibles. And even though some characters are (understandably, considering their upbringing) against this, they do try and see how this could change the world, and acknowledge that such "unexpected people" will do good and have a place in this new order. Not to mention that Jiro the blacksmith, or Masuyo the noble lady, are pleasant characters to see evolve, and I liked when they had parts to play; even some of the more unpleasant characters, like Lady Tômatsu, had their redeeming features. However, while this is all very exciting, I could never really shake my suspension of disbelief, because everything happened both much too fast and sometimes too slowly as well: - The "rebels" should logically have been discovered sooner. - And, more importantly, building railroad tracks, engines, a fleet of dirigibles, a telegraph network, etc, in secrecy, with the (limited) means of a handful of daimyôs, in less than one year, seemed too far-fetched to be believable. Granted, they had blueprints and all; on the other hand, all those engineers had to learn from scratch, only from those blueprints not even in Japanese, translated and explained only by Tôru who isn't even an engineer, and... Well. Really, really hard to believe. Had it been done in a few years rather than a few months, I probably would have been, paradoxically, more excited about it. [Read ful lreview here: http://ylogs.com/archives/review-toru-wayfarer-returns ]
ReadersFavorite2 More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Chris Fischer for Readers' Favorite Whoa! That's exactly what I thought to myself when I finished reading Toru: Wayfarer Returns, the first book in the Sakura Steam Series by author Stephanie R. Sorenson. This book was an absolutely fantastic read of steampunk alternative historical fiction, and a story that will keep readers obsessively turning the pages from the start through the finish! Follow the story of Toru, a shipwrecked fisherman, who has returned to Japan after a stint in America. The shogun had forbidden his return, but Toru is committed to saving his homeland from invasion, and is willing to do just about anything to make that happen. Will Toru be able to convince others to help him meet his aim? You'll have to read the book to find out! I very much enjoyed Toru: Wayfarer Returns. This book kept me on the edge of my seat from the very first pages, and I completely enjoyed author Stephanie R. Sorenson's creativity and ability to write a unique storyline overlying the actual time period of Japan in 1852. Author Sorenson has done a brilliant job at creating characters that her readers will connect with and care about, certainly no small feat. Any reader who enjoys steampunk, historical fiction, or just a great read in general should absolutely read Toru: Wayfarer Returns. I highly recommend this book, and am very much looking forward to reading the next in the series as soon as it is available. If it's anything like this book, it will absolutely be a worthwhile read!
ReadersFavorite1 More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Tracy Slowiak for Readers' Favorite In a completely fantastic work of steampunk alternative historical fiction by author Stephanie R. Sorenson, Toru: Wayfarer Returns (Sakura Steam Series Book 1) is a book that lovers of steampunk fiction simply will not be able to put down! Taking place in Japan in 1852, the story follows a young fisherman, Toru. He was shipwrecked and rescued by Americans. He returns to Japan on a quest to save his country from foreigners, and is ready to do just about anything to achieve it. Utilizing all the creative tricks of the trade found in steampunk fiction, this story is a real roller coaster of an adventure story. Will Toru fulfill his aim or meet his end? Only time will tell! I loved Toru: Wayfarer Returns. Loved. It. How's that for a review? Author Stephanie R. Sorenson is an extremely intriguing new voice in the field of steampunk fiction, and any lover of the genre should run, not walk, to get her book! She is creative and unique, even in a genre known for being creative and unique, and her world creation skills are simply second to none. I thoroughly enjoyed her character development and story building, and love that this is the first book in a planned series. I will certainly be anxiously waiting to read more in the Sakura Steam Series, and hope that Stephanie R. Sorenson is already hard at work on the next installments. I give this book an extremely high recommendation, and encourage anyone who loves steampunk fiction, or just an intriguing new read, to get this book as soon as you possibly can!
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Charity Tober for Readers' Favorite Toru: Wayfarer Returns by Stephanie Sorensen is book one in the Sakura Steam series. Set in the late 1800s, the story follows a young man named Toro, who returns to his homeland of Japan. Toro was shipwrecked and taken to America, and returns to Japan, despite the threat of death from an evil shogun (who doesn't want anyone who has left to come back). Toro must utilize all of his knowledge and skills in order to outsmart and stay ahead of those who wish him and his country harm. The plot and the world of this book form a unique combination of genres. It was so interesting to not only read about shoguns, samurais and ancient Japan, but to also have airships and other steampunk elements. This really elevated the story to a new level. First off, I just want to say that I love the book cover! I think it really embodies the plot of the book (the unique combination of feudalistic Japan and steampunk) and will really catch readers' eyes. I found Toro to be a likable hero; he was stubborn and resilient, but also flawed and uncertain at times; I think this gave him a very realistic appeal. And fans of strong female characters are sure to love Masuyo! She was the perfect companion for Toro and I really enjoyed all of their conversations and interactions. You can tell that Sorensen took great care to research this period in Japanese history. All of the authentic little details and accurate descriptions really lend not only credibility, but also believability to the storyline. Sorensen takes a variety of real historical facts and seamlessly blends them together with exciting steampunk elements, creating one entertaining story! I would recommend Toru: Wayfarer Returns by Stephanie Sorensen to all fans of action, adventure, historical and steampunk genres.