Campaign 217 The Mongol invasions of Japan 1274 and 1281 is one of those books that just takes your breath away. It is one of those great moments that you get when you work in publishing. A book that has been talked about, debated and worked on for close to two years suddenly lands on your desk. You pick it up, and just one quick look through it makes all the hard work (and occasionally the heartache) worthwhile. Your chest puffs out, and a thrill of excitement and pride shoots down your spine as you look at this gleaming book in your hands, in the knowledge that you helped in its creation in some way.
Of course I am proud of all of the books that we produce - but every now and then one stands out - when you just stand back and think 'wow we really knocked that one out of the park'! This Campaign is one of those books - and I am not surprised.
To start off with, the author is none other than Stephen Turnbull, one of the foremost experts on all things Japan and Samurai. Stephen has written close to 50 Osprey books over the years, many of which focus on the military history of the Far East, although his expertise on the medieval and early modern periods extends across the world and he has also written books on Korea, Eastern Europe, the Baltic States and the Teutonic Knights. He has received the Canon Prize of the British Association for Japanese Studies and a Japan Festival Literary Award. Rather unsurprisingly then, the text is authoritative, engaging and even to a complete novice like me, very enjoyable. Turnbull sets the historical scene well (something that helped me out a great deal) and then plunges straight into his narrative. Throughout the account it is clear that Stephen has pulled out all the stops on this book - in fact a lot of the research in the book is based on his extensive trips to Japan in 2005 and 2008 - where he retraced the course of the Mongol invasions and visited the island of Tsushima.
But, the one thing that Stephen Turnbull delivers which is so hard to match, is the jaw-dropping quality of photographs and illustrations. You see, he is not only an author, but also owns one of the largest photo libraries dedicated to the far east - The Japan Archive. Which means that each and every one of Stephen's books are packed with some truly fabulous images - dozens of full colour photos, some breath-taking pieces of contemporary and modern artwork and some brilliant line drawings. And that is why CAM 217 was the first book I reached for - I knew that visually it would be an epic. And I was not disappointed! In particular I love the numerous images taken from the Mongol Invasion Scrolls - all beautiful pieces of art.
And then there is the artwork that appears in the book. I had already finished my first draft of this blog when I heard the terrible news that legendary Osprey illustrator Richard Hook has passed away - and was immediately struck by his loss, having spent ages poring over his illustrations in this book. I have always been a huge fan of his work - in particular the painstakingly detailed work he did in a number of Native American books with Osprey. I think I will always identify him with those figure illustrations - the faces on each character were all individually wrought and had such deep personality. One of his figures is an aged Native American, with a heavily lined, wrinkled and weatherbeaten face - I wish I could remember which of his books it was in - it really is such a beautiful piece, it is almost as if you can feel the weight of experience radiating off the character.
Over the last couple of years Richard had diversified into a new area of expertise, forming a close relationship with Stephen Turnbull and working on a subject where elaborate, detailed dress is as important as his American Indian books - the Samurai.
The three pieces of Richard Hook that grace this book really sum up what Richard brought to each Osprey book that he worked on. The first battlescene depicts the fight on the beach of Hakata Bay in 1274 is packed with action, and an incredible level of detail. Hundreds of men are fighting on the beach, and yet Richard has included some fabulous details, from the intricate samurai armour to the clouds of arrows that darken the sky. And what is that in the distant background? An explosion caused by one of the Mongol secret weapons - an iron cased bomb.
The second battlescene shows off Richard Hooks ability to create dramatic pieces of work - displaying the 'Little Ship' Raids against the Mongol Fleet in Hakata Bay. Showing the scale difference between the Mongol and Japanese vessels, the ominous clouds in the background herald the oncoming typhoon that was to doom the Mongol invasion.
The final piece of art shows the aftermath of the typhoon that was christened a divine wind - kamikaze.
Three fabulous pieces of art that top off a truly wonderful book and I hope this book will stand as a fitting tribute to Richard Hook and his wonderful talents. He will be sorely missed by everyone at Osprey - and I am sure by numerous Osprey readers.