White as Bone Red as Blood is a historical novel set in the 12th century Japan. It takes place during the Gempei Wars, spanning the end of the artistic Heian Period and the beginning of the warlike Kamakura Era. During the Heian Period, the ‘ideal man’ was measured by how delicately he blended his own unique incense and perfumes, how perfectly matched the colors in his layers of garments, by the elegance of his poetry and the eloquence of his “morning after letter” to the lady with whom he had spent the previous night. The Kamakura Period, which violently ended and supplanted the Heian Period, saw the rise of the Samurai. In this era, the ideal man was one who could knock an enemy off his horse at a distance of five hundred yards with his bow or split him in half with a single blow from his sword.
The story is told in the first person by Seiko Fujiwara, poet and sorceress. Seiko is born to the Fujiwara clan, an aristocratic famliy which was once the most influential in Japan. But now, two warrior clans, the Heike, represented by the red flag, and the Genji, represented by the white flag, battle for control of the throne and the destiny of Japan.
Seiko is the daughter of Fujuri Fujiwara, priestess of Inari, the deity of rice, earthly abundance, foxes and sorcery. The story begins during her childhood as she is raised at Fukushima Shrine on Inari’s mountain, enjoying a degree of freedom no upper class woman, especially a shrine priestess, could expect to have. Seiko is being trained to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a diviner, healer and priestess of fertility rites. Seiko’s mother has aligned herself with Lord and Lady Kiyomori, leaders of the Heike clan, and she is known as their sorceress. When Seiko is eleven, assassins murder her mother and their servants and set fire to their house. She escapes the blaze and is sent to live with her father, a wealthy courtier, and her destiny changes.
Nine years later, Seiko escapes from an abusive marriage by conspiring with her husband’s beautiful concubine to murder him and disguise it as a robbery. She flees to the court, where her girlhood friend, Tokushi, daughter of Lord and Lady Kiyomori, has recently married the young emperor. There she becomes the empress’ closest friend, advisor and personal sorceress. From this vantage point she witnesses and participates in the most crucial turning points in Japanese history.
Seiko describes one such pivotal point that shifts the fortunes of war; “When Lord Kiromori died, a cold wind blew through the halls of the Palace. It was moved with the dry death sound of autumn leaves; it knocked over shoji screens and extinguished lamps. Many said it was the soul of Lord Kiyomori being hounded and harried to the Buddhist hells, but what I felt was this; Lord Kiyomori had been a huge dragon curled protectively around the palace, around the influence and power he had won with his victories. Now the dragon was dead and the gates he had protected swung open leaving us defenseless against the cold northern wind.