I did not read the first book in this series but I don't feel it was detrimental to my understanding of characters in this book. Blade of the Samurai opens with a nocturnal visit to Hiro Hattori who is a shinobi or what we would more likely call a ninja. It's his fellow shinobi Kazu who fears he will be accused of murder as his dagger has been used to kill his boss, a cousin to the Shogun. Kazu swears he is innocent but Hiro had nigglings of doubt. He and the man he protects, Father Mateo are called to the Shogunate to help solve the murder. And to be scapegoats if the murderer is not caught. This was a very easy book to read. The mystery plays out in a straightforward manner and there is an over all feeling of calm despite the search for a murderer and several subsequent murders. I never really felt a sense of urgency. All was done in an orderly fashion and that was that. Much was made of Hiro's status either as not being worthy because he was a masterless samurai or of his being shinobi yet it was not really explored. Perhaps this is the one area where reading the first book might have helped. I liked the three main characters ( Hiro, Fr. Mateo and Kazu) and their interactions. It was, as I mentioned, an easy read. The historical and political details were interesting as this is a period about which I am not that well versed. The book just seemed a little too simple for lack of a better word. I wanted more.