Okay, point one. This is a splat-book.
Point two, Way of the Crab. A previous splat book for this faction. Do AEG actually think we're dumb enough to pay for another book on the same faction?
But that's a perspective that doesn't stand up to comparing any matched pair of the 'Way of' and 'Secret of' books. The Way covers how to be a member of a particular faction. The Secrets tells you, objectively about the faction. The books are drier (and if they weren't covering two systems of rules there would be room for more flavor) but the Secrets of the Crab is an okay sourcebook. Not as good as Way of the Crab, but okay and it has very little duplication of information. Put them together and you have an EXCELLENT sourcebook - expensive, but arguably worth it.
The Secrets of the Crab REEKS of attitude, and that is what the Crab Clan are all about. Right from the front cover with the snarling Crab bushi and a quote from Hida Reiha, the book immerses the reader in the Crab perspective of Rokugan: "Every day would be the death of you all, the end of everything the Empire has built... except that we are there."
Inside, the familiar pattern of Introduction, Chapters on each family; a location and the dirty little secrets mentioned on the spine of the book. The flavor text follows the familiar figures of Miya Hatori, Otomo Taneji and Fuzake Sekkou as they meet with the leaders of each family. The reponse each family has to Hatori's mission shows the different facets of the clan's members - and the Crab Clan is no more monolithic than any other.
The Hida are as archetypal as ever to the clan. The largest family in the clan's lands are described, along with key locations such as the Crab Ancestral Hall and the Long Walk, a city of commerce specifically designed to be massively inconvenient to anyone who trades there. The colour characters include Unari, a crippled samurai who has become the greatest author and poet of the Crab in his retirement. Two vassal families are described: the Hida's closest vassals, and a 'family' made up of warriors granted samurai status among the Crab by coming to the Crab lands to help fight the Shadowlands - something almost unthinkable to less pragmatic clans. The leaders of the clan are presented as very human people with their own doubts and fears as well as their strengths. The fact that the Champion of the entire Crab Clan intends to marry into a mere vassal family for love underscores how little the Hida care for teh perceptions so important to the rest of the Empire.
The Hiruma, unlike the Hida, have changed in the years since the Clan War. Having reclaimed their ancestral home, they are less the carriers of the Clan's shame than the carriers of their pride: the Crab's expectation that they can neither expect aid from the rest of the Empire nor require it. Because their lands are small, this is a short chapter but the divided leadership makes the Hiruma interesting enough to talk about. The vassal families described range between those who continue the Hiruma's pre-Yasuki role as the face of the Crab and a young family made up of Kaiu helping to rebuild the Hiruma lands.
Shamed by the betrayal of Kuni Yori, the shugenja of the Crab retain their sinister air. They conduct strange experiments in isolated laboratorys and train tainted samurai to act as frontline troops against the Shadowlands. The Witch Hunters still exist, although they are not dicussed as Way of the Crab already dealt with them well, and one of the flavor characters is Omen, the first ever Oracle of Jade. One of the vassal families specialise in infiltrating and destroying groups of maho-tsukai, while the other family are responsible for maintaining the stock of tainted creatures the Kuni need for their experiments - both logical extensions of the Kuni role.
The Kaiu are little changed - superb engineers and strategists for theri Hida rulers. Their fortresses, as might be expected, get some treatment and the rules for the Engineering Academy have been revised somewhat. Again, two vassal families are decribed, both specialists in the Kaiu's area of expertise. The Kaiu are apparently resonsible for building the Crab fleet, just as the Mantis have a vassl family for that purpose, and the other family are expert masons with arguably the most impressive castle of any vassal family in Rokugan.
Formerly an independent Minor Clan, the Falcon, the Toritaka chapter is again quite short with no vassal families. It does expand on the lands and leadership of the small family however.
Naturally enough, the Yasuki chapter explains quite a bit about the relationship of the Crab to the other clans - the split of the Yasuki between Crab and Crane being a metaplot event I wasn't previously aware of. The loyalist Yasuki are described, along with their craftsmanly vassals the Kano. Of course, given the Kolat ties of the Yasuki, much has to be left to the Secrets chapter at the end of the book.
The rest of the book describes the Tower of Fear, an important site in recent Crab history and perfect for a little old-fashioned dungeon crawling. I won't spoil any more of the secrets in the last chapter but the Nightmare of the Crab is a truly horrific figure and emblematic of the struggle that shapes the Crab. He is Kyofu, who wears the body of Hida Kuroda, brother and predecessor of the Crab Clan Champion.
On the whole, you can play a Crab without using Secret of the Crab but it's well worth reading if you have it. It's much more useful for a GM however and any GM planning to use the metaplot beyong the Clan War can benefit from the appropriate Secrets books. Being a fairlys serious Crab player, this one's a winner and it's well worth the money I paid for it.