Overview (No Spoilers):
My friend, Amanda, author of A Wizard’s Forge, messaged me that I absolutely had to add The Sword of Kaigen to my reading list because, “it’s the best book I’ve read in several years.” With that high praise, I immediately started looking into Wang’s novel that had just been announced as the the winner of the 5th Self Publishing Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO5) where 300 self published books had been whittled down to one winner over an 11 month period. It only took a chapter or two before I became hooked, with the first passing mention of magic being so subtle and elegantly woven into a playful scene that I had to reread the paragraph to make sure my first understanding was correct.
Wang developed a unique literary world that manages to merge modern day innovations into a deeply traditional world that has more in common with pre-electrical age, perhaps late 1800s, than present day. This time period placement is purely guessing on my part, but I’m making this educated estimate based on the role of women and blacksmiths throughout this read. In general, The Sword of Kaigen was a fascinating mix of the old and new, especially considering a culture that is steeped in traditional roles for every citizen regardless of their station. The technology dynamic is intriguing in its own right, however Wang adds the extra delightful wrinkle of her characters being able to wield a variety of powers based on fire, wind, and water.
The Sword of Kaigen does assume a rather slow pace at various stages of this long read and the role of women, especially early on in this novel drove me beyond frustration. That being said, the action sequences where sword and magic techniques are seamlessly choreographed together keeps the reader eagerly anticipating the blows as favorite characters face impossible odds. Additionally, women also evolves significantly after reaching lows that seem insurmountable. Seriously, Misaki is a total bad ass.
World building and character growth aside, which are two of my favorite aspects of fantasy, The Sword of Kaigen‘s story as a whole was complex and wide ranging despite mostly staying centered in one village. Despite a mostly stationary set, we were granted glimpses of the outside world that worked simultaneously to enrichen the literary world while piquing the curiosity of the reader to ensure they’ll continue with the rest of the Theonite novels. Overall, Wang’s word craft in the The Sword of Kaigen was as eloquent and beautiful as the literary world she created.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- I’d though The Sword of Kaigen was a stand alone novel and could definitely leave it as one, but it definitely has the feel of a prequel as the ending draws to a close. Wang also has a series based in this literary world but I have’t looking into what characters it follows.
- Mamoru falling off the roof with Kwang was one of my favorite sequences of the whole book. It was a growing moment for both young boys but especially Mamoru as everything he’s been taught starts to be proven false.
- Mamoru’s death was devastating. Cue all the tears! If his Dad had seen the man Maromu’d killed at the end, who had also dealt Mamoru’s death blow would he have known that his son had indeed crafted the Whispering Blade in his last moments? Who was the talented soldier who had killed Mamoru?
- I kept expecting Kwang’s father to be in league with the King, but he seemed like an actual good guy.
- I’d though Mamoru’s father was beyond redemption, but in the 11th hour of this novel Wang totally turned everything and every interaction we’ve had with this surly man on its head, and you actually end up liking the previously icy character.
- I wouldn’t call any aspect of this read ‘feel good’ in any way. The characters are betrayed and brutalized, lied to and abandoned. They suffer in countless ways but their strength and pride keeps them upright. Despite all of this, there is a current of hope that permeates throughout the ending.
- Will the Ranganese come back to attack some more?
- References are made to Hiroshi as eventually wielding a Whispering Blade. Does the rest of the series follow him in the future?
- What will happen to Hyori’s daughter? Did she really not possess powers as insinuated of her future?
- What about Misaki’s adventures as a youth? What is the story behind the gang/mob leader that might hold a grudge against Misaki?
- Who sent the assassin after Misaki? Who is collecting the children and is it really for an army? Who was controlling’s Robin’s body? Where will Robin go next?