Title: The Sword of Kaigen
Series: Theonite Series
Author: M.L. Wang
Publisher: M.L. Wang (Self-published)
Publication Date: February 19, 2019
Genre: Adult, High Fantasy
A mother struggling to repress her violent past,
A son struggling to grasp his violent future,
A father blind to the danger that threatens them all.
When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?
High on a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’
Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.
Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface. (via Goodreads)
(Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.)
You know that feeling when you’re completely sucked in and already so deeply invested that you don’t want the book to end? It may sound so cliché at this point, but this is literally what I felt reading this book – dreading the last chapter but still keeping at it because… what else can you do when you’ve already fallen head-over-heels in love? I dove into this book without any expectation – but just like an unexpected storm – without warning, it swept me away and it completely blew my mind
(pun intended, LOL). It is not a stretch when I say that The Sword of Kaigen is easily one of my best reads this year, and let me tell you why:
It was the teeth of winter. It was poetry. It was God in water.
Layered characters and complex dynamics
The book opened with Mamoru‘s and Misaki’s POV – one, a young warrior wanting to live up to his name while slowly being confronted by hard truths about the empire that he serves, and the latter, a mother trying to repress and forget her violent past and forcing herself to resign in her new, peaceful life. The book was told in an alternating POV that worked so well with how the narrative was set up. It was interesting to view all of these legendary warriors in the eyes of a young boy training to be someone that would someday match their level – the awe in his eyes for the power he was witnessing, the confusion during war times – it was definitely a ride. While I enjoyed Mamoru’s POV, especially during the half mark of the book though heartbreaking it might be, I’ve got to admit that it was Misaki’s that captured my heart – so let me talk extensively about it:
That’s what happens when you come into contact with people who aren’t quite like you. You learn over time that the world isn’t broken. It’s just… got more pieces to it than you thought. They all fit together, just maybe not the way you pictured when you were young.”
Her POV was told with certain glimpses from her past blending into the present – from the young, cynical and thriller-seeker girl to this woman reduced to silence by her husband and shackled by misogyny and old traditions of the family that she married into. She was married to Takeru, the second son of the Matsuda household, masters of the Whispering Blade.
This marriage somehow reminded me of Haruki Murakami’s short story, Ice Man, where a woman literally married an ice man. But while the woman in that story married for love, Misaki married because she was compelled to – an arranged marriage that is common as a tradition among strong houses to keep the “god’s bloodline” pure. The stories are quite different in a way, but the same emptiness of being with someone “hollow” and “cold”, the feeling of forever being out of place in a place where your husband is at home, the feeling of being somewhat “trapped” – and in that sense, they almost painfully parallel each other.
Takeru was an interesting character – mysterious and strong, someone who is not much for words and doesn’t show emotion even in the most direst of moments – an imposing wall of ice. One of the most interesting thing that came up in this book (at least, for me) is Misaki’s relationship with her husband. Until this day, I never knew I could get invested this much into a married couple’s dynamics. This is the kind of POV writing and character dynamics that I love: I want my characters layered. Full of angst and spite. Internal turmoil so big you can only wonder how they were able to keep silent, content to a glare. The feeling of wanting to scream and somehow not being able to. Call me crazy, but I loved every minute of it. Because it hurt. Like hell.
This book also gave me one of the more surprising and interesting character arcs and redemption I’ve read in a while – and I am here for all of it. There are, of course, others in this book that are as equally well-written and fleshed out – but Misaki takes the cake.
A fresh take on heroes and heroines
“A life of dangerous adventures might seem worth it now, when you are young and seemingly invincible, but one day, you will have children, and you will not want that life for them.”
What comes after? After the bloodlust and the rush were gone? After you retreat to make a family and settle down? Nobody talks about it – at least, not enough. But a realistic character has a life: the after. And it was one hell of a good time reading into a POV trying to reconcile a violent past and just trying to live a life in the wake of adulthood and motherhood. People change. People grow up. And sometimes, that means leaving behind, and even forgetting, some things that once set your soul on fire. It is a sad reality that Misaki faced, along with other people in her life – but it is a necessary change. This is one of the few times I was able to read this kind of perspective – and the first time I was able to read it in a woman’s, and, more interestingly enough, that of a mother.
I also like the idea that uncertainties and insecurities still exist no matter how strong a warrior you are. That despite these people being overpowered, almost like a God – they are still unbearably human. This was emphasized and was efficiently used to move the story forward – building characters and unmasking them at the same time. The question of purpose leading to a realization that if you fight for something bigger than yourself, it would always be worth it.
I still find it hard to describe high fantasy in my head – but the world-building in this book? Sublime. It was spectacular, grand. The Sword of Kaigen served as as a prequel, standalone novel to the M.L. Wang’s Theonite Series. I came into this book without having read the existing (two?) books… and if this is a taste of what the world is like in this series, then I am in for the long haul. The history and culture feels so fully realized. The magic system complex and unique (blood puppetry! ice blades so sharp to the molecule that it can cut through anything! human capable of summoning tornadoes!) The characters are fully fleshed out, with their own backstories and motivations that made them feel more authentic and relatable – the very kind of people you would want to root for.
It extended way so deep and so vast that it is hard to imagine that this is just one book. It honestly felt like the beginning of a saga. Though this is probably one of the more longer books that I’ve read this year, achieving all of this in just one title (and a standalone, to boot!) is still such a feat of great writing and planning.
Gripping narrative and action told through breathtaking writing
I can explain the plot away into “facing and waging wars and its aftermath” but it is not that simple. The key to The Sword of Kaigen’s genius is the journey on getting there AND after: somewhere along its chapters, the actual threat of war didn’t matter as much as the journey that most of the major characters have gone through.
It started slow, building into an impending danger, and then it heightens and heightens to a standstill – only to gradually slow down towards the end. That “slow down” stung. The blow was swift, but the pain lingered – the cut deep and true. And I found myself appreciating the quiet moments because these are where these characters are most vulnerable. And vulnerability breeds poetry.
The battles scenes were reminiscent of those shōnen epic, overpowered battles which are exhilarating as they are brutal. With the mastery of the sword and the ability to wield the elements, this book gave me one of my best tastes of “action” literature – and this is coming from someone who prefers quieter books. It was glorious.
I can babble on about all the things I loved in this book (that commentary on censorship and the use of propaganda as a means to control people? as well as the misogyny and gender politics that are as relevant today as it is during feudal Japan? *chef’s kiss*) but this would be unnecessarily long
(heck I feel like this is the longest post I’ve made in this blog). So let me just tell you this: READ THE SWORD OF KAIGEN. And you’ll know what I am talking about.
SPOILER-Y MUSINGS (highlight if you want to be spoiled) *start*
- Guess what my favorite chapter is? The Duel. *
- “I’m Matsuda Misaki,” she said with pride and honesty she never attached to those words before. “I’m your wife.” And she attacked him. THIS MOMENT! Actually, scratch that: THIS WHOLE CHAPTER. Chapter 27, “The Duel” has been a treat from beginning to end. The build up, the unexpected revelation, the fight – God, the fight! *
- “My brother was my shelter in all things. His death left me shaken, flayed, like nerve and muscle exposed to the air.” Can we just appreciate how poetic and to the point this statement is. How it captures vividly the pain of losing someone who has been there all your life, protecting you? *cries* *
- Her index finger curled around his pinky and they knotted together—dark and light, hot and cold. She knew in that moment that this was one more thing that would never go away. She would always love Robin, the same way she would always miss Mamoru. For everything that had changed, this hadn’t. It hurt. Gods in the Deep, it hurt, but it didn’t consume her. After so long, she had learned to carry it like a woman. This whole thing hurt, okay? Some love never did go away. But it doesn’t mean you have to get stuck and never move forward. I am so proud of Misaki int his moment. But it still hurt. *
- A decade later, a fifteen-year-old Hiroshi would become known as the youngest swordsman ever to master the Whispering Blade. What the world would never know, was that he was the second youngest. THIS SCENE. It was so incredible vivid in my head I feel like I am watching an animated reel – in slow motion, with perfect color grading c/o the sunset reflecting in blood-soaked snow, the barest thud as it hit and disappear upon touching the ground. Beautiful – and sad. *
- Does this book qualify as “Silkpunk”? Because I somehow feel like it is. *
- I want more Takeru x Misaki scenes after the events of this book! I would like to imagine that from this new found respect would bloom love – and I want to be here for it.
SPOILER-Y MUSINGS *end*
Real power needed no words. It spoke for itself.
“A child doesn’t have to take responsibility for his decisions. A child can trust in his parents to tell him what to do. A man trusts himself.”
See, that’s the hard part,” Misaki said, “coming to terms with what you don’t know, finding the answers, and acting on them without regret. Some people never learn. Some people learn too late.”
Where was the magic in something that didn’t seethe between extremes? […] Where was the excitement in a kiss that didn’t spark, and steam, and burn like this?
Somewhere in the past four years, her fears had grown bigger and less physical.
Show me better, she willed Takeru as she pressed forward. Show me the impossible.
Wholeness, she had learned, was not the absence of pain but the ability to hold it.
About the Author
M. L. Wang was born in Wisconsin in 1992, decided she wanted to be an author at the age of nine, and never grew up. She got her Bachelor of Arts in history in 2015 and currently works at a martial arts school in her home city of Madison.
When she isn’t building worlds on the page, she builds them in her aquarium full of small, smart fish that love to explore castles and don’t make noise during writing time.
Find her on: Website | Twitter | Instagram
This post is part of #TheSwordOfKaigenBlogTour that ran from November 11 to November 29 hosted by Karina @ Afire Pages. Thanks to M.L. Wang and Karina for giving me the opportunity to read this amazing book! I am posting this too late in the game (so sorry for it >.<) but if you want to check out the posts of all the bloggers that participated in this tour, here you go:
And, there’s still also an ongoing giveaway! See below Rafflecopter widget or go HERE and sign up for a chance to win a copy of The Sword of Kaigen. This is open internationally. Hurry up before it close – and good luck! 🙂a Rafflecopter giveaway https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js