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.
“Wholeness, she had learned, was not the absence of pain but the ability to hold it.”The Sword of Kaigen, M.L. Wang
Content warnings: mass murder (including children), abuse, suicide, rape
The Sword of Kaigen absolutely blew my mind and made me feel a lot of things, and I am so glad that I have finally pushed myself to read this after a couple of friends highly recommending it to me, and I did not ended up disappointed. It was such a fresh take in the fantasy genre that I gobbled it up very quickly, and it made me so full. This Japenese-inspired military fantasy standalone deserves all the praise it is currently getting, and that more people should read and love it as much as I did. This book is definitely going to make into my top most favorite reads of 2021.
The Sword of Kaigen is primarily focused on the story of a mother and her eldest son who belong to a notable warrior fighting family that has spanned for generations, and lives up high in the mountains which closes them off from the urban areas that contributes to their very traditional and patriarchal ways. When an unexpected attack occurs in their mountain village, they suddenly found themselves (and everyone around them) smack in a middle of a war.
The author did a fantastic job in providing a very accommodating and smooth way of telling her story to the readers. It wasn’t too daunting and over-the-top, but also wasn’t too straight-to-the-point either. It just had the right amount of theatricality and straightforward-ness that caters both experienced and newbie fantasy readers and will be greatly appreciated.
The first half of the book was very exposition heavy, so it will come off as a really slow start. A lot of the concepts, explanations on the families and magic system, politics, and character introductions are laid out at this point. I personally don’t mind it since I always did enjoy a good slow start to better explain the new world being introduced in the book that will make it as immersive to me as possible, but I do find that other readers might not like prefer this set-up, such as in this case. There was definitely a point during this part that made me think “when is the action going to happen?” and then it just hit me right in the face so hard and unexpectedly.
The climax of the story is absolutely satisfying and heartbreaking. From that point on, everything just picked up its so quickly that makes you want to read as much as you can but also pace yourself because you want to savor every bit of it. As soon as that mark hit, I couldn’t put the book down anymore, and it totally made up for the slow start at the latter half. However, this is the type of book wherein the climax is located at the middle, and then the action slowly tapers down afterwards which gives the story’s falling action time to make itself known and explored. Other fantasy novels that I’ve read normally has the climax towards the end of the book, so this set-up was a good surprise for me, which I deeply appreciated even more because the events that occurred after the climax definitely deserved its time. The transitions done also were so smooth that it was just so beautiful, and it gave the readers a lot of breathing room in between each chapters and scenes to process the events that happened. I also loved how the events had tapered towards the end so seamlessly that the story just ended with a very satisfying tone, for me.
Setting, atmosphere, and magic system
One of the best things about this book was the world-building and atmosphere done. I actually did not expect that this was going to be set in a modern time, especially since the story started in a very remote location with old customs, but the introduction of skyscrapers, ambulances, and communication towers had totally knocked my fantasy brain from perspective. While I love the picture of technology and the many warring nations in this world, the small mountain village of Takayubi sunk its massive claws on me immediately. There is a very heavy Japanese influence within this book, but there were also notable touches of other Asian countries’ cultures in the mix. It was just so easy for me to get into it because a lot of the language, items, and concepts used were based off from real life, but just got added with a bit of flair into it. There was just a lot of research and personal experience done and written that it achieved its goal to be as real as possible in any reader’s imagination.
The magic system obviously reminded so much of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The elemental magic showcased in this book had the similar vibes, and I couldn’t help but picture the moves they were doing like the ones done in the show. But of course, the author took her own spin into her own version of elemental magic that had great executions and drastic consequences. I also really appreciated how she didn’t just rely on the magical aspects, but also added the sword-fighting skills to make it even more engaging and awesome.
As this is a war story, the atmosphere played a huge part in it to be able to depict it correctly. While it isn’t exactly grimdark, the devastation and menace that happened was spread across the book, and you could deeply feel the hurt, anguish, fear, and hatred within the people – and not just the main characters. The author just did a splendid job of depicting the scenarios of both being in the middle of a warzone and the aftermaths of it. You will definitely feel pain, and lots of it. I don’t easily cry in books, but this one really did a number of me, and until now, the events that happened are constantly playing in a loop in my head. But the book was not just about pain, but it was also about love, hope, and forgiveness.
Characters and their developments
The author wrote her characters so amazingly that I got so attached to them immediately. Any character-driven story will quickly grab my attention, and the characterization done here is just a *chef’s kiss*. With Mamoru and Misaki’s POVs showcased, you can’t help but not feel for both characters, especially as they battled with both their internal and external struggles. Words can’t explain how much I love Mamoru and Misaki. Both had just amazing character arcs that it really blew me away to see it develop.
Family and friendship played a very huge role in this book, so a lot of relationship dynamics were seen here. I loved seeing the interaction (whether good or bad) between all the characters, and the author did a pretty great job with it. Everyone was just so flawed that it wasn’t so hard to connect with them and see the things from their perspective.
I may be part of the minority here, but I loved the character arc that happened to one particular character (you probably know who I am talking about). I get why some might not like it, but for me, I always did like a very problematic character who suddenly finds the wrong in their ways, and slowly tries to improve themselves. Key term is: slow. I never did like a person would immediately change afterward, but this particular character’s change is gradual and much more real, yet still flawed. It just shows much more improvement a person can make if just given the chance to.
I just love this book so much. So so much.
If you haven’t read this book yet, then WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
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.