Review: The Sword of Kaigen

Posted: March 24, 2021 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: M.L. Wang, Fantasy, Heroic Fantasy, The Great Self-published Fantasy Blog-off
The Sword of Kaigen

Golly-gee willikers, I really miss being part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. 🙂 🙁 Every time I see the now annual contest come round, I think to myself, “Maybe this year…”, but then I decide to stop lying to myself. The fact of the matter is that, these days, we just don’t have the staff to participate and still keep up any kind of regular reviews for traditionally published books. So, as much as I’d love to dive back into the trenches with our book-review bretheren and sisteren, I’ve come to some kind of peace (Perhaps even, a troubled one? Sorry. Bad time for a pun…) with the way the chips have landed here. Still, this doesn’t preclude my ability to, at the very least, pick up the winner for each year, and see what rose to the top of the pile. Which leaves us with a single glaring omission…

THE SWORD OF KAIGEN was the winner from 2019 and somewhere along my meandering path through life I came across a post announcing that the kindle version was going for a ridiculously paltry sum. The book is an interesting one. It looks as though the inspiration driving its inception came from the back story of another couple of books (the youngster at school type) that the author had previously self-published and has since discontinued. So, yes, it’s a stand-alone story (at least for now), but the world this tale fills has been around for some time.

The story focuses upon the lives of two individuals:

Mamoru is a 14 year-old boy living on the Kusanagi peninsula, where his family–the Matsudas–and several others uphold the honor of protecting the Kaigenese Empire. Theirs is a sacred calling. Although it has been a significant period of times since they’ve been called upon to fight for their Emperor, they are ever vigilant and look forward to the day when they will again remind their enemies why they have been deemed “The Sword of Kaigen”.

Misaki is Mamoru’s mother. She grew up far from her current home, and has lived a life that is very contrary to the strict, traditional lifestyle she’s led since marrying into the Matsuda legacy. She has fulfilled her role and wife and mother since making her wedding vows, and avoided her aggressive and violent past, but it seems as if forces are brewing that will force her to once again take up a sword.

First, let’s talk about the good. There’s some really great writing in this book. Character is well-presented. Setting is solidified early. It has a very traditional Japanese feel to it, and that impression was driven home on nearly every single page of the book. The magic of the world, or at least of the Matsudas and those surrounding them, revolve around the ability to coalesce water into ice for their purposes. The highest form of this ice-magic is the creation of an ice sword that is so strong that it can cut through steel. Mamoru spends his days in school, learning not only the lessons his Emperor would have him learn, but also how to wield ice as a deadly weapon. Contrastingly, his mother is busy raising Mamoru’s brothers.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read another fantasy novel that focused quite so completely on the child-rearing duties of being a mother. In some respects, it was refreshing, and in others, the mundanity of it all (meaning non-fantastical–by no means am I calling child-rearing boring) was a bit of a turn off. Add that to the fact that I’m typically wary of seeing multiple POV characters interacting with one another. This because, so often, it turns out that the second POV just doesn’t add anything to the story of interest by being there. (I read another book recently where this was the case. Look for a review on it soon.) In this case, however, the story told by each of the POV *was* distinct and absolutely ended up adding significantly to the story, for which I was grateful. This predominantly was the case because of just how great the individual characterizations of Mamoru and Misaki were.

And then things took a sharp left turn, and I was left completely confused for a while.

This happened when the next chapter in the lineup was told from the perspective of a young Misaki, living in a far-away city, and fighting crime with a few of her friends. Each of those friends have their own magic to wield (including Misaki) and suddenly this very well-defined, well-plotted tale about Mamoru learning to fill an important role within his very traditional family turned into something that felt more like a rip-roaring superhero novel as it bounced across the rooftops of a foreign city.

It quickly became apparent to me that this book didn’t know what it wanted to be, and that idea was reiterated to me over and over again as I progressed through the read. There are three *very* different books here that have, for all intents and purposes, been smashed into one, and I think it suffers because of that fact. There’s the story about Mamoru being in school and learning how to honor his family’s legacy. There’s the story about Misaki being a young vigilante, but learning to find her place in the world as she grows up. And there’s the story of the Matsuda family and how each of those within it deals with the events that transpire in the book. Individually, they all could be great stories, but all mashed together like this, it feels very disjointed. Despite this fact, I still came away from the read with a pretty positive impression of it all. Really, what this story needed was a single thing:

FOCUS.

With loads of potential and an intimate sense of storytelling, THE SWORD OF KAIGEN's simple failure is a lack of focus.

In addition to the two POV characters I’ve mentioned, there is a single chapter (I believe) where Mamoru’s father, Takeru, gets some POV time, and it is during this handful of pages that the climax of the book occurs. And it’s a doooooozie. Such great story. Just whoa. I can’t help but wonder what the story would have been like had the POVs come from Misaki and Takeru alone, and related how they each handled this tale. Not to throw shade on Mamoru’s portion though. No sir-ee. I just think that *this* portion of the story could have really nailed it out of the park if it had been told all on its own.

I can totally see why the SPFBO reviewers loved this book. There’s some really great stuff here. Given the portions of this one that really did a great job of pushing my story-lovin buttons, I hope we see some more of her stuff in the near future.

  • Recommended Age: 16+ for violence, sexual and otherwise
  • Language: Very little, if any
  • Violence: Blood and violence from swords and war
  • Sex: A few references, and a scene of rape

Comments

  • Lu says:

    I loved this one but I agree it tried to pack too much in a single volume. Given that M.L. has abandoned her Theonite series, The Sword Of Kaigen almost begs to be slightly rewritten. Without some bits (Misaki’s adventurous past and guests from the past near the end) it would be almost perfect standalone book! I loved it nonetheless for the emotional impact it had on me. Thanks for the review. I see you’ve reviewed almost all SPFBO finalists. Out of curiosity – have you tried Orconomics (2018 finalist)?

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