The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang

The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang
The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang. This edition Wraithmarked Creative, 2023

I’ve got to admit, when I first sat down to read this book, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It had been sitting in my to-read pile for a few years, and I knew from reading a few reviews and the blurbs of the other Theonite books (now discontinued) that it wasn’t just another Japanese-inspired fantasy, but beyond that I hadn’t allowed any real expectations to develop. In effect, I went in blind, and I am so glad I did.

The core story revolves around the Matsuda family, a warrior house famed for their control of water and for their legendary Whispering Blade technique that allows them to form swords made of ice that are said to be stronger and sharper than any other known weapon. For the most part the narrative focuses on Misaki, wife to the second son of the family, and her oldest son Mamoru, as they try to come to terms with the world changing around them and adapt to the growing storm of war approaching their otherwise quiet little peninsula. However, there is also a secondary storyline that explores the wider setting of the Kaigenese Empire, and its relationship with its closest neighbours.

Stylistically, the book seems to have been influenced by a mix of manga and anime, with a dash of Eastern (particularly Japanese) heroic fantasy thrown in for good measure, and for me this is a good thing. The action sequences are well-written, easy enough to follow, and capture the essence of those influences really well. But there’s also some remarkably well-paced plot growth and character development that gently pulls the reader forward, building in intensity through to the mid-point of the novel, and the first of two crescendos in the story.

Without giving away any spoilers, the second half of the novel shows us how the characters deal with the aftermath of certain cataclysmic events, and here we see the true strength of Wang’s writing as those characters are irrevocably changed by what has gone before. And it really is the characters that make this book so captivating.

As well as the beautifully written and realised characters, there’s also a lot of gorgeous world building going on here. The principle locale of the Kusanagi Peninsula is described so well that it’s easy to picture it in your mind as you read. Add to that the imaginative and well-thought-out magic systems presented throughout, and you soon feel like what you’re reading is just a small part of a much bigger whole.

All-in-all, I absolutely adored this book and will almost certainly have a look at other works by the author. The series that this one was spun out of has been discontinued in the last few years, but she has a few other books out there that look interesting.

If you’ve read and enjoyed Ron J Hayes’ Mortal Techniques books, or just like Japanese-inspired fantasy in general, definitely give this one a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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