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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.

Goodreads synopsis

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Sword of Kaigen Book Review

The Sword of Kaigen came highly recommended from several book friends, on Twitter, and I am glad I picked it up.

The Sword of Kaigen is a self-published book, written my M.L Wang, who won Mark Lawrence’s 5th Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO). For further context, The Sword of Kaigen currently has 2,058 ratings on Goodreads, with an average rating of 4.47. That is a solid amount of user ratings, which gives you an idea of how good this book is.

So, for the review!

The Sword of Kaigen is a standalone novel; a prequel to M.L Wang’s Theonite series. I read a lot of books which are a part of a series, so it was a changed of pace to read a standalone novel. Sometimes, I read a standalone fantasy novel and think, this should have been two books, because I want to know more about the world, things are undiscovered or unexplained. That is not the case with The Sword of Kaigen. Would I love a follow up book with the same characters? Sure! The book is great! But was I left feeling underwhelmed, like something was missing or unexplained? Absolutely not. This book has everything.

The story is Japanese inspired and really on point in this regard. You have those in the villages—The Swords of Kaigen—who lead traditional lives. They are unaware of much of what is going on in the world. Live absent of modern technologies, are devout subjects of the emperor, defenders of the empire willing to throw down their lives in service—this is the purpose of the men raised as warriors.

“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.”

The story is focussed on the Matsuda family, which is headed by Takashi—the eldest son. However, it is the family of second son, Takeru, on which the story is built. Takeru is married to Misaki and they have four sons. There is the eldest, Matsuda, and his three brothers who are very young, far too young to be warriors.

Mamoru and Misaki provide the two main POVs. Each is incredibly well-written. The are deep characters who evolve throughout the story. For Matsuda, it is as if he grows, his character is built upon as he matures and learns and faces truths. Conversely, with Misaki, it is more like layers are peeled away to reveal who she is. She is somewhat hidden early in the book, including to her family, but reading as those layers peel away is a joy. There is a point in the book, several in fact, where I was like “Go Misaki!”. I love her. She is such a great character. One of the best I have ever read. I do not want to give away any spoilers, so I will not. But I will say, there is a part in the book where she is involved in an epic fight (you will know it when you get there) and that is when the final layer if truly peeled.

“I’ve never needed a sword to protect you—to raise you the way your father wanted. Caring for my family meant putting away the fighter, so I did.”

As for Takeru, I really did not like him. I liked his brother. He is very traditional regarding him being the head of the house, Misaki being a woman who should know her place and look after the kids etc. There is no emotion. It is understandable, given the traditional way of life, but his attitude still really annoyed me. His brother, Takashi, was not like that. He loved his wife and daughter. Also, because I really like Misaki and Mamoru, it made Takeru even more of a bad guy. I did not understand him. I could not see things from his point of view. This is not a negative though. You really do come to understand him later in the story. He makes sense. I forgave him. I recognised he had his own demons to deal with too.

“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.”

I am not going to go through all the great characters as I would be here all day writing and you probably would not read the entire review. What I will say is that every character is extremely well-written.

You may be wondering how these traditional people, with swords, are powerful in a more modern world. Well, this is where a lot of the fantasy aspect comes in. Different cultures and bloodlines have various abilities. For the Matsuda family, actually all families in the area, they can control water particles. Form ice into weapons and walls and all manor of inventive ways. Others control fire, wind or blood. The Matsuda family though, are the only ones who can form a Whispering Blade: a blade made of ice, with its edge being a single atom thick. The Whispering Blade can cut through anything, even the strongest materials. Not to mention they are also excellent swordsmen, and when Takashi and Takeru join forces they are extremely powerful. This power among certain families is maintain by keeping bloodlines pure (arranging marriages).

I am not sure what else I can touch on without giving away any spoilers, so I will leave it here.

This is a book you must read though! The Sword of Kaigen is often ridiculously cheap on Amazon, 99p for the Kindle version (at the time of writing) and is available on Kindle Unlimited. Also, if you love audiobooks, it is coming on September 1st, 2020.

“She evaded and drove her hairpin into the side of his neck, burying the hair ornament all the way up to the flowery bauble at the end. He choked, blood spattering from his mouth, and clawed at his throat.”

I would also recommend checking out M.L Wang’s website. If you sign up to her newsletter you get free fiction. In my welcome email I was given links to:

  • Theonite: Planet Adyn (complete novel)
  • Wing of Yamma (short story)
  • Bottleneck of Dreams (short story)
  • Chapter One of Seven Forsaken, which is now up to THREE free chapters

Here is the info from M.L Wang on Seven Forsaken:

An ongoing serial from the world of Altima

This serial, started in July of 2020, follows a shape-shifting monk-turned-mercenary across a distant future Earth. A new chapter will be released to this mailing list every month. Just be sure to check your inbox!