The Sword of Kaigen: A Theonite War Story (the Theonite Series) Kindle Edition
|Length: 651 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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About the Author
- File size : 3808 KB
- Publication date : February 17, 2019
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 651 pages
- ASIN : B07MNWKF2M
- Language: : English
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- Page numbers source ISBN : 172019386X
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #14,994 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Again and again I found myself asking “why?” Why is this scene structured in this way? Why is this word here? Why is this conversation longer than three sentences? Does any of it pay off?
The author needs an editor (or a better one) badly before writing further. This work is half-baked, the writing underdeveloped, the purpose behind taking the pen to paper is buried deep or absent.
The reader invests their time in the work at their own peril.
The good: I couldn’t put the book down. The world building is really unique, and I enjoyed how much research the author had done about feudal Japan. I normally don’t read science fiction, so in that regard there’s not a lot of science fiction elements in the book, though it felt like there are activities across planets. I think about it now and wonder if it’s actually just one planet with varying peoples, but as I read it felt more like different planets. The author calls this high fantasy and it does have those elements in the magic and story building.
The main characters are well developed. You have three perspectives: Misaki, who gave up a life of crime fighting as a teenager to go back home and get married in a society like feudal Japan: Mamoru, her 14 year old son who made me use up way too much Kleenex; and her husband, Takeru, who treats her with coldness and aloofness.
Do not read this without a box of tissues. Be forewarned.
The fight scenes took my breath away. This book has some weird pacing in that the majority of the action takes place halfway in the story. Then you get smaller action sequences till the emotional climax at the end of the book. So to me there were two climaxes: the one in the middle during the major battle and then the one toward the end between Misaki and her husband. These were done very well. I could almost see the katanas flashing, and the character of Mamoru will stay with me for a long time. My first born son is very much like his character, bright, a thinker, and a good boy, so in that I think Mamoru was very well fleshed our. I also liked that Misaki’s three other sons, though 5 years old and below at the majority of the book, had varying personalities.
The magic system was well developed too, and I really enjoyed imagining a place of snow where people had powers descended from gods.
The not so great parts: the flashbacks to Misaki’s time at her school where she fought crime with two other students at night. This needed to be fleshed out. The amount of pining for her friend Robin Misaki does to the very end of the book really makes you think Robin is this pinnacle of man. She does a lot of telling: Robin is amazing, he wants to be like Batman (no really, there’s a lot of similarities to Batman’s maxim of “not killing” and being a symbol for the people). But you see him in action only twice, and then you see him as a man later when he visits Misaki at the end of the book. None of these give a full characterization of Robin, so his character feels flat and one dimensional, unless Misaki is expounding on all his good qualities. I was cringing whenever she had passages gushing about her crush.
The flashbacks themselves took me away from the world building of Kaigen. I found them distracting and skimmed a lot. I felt like they weren’t adding to the story that was building in Kaigen, and the story in Kaigen had me rooted to my kindle. The narrative is different too. The narrative in Kaigen is lyrical, whereas in Daybreak or wherever teenager Misaki was, was not written the same. Plus there were not enough in the flashbacks to make you really understand young Misaki. I think this suffers from a good editor, who could have made these two parts of the book more cohesive: young versus current Misaki.
I wanted to give this book 5 stars because of the story in Kaigen, but I took one star off because of the stories not in Kaigen and the side character of Robin, who I didn’t feel added to the story, or added enough to the story.
I will probably pick up the first book of the series, and am glad I stumbled on this book while browsing the other night.
Edit: After posting my review I found that the series is actually mainly about Daniel, Robin’s son who you meet as a toddler at the end of Sword of Kaigen. Now I want to knock a star from my review because the whole Robin/Firebird crime fighter parts of this book was so problematic for me. It didn’t feel organic, like it was trying too hard to be there. I’ll leave it at 4 stars in the strength of the story set in Kaigen. I’m now not sure if I’m picking up the first book of the series though.
The Sword of Kaigen has officially earned five stars from me for its amazing storyline and wonderful characters. This is one of those books that I couldn’t put down. I honestly thought nothing could live up to my love for The Poppy War but here we are. There are no words to describe how much I love The Sword of Kaigen but I shall attempt to!
My expectations for The Sword of Kaigen were surpassed the moment this fantasy tome fell into my lap. I first came across this book when I read Novel Notions’ review and coming off of my high of The Poppy War, I was quick to snatch up this book.
From the beginning, The Sword of Kaigen caught my attention. The storyline is set during a time when tradition and modernity technology existed though not quite closely. The region of our story is Kaigen where traditions run deep and bloodlines were revered. It is a small province that is home to reputable warrior houses and powerful theonites. Theonites are being who can manipulate either air, water, or fire similar to the characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender. The flow of magic in the book was beautifully described in such a way that it was vivid and almost realistic.
I adore the style of writing in fantasy wherein authors bring life to their magic system; wherein they describe how it feels to hold such power, the tolls it can even have on a person, and how it interacts with the non-magical elements.
The Sword of Kaigen was utterly addictive. I would describe the book as a quiet fantasy in spite of the war and the deadly propagandas because it delves deeply into its characters.
Matsuda Mamoru was internally conflicted regarding the propaganda his Empire was feeding its people. He was raised on the ideals of being a loyal warrior to his nation but when certain facts are brought up, Mamoru begins to question his beliefs. Mamoru’s development from blind loyalty to protector was a turning point for many characters in the book. I’d like to believe that Mamoru is someone we all could be – a person who is not only loyal to his people but a seeker of the truth. Although he, at first, denies the facts, Mamoru shows bravery began not when he fought the Rangenese, or when he stood up to his father, but when he began to let go of his pride and fully realize the dangers of propaganda.
Mamoru’s mother Misaki could ask for my heart and I would readily hand it to her. My heart broke and healed for this woman. To be honest, I was emotionally invested in Misaki. Misaki as a parent was protective, loving, and somehow afraid. She was afraid that she would not be enough for her children, that her violent past would ruin her children’s future. As a wife, she was obedient and quiet; her marriage to Takeru is a silent winter. Yet it is also one of the best redeeming arcs I’ve read. Misaki’s development was birthed from pain as well as love.
Another theme that The Sword of Kaigen brings to light is the cycle of abuse which we see in Takeru. Matsuda Takeru had endured abuse at the hands of his father to a point that his relationship with his wife is cold and distant. Their relationship withered and was neglected until the terror of war pushed them to face their failings. While I disliked Takeru in the beginning, his character redemption was very well written. Through him, M.L. Wang shows readers the long term effects of child abuse and its impact on the next generation.
The worldbuilding in The Sword of Kaigen is one I would definitely love to read more about. Technology like video games, wireless internet, televisions, and communication devices are a norm in the more developed provinces and exist along with the raw power of the magic systems. I also have to mention the friendships that The Sword of Kaigen portrays! This book is my favorite when it comes to fighting scenes for the details the author puts into each move, in fact, The Sword of Kaigen probably has my most favourite duel. My heart was in my throat the entire time I read that scene and it it was also a pivotal moment in the book.
I ached at the tragedy in this book but, oh my god, The Sword of Kaigen is amazing! It’s the kind of book that I want to shove into every fantasy reader’s hands. The Sword of Kaigen was memorable and as a writer, there were so many points I could take away from the book. Please, do pick up this book because it WILL hurt you but you will be the better for it.
Top reviews from other countries
I don’t mean this to invalidate self-publishing in any way, but if this novel doesn’t get picked up by a big SFF publisher like Orbit or Tor, I’ll be very, very surprised. This is such a good book. Shout out to Kaitlin @ Kitty G for bringing it to my attention.
In this Japanese-inspired fantasy novel, the community who live on the Sword of Kaigen, named because they are considered the country’s first defence should they be attacked by a rival nation, keep to the old ways. Technology is available in the bigger cities and is starting to creep into their own way of life, but this is a community where learning martial arts and marrying well amongst the wealthy, upper class families is still considered the norm.
Misaki is a somewhat unusual woman in that she has experience of the world outside of her own culture when she was at school, but after her schooling has settled into the expected role of wife and mother after she was married into the respected Matsuda family. Throughout The Sword of Kaigen we follow Misaki and the eldest of her four sons, Mamoru, as they try to strike the perfect balance between serving their family and being true to themselves.
For Mamoru his struggle is in his discovering that the Empire he’s been raised to serve might not value him and the warriors who’ve come before him as they should, while Misaki, a talented swordswoman in her own right, chafes against the confines of what’s expected of her as a woman.
This is such a difficult novel to review because it’s the kind of novel you need to experience. It’s intense and nail-biting and often absolutely heart-breaking, but the depth of research Wang has done for this book is clear from the very first page and her character work is exquisite. Mamoru is the sweetest of beans and Misaki is an absolute triumph of a character. She’s one of the best heroines I’ve ever encountered in fantasy, and one of the best mothers I’ve encountered in SFF since Essun in The Broken Earth trilogy.
On the surface The Sword of Kaigen is a military fantasy novel, but it’s so much more than that. There are a lot of fight scenes that go on for pages – I don’t think I’ve ever been so stressed while reading a book before in my life – but Wang also explores the horrors of war and the short and long-term impact it has on individuals and entire communities without any of her exploration being gratuitous. One character, for example, is the victim of sexual assault, but Wang handles the topic with great respect and dignity.
There’s also a fantastic female friendship in this book between Misaki, her sister-in-law and their shared friend, and their scenes together were some of my favourites to read. Women supporting women is something I love to see in all novels, but especially in novels like this which are set in a patriarchal society.
The only reason I knocked off half a star was because, for me, Misaki forgave her husband for his behaviour a little too easily. I can’t say anything else because that would be going into major spoiler territory but, while I do ultimately love how this novel ends, I’d have a few choice things to say to Takeru if I were Misaki. The moments when she does stand up to him are glorious, though. Misaki is the best.
If you read one Asian-inspired fantasy novel this year, make it this one.
I wasn't sure quite what to expect going in, because the blurb promised an interesting premise but left the details unclear (as usual), and at first I wasn't sure it would be for me . First, it isn't a traditional fantasy, rather set on a world with modern technology, just in a place where they don't use it - or need to - much (a place very much like feudal Japan). Second, it features powerful elemental magic a bit like Avatar, and I'm not really that into magic. When it opened with some younger characters going to school, I was honestly a little worried...
However, as soon as you meet Misaki, you get an idea what the heart of the story is about - and this story has a lot of heart. It starts a little slowly, but once things start to happen, it explodes, with some surprising and heart-rending twists along the way. More than the action, I was impressed with the way the author handled mature characters and themes - family, marriage, children, regrets, duty, etc. - and the clash of internal and external conflict. My only criticism would have been that it seemed at one point like the ending was going on too long, but the coda proved itself in the end.
I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for character-driven fantasy (with plenty of action).
The two main characters of the book are Misaki, the wife of the younger of the two Matsuda brothers, and her oldest son Mamoru. Mamoru is very powerful, just like his father Takeru. Takeru however is a very cold person, literally and figuratively. He doesn’t really show any emotions and he’s quite cruel to his wife and his children. He never really bothers with them and when he does it’s usually to berate them.
These jijakalu who can control water are not the only ones in the Duna world who have these kind of powers. Throughout the book we learn about other people that can control fire or wind. The powers all seem to be rooted in the elements which is something I really like. I loved the magic system and I thought it really cool how the most powerful of these theonites can manipulate the elements to the extent that they can form it into weapons. Specifically for the Matsudas this is the Whispering Blade. The Matsudas are the only family that has ever been able to produce the Whispering Blade and only certain members of the family have been able to. Both Takeru, Misaki’s husband and Mamoru’s father, and his brother Takashi are able to produce a flawless Whispering Blade. This is testament to their strength and power. The Whispering Blade is a very strong weapon as it’s almost indestructible. It can cut through everything and can be formed whenever needed by someone as skilled as Takeru or Takashi, making it a superior weapon on the battlefield.
Mamoru is still young but he is very ambitious and he is struggling to master the Whispering Blade because he sees it as the ultimate form of strength for a Matsuda. He wants to prove that he is worthy of the family name.
I thought the world building was vivid and the Japanese-like culture was beautifully brought to life in this new world. I love reading high fantasy books that are not set in the typical mediaeval European world. I was quite taken aback by the fact that the story for the most part feels like it was set in the past but it actually isn’t. It has very modern elements. I guess the reason it feels like this book is set in the past is because the village is so secluded up on the mountain and they are not really in contact with many modern day things. But suddenly there are mentions of a TV or a communication device which is quite jarring when you think that everything is set in the past. It kind of gives it a little bit of an edge because you have to adjust your view of the story setting, which gave a rather fascinating reading experience.
I enjoyed reading about both Misaki and Mamoru because they were both very strong characters. Misaki had to endure a lot in her life: she had to abandon her life as a warrior to become a housewife and have children with a husband she didn’t love. Her children remind her of her husband’s cold nature because they have the same cold aura of strength. She has trouble really connecting to her children because of this. As the story progresses there is a lot of character growth for Misaki but also for the other characters, a lot of them letting go of ideas and beliefs they have held on to for a long time opening up a whole new world and confronting them with their own faults.
It was quite interesting to read how devoted the warrior families in this village are to the Emperor. His wish is their command and anything that goes against the Emperor or the Empire is treasonous and strictly forbidden. It’s strange because these families have absolutely no contact with any aspect of the Empire or the Emperor, but still they are extremely loyal. It’s so deeply ingrained in their culture and has been passed down from generation to generation that it’s hard for them to imagine their Emperor could do anything wrong.
I also loved getting to know the Kotetsu family. They are not warriors but make the most amazing swords for the warrior families. I liked that they were quite revered as well because of their skills. The Matsuda children have to go and apprentice in the forges to learn what it takes to make a good blade. Their shared history and these apprenticeships create an almost unbreakable bond between the two families.
I really enjoyed reading about Misaki‘s past and then seeing that coming to the forefront later on in the book. It takes a while but ultimately we get to see her as she really is: fierce, strong and powerful. Finding her true self again came with quite a few revelations about how she had lead her life to that point, making her character development one of the best of this books and one of the best I’ve read in a long time.
There is a big chunk of the book where the action just suddenly takes off and throws you into this whirlwind of battle scenes and emotions. I was absolutely glued to the pages because I needed to know what would happen. I was on the edge of my seat for about 10 chapters straight and I can’t remember the last time that has happened to me.
It is however also quite heartbreaking. The story deals with the difficult topic of war and the casualties of war. It’s told in a really beautiful, but heart wrenching way.
The ending was very satisfactory and we get closure on most of the storylines, however it also introduces a new threat. The Sword of Kaigen is a standalone prequel that takes place 13 years before the main Theonite books, so that might explain the introduction of a new storyline. I’m curious to read those to see what story they tell and if my favourite characters make an appearance. Although the pacing dropped significantly in the last part of the book, providing more padding than actual story development, it didn’t negatively impact my love for this book. Highly recommend this to anyone who likes reading Asian-inspired epic fantasy.
*high-fives self and makes a mental note to reward self with a new book
The blurbs do a pretty good job of explaining the basic premise, so let’s not taint them with my ramblings, other than to say JAPANESE MILITARY FANTASY! JAW DROPPING ELEMENTAL MAGIC! DEVASTATING BATTLES! SCINTILLATING SWORD FIGHTS! Got your attention? Great! Now forget those things, because while all those things are present, there is another something which elevates this book to magical. That something else is the thing that many of us readers cannot do without, and it makes or breaks a book. Compelling characterization.
ML wang has written characters with such depth and humanity, that had the plot completely flown out of the window, I might not even have noticed, so engrossed was I. And there are a bevy to choose from. I mean, we have Mamoru! And Takeru! And Takashi! And Setsuko! And you have no idea who I am shouting about! Ok, let's backtrack slightly - the book takes us to a place called Takayabi whose inhabitants have for centuries been responsible for protecting their small corner of the Kaiganese empire from its enemies. While this is no small task, the warriors are exceptional - unrivalled in their fighting expertise and also wielders of deadly elemental magic, they are a force not to be trifled with. At the head of this village, stands the Matsudas, of whom Misaki and Mamoru Matsuda are the two main characters we follow. This noble house is well known for being without peers in terms of sword fighting, and their almost mythical bloodline technique called the Whispering Blade is a legend all on it’s own. As young Mamoru, son of Takeru & Misaki Matsuda grows up in this peaceful and isolated place, learning to fight and master The Whispering Blade, he tries to figure out his place in the world. Takayabi is steeped in lore and tradition, and there are very clear expectations of him. But his foundations are rocked to the core when he meets an outsider and the possibility comes to light that much of what he believes may be a lie.
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.”
The path Mamoru follows as he grows and learns is a joy to behold, and the way the author has written it is something else that elevates the story. Often times we are told to believe that characters have evolved from a to b, without having spent the time or effort validating the change for us readers, but here it is not the case, and character arcs are well thought out and believable. There is a particular character I loathed throughout. If you have read the book you are in no doubt as to whom I am referring. He inspired many a stabby thought. The word irredeemable might not be strong enough, and yet… I was shocked to be proven wrong. *slow clap The most significant example of the sublime characterization is reserved for Mamoru’s mother Misaki, the outright star of the show. She is a housewife, bound by tradition and duty to play the role she has been assigned. Obedient, subservient, loyal. She is so much more though. The ways she has grown from what we get to see of her in the past to present, the choices she has made. Misaki… is probably one of the best female characters I have ever had the pleasure to encounter on the page. To say nothing more may be a huge injustice to the complex characterization captured, but it is also a huge favour to you future reader, for I would prefer you to experience this masterful portrayal for yourself.
While the characters are the lifeblood of this story, that's not to say that this fascinating world Wang has built lacks for anything. I know almost nothing about Japanese culture, their way of life, as I have had little exposure to any of it apart from my love of martial arts, but this little microcosm of an age gone by mixed with a fantastical world is just another added element that helped to cast a spell on me. The only thing I struggled with slightly was learning all the unfamiliar foreign words used throughout the book. I did not realise that there was a handy glossary in the back until a friend mentioned it, and by that point I was a fair way through the book already. The glossary made it easier, but it was a mission going back and forth on the Kindle. I have since learned that there is a downloadable pdf on the author’s website, so rather grab that if you can. Eventually though, I did learn most of the words and and was able to read without worrying if I was missing something, adding just another level of immersion for the eastern setting. And even with the learning curve it felt like I had barely picked the book up before story had transported me, bringing that magical whoomph of a rush that you get when a story just whisks you away. You’re with me, right? One minute you're getting a feel for it, yes, this is fascinating and entertaining and how did we end up here, this is the ending, WHEN DID THIS GET SO AMAZING!?!?! Woah. Did ML WANG just get a new fan? Yes, yes she DID.
Lastly, it would be very remiss of me to forget to mention the explosive action sequences filled with exhilarating and creative elemental magic, the breathtaking duels and the cutthroat sword fighting that makes up much of the action packed second half of the book. And when the dust settles and the frantic drumbeat of your skewered heart wanes, the story eases you into a denouement that fittingly takes it’s time in assuring you of the final outcome, the future ahead and the power of empathy.
Take a bow dear author, for you are a storyteller, and The Sword of Kaigen is a tale, beautifully told.
On the good side, I agree with other reviewers that the action sequences are strong and create a vivid mental picture of the battles and sparring taking place. It's fast paced and keeps you engaged with the story.
But I felt like the author was taking some huge leaps of faith in expecting the reader to understand the story being told with regard to the world it takes place, its nations and its people. While I totally agree these should be shown, not told in lengthy exposition, I was still left feeling like things were sketched out roughly rather than really springing to life. And this wasn't helped by reading the other books in the Theonite series, either.
The characterisation was patchy too. At times it was great, but all too often the behaviour of the characters seemed to change a bit too much based on the demands of the plot.
All in all, a perfectly fine read, but I suspect in 10 years time I'll have completely forgotten about it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯