Time for a preamble. I heard about this book earlier this year when a blogger I follow (that’s you, Petrik) claimed it was not only the best self published book he’d ever read, but also the best stand alone he’d ever read. This was high praise indeed so I snapped up a paperback and stuck it on my TBR shelf along with many other books. For a long time it was nestled between Poppy War and Sins of Empire… neither of which I’ve gotten around to reading yet because I read so damned slow. Anyways, a few other trusted bloggers reviewed it and gave their glowing opinions. Then it was entered into the SPFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog Off) and I immediately thought “This one is a contender for the finals for sure”. Last month I decided it was finally time to pick it up and give it a read…
I say this next bit despite my own horse in the race. The Sword of Kaigen will win this year’s SPFBO.
We’ll start this review proper with a little comparison. The Sword of Kaigen is Avatar the Last Airbender meets Robin Hobb. Sounds a bit strange on the surface, but it really does fit. The world ML Wang has created is a place where there are nations around the world each with their own affinity for an element, and their own powers to control those elements. Delving a bit deeper, certain families within each nation have specific and powerful bloodline powers. As an example, the Matsuda family are water theonites and their bloodline ability is the power to create a whispering blade; a blade of ice that can cut through anything. For those of you who like a bit of anime, you can likely already see a few similarities to a certain ninja story.
Talking about the world… it’s large and well-realised. This is a dense book, full of lore and world building, but it never sticks out even when you’re being bombarded by words you don’t know. Some of it is Japanese (I think…) and some of it is made up terms for the world. It never feels out of place or left me wandering what was going on. You get a real sense that the story we’re following is only a small part of the world, and fairly minor in the grand schemes of things. There’s a lot happening, a lot of important world changing events, but the story is character focused.
As for the characters. They are varied and so well presented. For the most part we follow Misaki. She’s a middle aged woman with an exciting past, who has forced herself into a very traditional housewife role. And if your heart doesn’t break for her, it may just be made of whispering blade ice (sorry, had to be done). We also follow Mamoru, Misaki’s son, and a powerful theonite who is thrust into understanding of the wider world, and struggles to come to terms with it. The supporting cast are just as strong and there’s not a one that doesn’t feel like a fully realised character with their own story to tell.
ML Wang manages to inject so much emotion into the pages and the character’s plights. Just like with Robin Hobb’s works, I found my heart strings thoroughly pulled, and I was really rooting for the characters. I felt their highs, their lows, and their turmoil.
So that’s a lot of gushing. I should probably think of something negative to say, right? … … I got nothing. Honestly, I loved reading this book cover to cover.
5 stars and it painstakingly earned every single one of them.