Book Review: The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang
I've seen this book popping up a lot over the last year and have heard nothing but good things about it. That combined with the fact that it was heavily inspired by Japanese culture pushed me to pick it up, and I'm so glad I did. This is easily one of the best books I've read this year and one I will be shouting about from the rooftops hoping other people will pick it up as well.
The book's subtitle of "A Theonite War Story" is appropriate, but maybe not in the way you might think. It is a war story, but instead of focusing on the war itself, the story hones in on a single family and the impacts that war has on them and their relationships with each other. Which is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to tell a high-stakes war story - by focusing in on the individuals it affects. The ramifications of their societal values and family dynamics are explored at every level in a way that turns every conflict, big and small, into an emotional gut-punch. This is a book you'll want to read with a box of tissues handy. The effects of war are explored in a devastatingly powerful way throughout the story, and the author did a good job of handling that material with care and sensitivity.
Our two major POV characters here are a mother and her son. We are first introduced to Mamoru, a boy who has a lot of the same strength and power as his father but who is still learning to control his magic and build his skills as a warrior. His mother is Misaki, a smart and strong woman who has hidden away huge parts of herself to take on her role as a wife and mother in Kaigenese society. I loved both of them, but I thought the exploration of Misaki's character was handled especially well. You don't often see mothers in starring roles in speculative fiction, and as a mother myself, I really appreciated that representation. Other characters were also very well developed and had distinctive personalities and motivation. Misaki's husband Takeru is more of an antagonist for much of the book, but he was so well-written and well-developed that I appreciated the nuance in his character even while I hated him for some of the choices he made and the damage he did to those around him.
I originally got this as an eBook but decided to listen to the audiobook instead, and the audiobook narration is really good. I enjoyed it and found myself wanting to listen every chance I could get. This book has already gotten quite a bit of hype for an indie book, but I still hope it gets more. I really, really want more people to read this, and I'll be adding it to my Recommended Indie Reads page to help spread the word. If you're looking for other great indie SFF books, pop on over and browse the list. There are some real hidden gems on there.