Better to die sharp in war than rust through a time of peace.
The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang
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.
Thank you to the author for providing me with a review copy for joining #TheSwordofKaigenBlogTour in exchange for an honest review.
I’d say that my experience in reading self-published books isn’t a lot. I only read two self-published books this year, well, three now, including this one. These three self-published titles are coming from different genres, hence the reason why it wouldn’t be fair for me to rank them. Not to mention that The Sword of Kaigen is also my first adult high fantasy book, a territory that I’ve never tasted before. However, it’s safe to say that my reading experience with this book was completely out of the world. I’m so invested in every mentioned aspect that it left a special mark in my heart. Since we’re almost reaching the end of the year, I guess it wouldn’t be a bold move from me to state that The Sword of Kaigen is my favorite 2019 release, thanks to Petrik and his recommendation to me for joining Karina’s #TheSwordofKaigenBlogTour.
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.
As I previously mentioned, this is my first attempt in reading adult high fantasy. I guess the main reason why I’ve been avoiding this genre for so long is the fear that I wouldn’t be able to fully grasp the wonderful, rich universe that the author has been created through many hard works, researches, and sacrifices. I understand that not every books are suitable for everyone, but if I’m confident that I’m the one to blame for not enjoying a certain story, then I’d opt-out rather than insist myself to keep reading and leaving a one-star rating at the end. Fortunately, I finally decided to give this intimidating genre a try by reading Wang’s incredible epic tale, because reading this book turns out to be one of the best reading experiences that I’ve ever had in my life. I had no expectation when I started reading this Japanese-inspired fantasy, let me tell you. Although many praises around this book allured me to get closer and closer like the tempt of the first sip of hot coffee on a cold day, I was more than aware that I’m getting myself into something that’s not just unfamiliar, but also completely new. And much like that first sip of hot coffee, it turns out to be better than I’ve ever imagined.
How can I describe the greatness of this masterpiece in words? The Sword of Kaigen was wonderful in every single aspect. The universe was highly-detailed and well-built, that even for someone as amateur as I am, it’s obvious that Wang spent a tremendous amount of effort and time in doing research to develop this universe and wrap it into a beautiful bundle of not just a story, but a vivid experience to deliver to her readers. The plot was intense, thrilling, and always over the edge no matter which chapters that you’re reading. The characters were remarkable and their growths, perspectives, and arcs were always exciting to follow. I wouldn’t call this as a fast-paced story, yet not for a single second I’ve ever thought that the story was dragging or too slow because even on those slower, calmer scenes, I was truly invested and enjoyed how everything unfolds, whether it’s a piece of historical information, a backstory of certain character or incident, or even a more relatable, daily conversational exchanges that involved side characters.
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.
And let me tell you a little bit more about this wonderful world of Kaiganese. It was a rich and very well-written universe where you’ll need to learn how everything works, even to the most basic thing. Yet, the gradual process of how Wang introduced us to this universe was spectacular. There was no information dump at all, and instead, Wang let us into her crafted world a little by little, pages by pages, and familiarize us with how things work in Planet Duna, from how the elemental magic works, not only on adults but also how it appeared on babies and toddlers, the origin of the strong houses, their inherited famous power and their secret weapon, to the history of unfortunate incidents and wars, everything was revealed marvelously. And although this is a work of fiction, there’s a sense of familiarity with today’s modernity and the real world that we’re living in. This time’s ambiguity was one of the aspects that attracted me the most. It was obvious that this story took place during an old era of Japan, yet there was a mention of modern techs like airplanes and cellphones. It’s similar to how a horror movie, It Follows (2014), delivered a confusing timeline by both showing us vintage home decors paired with an advanced e-reader tech, or how a person’s swimming at their backyard during a cold season. And sure, this comparison might be not the best that I could come up with, but the similarity between The Sword of Kaigen and It Follows lies on the creation its own alternate universe that yes, might unsettle you for a bit, but you can’t deny that it’s a genius move to reduce error and misinformation.
It had never properly occurred to her before that moment, but perhaps the thing she found most attractive in men had never been power. It had never been danger. It was bravery.
Lastly, how could I politely scream about these extraordinary characters? Started with Matsuda Mamoru who’s at the age of adolescence, was already beyond smart, observant, responsible, and yet still have a part that’s willing to receive the bitter truth about the world that he always thought he knew, although the process itself was definitely hard for him. And I was completely starstruck with a new favorite heroine of mine, Matsuda Misaki. Her fierce past mixed with her mournful current with an addition of her hopeful future was an outstanding character’s development. I was always excited to follow the storylines of every mentioned character in this book, but Misaki’s storyline was thoroughly standout and thrilling. Her closure with her past was also one of the moments that made me all emotional because although it was not perfect, it was there. She deserved so much more but a closure might be the one that she truly needed. Also, I couldn’t praise Wang enough for her excellent writing of such wide-range characters. From the innocent Mamoru to the complex Misaki, the cold Takeru and warm Takashi, and of course, the confident Setsuko and the gentle Hyori. I enjoyed the appearance of every single one of them. The fact that their existence contributed a lot to the growth of Mamoru and Misaki and not just for the sake of keeping the main characters accompanied, was another brilliant execution from Wang.
It was the teeth of winter. It was poetry. It was God in water.
The Sword of Kaigen is a story of loss and survival, an endless running from an inescapable past and an ache of finding the truth for unanswered questions. The solid worldbuilding combines with dirty political intrigue, with the addition of fighting scenes that you’ve never seen before, makes this book irresistible and too outstanding to be missed.
what’s the verdict?
about the author
M. L. Wang was born in Wisconsin in 1992, decided she wanted to be an author at the age of nine, and never grew up. She got her Bachelor of Arts in history in 2015 and currently works at a martial arts school in her home city of Madison.
When she isn’t building worlds on the page, she builds them in her aquarium full of small, smart fish that love to explore castles and don’t make noise during writing time.
Caitlin @ Caitlin Althea said: “The fight scenes in The Sword of Kaigen call to mind anime battles, and if you know anything about anime battles, you know they’re epic.”
El @ Papertea & Bookflowers said: “I loved the way M.L. Wang used history and the way it was taught in this story. I always love when political schemes and manipulation are woven into a story and here it was masterfully done.”
Petrik @ Novel Notions said: “In my list of brilliant and favorite self-published books, The Sword of Kaigen stands tall at the top of the mountain and I honestly have no idea when or if another self-published novel will steal its rightful spot.”
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Click here to read the introductory post on Karina’s blog and find out more exciting details about this tour! In the meantime, here’s the schedule for the tour:
fun quiz to try if you’ve read the sword of kaigen