The Sword of Kaigen is the first book I’ve read by this author, and certainly won’t be the last. I had a wide range of feelings and thoughts when I first started reading. What I’ll do for review purposes is start off with what I had (minor) complaints about before I get into the massive amounts of positive things. But first things first.
You can’t read this book thinking it’s about a progressive story, with a typical 5 act structure. The book centers around one battle that takes place about halfway through, and on two characters and how they respond. It took me a bit to get used to this concept. Typically I’m drawn to books that take you multiple different directions with the plot lines, and have some happenings that lead up to the plot climax. This is not that. So, when I finally understood this, I enjoyed the story much better. I’m sure this was purposeful on the author’s part (since this story takes place in a world she already created) so the book, from what I understand, is kind of a prequel type of story. This actually isn’t a complaint as much as a side note to how you should approach reading this book.
A couple things that I had to get used to. There is a LOT of concepts, terms, and language that is new. There is a glossary, which is helpful, but it was so pervasive that at least twice a paragraph I was having to go back to reference what was being said and talked about. For readers familiar with the author’s other works, this probably won’t be as much of a problem. But for me, it was almost too much. I nearly put the book down. I’m SO glad I didn’t. On the one hand, this lends to really being deep in the world, because of course the characters will know exactly what is going on. But there were other sections of the book that were info dumps (helpful in some cases) but I wish there had been a tad bit more of this so I had a better idea of what was going on without having to constantly be referencing the glossary (which is more difficult when reading an eBook, which I was.) Again, all that to say, stick with it. You won’t be disappointed.
Now, on to the good stuff. For me, there were three things that make this writer a stand-out. The book focuses on two characters, for the most part. Mamoru and his mother, Misaki. However, their stories don’t intersect that much until a good bit into the story. This isn’t a problem, though, because it’s actually a very clever worldbuilding element. You right away get the sense that family relationships are VERY different, but without being directly told this is so. That’s my first rave about this author: the worldbuilding is incredible. You immediately get tossed into a fantastic, unique world and story.
Secondly, the characters are multi-layered, unique, and far from predictable. Initially, I REALLY disliked Misaki, because her flaws seemed to far outweigh the good things about her. But then it hit me: this was absolutely intentional and vital to the story itself. Because not only is Misaki an incredibly unique and relateable character, it gradually comes out that this self-view she has is not accurate. And where it IS accurate, it only reveals the brokenness of her story and of the world itself, making her one of the most real, understandable, and fascinating characters I’ve ever read in any book. Ever. And I read A LOT.
Mamoru is also a very well-done character. It was hard at first to get into his story, since initially he comes across as just like every other coming-of-age teenager I’ve read. However, his character arc takes such a great turn that I finally grasped the scope of what the author was trying to accomplish, and was totally blown away. It finally struck me that this is more a story about the characters than the plot itself. And the story was so well crafted that I can’t even complain about it.
Lastly, the themes of this book were deep and so well done that you get the feeling the author is some multi-bestselling genius. Topics such as relationships in marriage, parenting, sexism, patriarchy, self-worth, and a host of others left me in awe. This story hits a hard punch to the gut in all the best ways. I can’t remember the last time I got choked up so many times reading a novel. It’s not just current and raw, it rips your heart up and then heals it.
A HUGE 5 stars. Wish I could leave more than that. This book isn’t even a risk. It’s a guaranteed enjoyable, emotional experience.