Page Count: 650
Release Date: February 19th, 2019
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It!
Misaki used to be a warrior, but she put all that behind her when she accepted her family’s expectations that she would enter into an arranged marriage with the powerful Matsuda family. Fifteen years later, she’s got four sons, but no real sense of purpose, a husband who ignores her, a society that believes women belong quietly in the home and nowhere near weapons. But when war comes to Misaki’s small village, she’ll find herself picking up the sword once more in a desperate bid to defend her home from being utterly annihilated.
THE SWORD OF KAIGEN is the kind of book that manages to pack a ton of emotion and action into a tale about a very small corner of the world. The title actually refers to the area Misaki’s village is in, a cold, coastal, mountainous region known for some of the most famed warriors in the Empire, who have defended against invading armies with honor for generations. Both the cover and the initial introduction to the world of Kaigen gave the impression this was a very “old-school” kind of fantasy, so I was surprised when a new family arrived at the village with a child who had an “info-com” device. Turns out, Kaigen is a very sheltered region that is so removed from the rest of the world that they have fallen out of step with modern times. Kaigen holds tradition above all else, and their rigid insistence on how the world should be, and that it hasn’t changed, is in danger of leading to their downfall. It was fascinating and heartbreaking watching this society come to the realization that perhaps they weren’t the unbreakable defense they’d spent their whole lives believing in.
I really enjoyed the magic system of THE SWORD OF KAIGEN as well. I’ve seen some comparisons to AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER as it is a very elemental based system. The Kaigen warriors are able to control water, while other rival nations control fire or air. This connection isn’t just a fighting style, it’s core to how these people perceive the world around them, and each kind of elemental warrior has different physiological characteristics. (I particularly enjoyed a throwaway line about a child with water abilities being in charge of putting out a fire baby if he happened to spontaneously combust, as those with fire abilities are wont to do at a young age.) This system helps really establish how much of a connection the Kaigen villagers have with their home, because many of them literally can feel the water throughout the land.
THE SWORD OF KAIGEN also has some wonderful character work, with one caveat. I truly enjoyed watching Mamoru, Misaki’s 14-year-old son who is coming to the abrupt realization that the world is quite a bit bigger than Kaigen, and that the adults he believes in don’t always have the answers. Misaki herself, on the other hand, was a little hit or miss, and that might be on me. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the ruthless, outspoken woman we see in Misaki’s flashbacks to her days in the big city, to the one who demurely accepts an arranged marriage to a man she’s never met and who sits quietly and let’s men talk down to her. It just didn’t ring true, but perhaps I’m not coming from the right experience to understand that kind of filial piety. That said, when Misaki finally cracks and starts demanding respect, it is GLORIOUS.
The other thing I bumped on was the very last chapter, which seemed a bit disconnected from the rest of the book. Upon further research, I suspect this chapter was supposed to bridge THE SWORD OF KAIGEN with a series the author wrote before this book, which didn’t feel necessary to me. For the most part, this is a standalone book, and to introduce story threads at the eleventh hour felt strange.
THE SWORD OF KAIGEN is as much about the shattering of naïve world views as it is a war story. And really, that’s what THE SWORD OF KAIGEN is, a war story. This isn’t a daring escapade, it’s about one community facing destruction and devastation they never anticipated. Weighty, yes, but also an engrossing read.