The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang is a Japanese inspired military fantasy novel. I haven’t read the author’s previous works but The Sword of Kaigen did very well as a standalone. I was quite surprised at how absorbed I was during my reading. The lure of a YA novel was unappealing to me and so what got me interested is the setting and military inspired theme. Suffice it to say, this in my mind was equivalent to thrusting a YA type character with very little life experience into an adult-like, harsh and grimy world that doesn’t take to kind to weaknesses. This type of theme I can definitely get behind on and I was not disappointed in the end. In fact, I can hardly call this novel YA at all after having finished it. T
The moon and the ocean fear no change.
In the beginning we follow along in a setting similar to the olden Japanese days of feudalism where tradition and honor were two of the most important rules of life. Women were expected to obey their husband and their only job is to cook and become baby making machines. Their opinions were often times not heeded and were considered to be even rude and disrespectful. The Matsuda family is just that type of family in their remote village high up in the mountain. What becomes interesting is we eventually learn that the world has moved on while the Matsuda’s and their village have not. Their one and only goal for hundreds of years is to be the first and foremost defense for their empire against the invaders.
The story borrows themes in which many of us are familiar with such as totalitarian rule, dictatorship, conspiracies, stereotypes, government coverup/misinformation, etc. There are also elements of fantasy in that special breeds of people like the Matsuda clan can yield the power of ice and water to form special swords in battle as well as alternating their current surroundings. While I wasn’t too interested in this part, it did make for more exciting battle scenes. The book seems to have been broken up into three major parts where we first get the calming introduction, then a large middle section is dedicated to the action sequences and finally, it returns back to the calm setting towards the end.
“…listening never made any man dumber, but it’s made a lot of people smarter.” – Misaki
I had wanted the author to expand more on the mythologies and customs of people in other places. Misaki’s flashback session didn’t exactly make for an exciting read and thought it could have been shortened just a bit in length or use up those pages to do more world building. The Sword of Kaigen is beautiful story from start to finish. It’s about love, sorrow, hardship, happiness, regret, honor and one’s sense of duty to their empire in a seemingly disconnected world. Generations past have done the same and so breaking away from tradition isn’t all that easy to do without sacrifices.