I am so incredibly thankful to have made some wonderful book friends, and to be able to blog with those friends about the books we read. Whether we love the book or hate it, we’re going to share our opinions with each other. Often we polish up our opinion and make it as tactful as possible before sharing it with the world through our reviews, but behind the scenes we get to share exactly how we feel with each other, no matter how raw our viewpoint. Because of these backstage experiences, I know when a book truly blows one of my friends away, what book makes them struggle for words strong enough to express the love they have for it. The Sword of Kaigen is one of the best examples of this, and not one but three of my co-bloggers absolutely adored it with their entire being, so much so that they had trouble finding the words. I can’t think of a stronger endorsement than that. And I’m thrilled that their love for this book is now one more thing that we share.
“Better to die sharp in war than rust through a time of peace.”
Because my friends love this book so much, I have to admit that I approached it with trepidation. My interested was piqued by the setting, so radically different that the medieval Europe-esque setting of so many fantasy novels. The Sword of Kaigen’s setting more closely resembles Japan, and blended tradition and modernity in a way I’ve rarely experienced. The magic system has been compared to that of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and that is a solid comparison; however, there was a freshness to the utilization that made the magic feel original. I love the implications of fire and ice and wind being both a part of everyday life and also weaponized for battle.
“Most strong things are rigid. If you are water, you can shift to fit any mold and freeze yourself strong. You can be strong in any shape. You can be anything.”
This was a slow burn for me. When I first started reading, I had a bit of trouble keeping all of the units of measurement straight, especially those related to time. That being said, I really appreciated the fact that Wang didn’t use measurements I was familiar with because, once I caught on, these inclusions helped me immerse myself in the story. Also, climactic scenes happened when I least expected them, which was a fun change of pace.
“Power was born into a person and lived in the wordless depths of their soul. The strength of a bloodline wasn’t something you sang about; it was something the holder knew and others witnessed.”
I don’t want to really get into the plot of the characters, because this is a hard book to discuss without inadvertently spoiling something. However, I’m going to make one exception and talk about Misaki, who is one of the most complex, well developed, unique heroines I can remember encountering. Misaki is not a young woman. She is the mother of four, and wife to the second son of a very traditional noble family. When she married, she buried her past and tried to lose herself in motherhood, but was never able to connect as deeply as she expected. When unforeseen dangers threaten her way of life, Misaki has to decide if she’ll retain the role she’s been given or let herself reclaim her true identity. I was blown away by Wang’s characterization of Misaki, and the deftness with which she wove together motherhood and the other aspects of Misaki we gradually discover. Wang never lets us forget that Misaki is not the same person she was as a teen, either mentally or physically, and I was insanely impressed by how well-balanced she was written. I truly empathized with her internal struggle, and with her feelings of worthlessness. She was tangible to me.
“Wholeness, she had learned, was not the absence of pain but the ability to hold it.”
There is one chapter in particular that was one of the most heartbreaking, epic, brutal, joyful things I’ve ever read. I actually went back and read the entire chapter over again, which just isn’t something I ever do. There was more character development for a secondary character in the span of this chapter’s scant few pages than some main characters are given over the course of multiple books in a series. It was absolutely incredible. I cried. And got chills. And frantically texted Petrik and TS and Haïfa. I’ve never read anything else quite like it.
“Let’s be older when we meet again… Not just in years. Let’s be better, and wiser, and brighter next time.”
Another thing I have to point out is that The Sword of Kaigen is a standalone, which is such a rarity in the fantasy genre. It’s also Wang’s first novel outside of the YA genre. If you haven’t noticed by this point, I was absurdly impressed. I couldn’t have loved this book more. I think that anime fans are really the target audience here, but I think this is a book that would surprise and enthrall just about anyone who picks it up. However, do be aware that this book is unapologetically brutal. I had to take a break after multiple chapters because I emotionally couldn’t handle any more. But it was so worth it. The Sword of Kaigen will cut your heart to the quick. And even when you’re reading through tears, you’ll never wonder if it’s worth the pain.