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The Sword of Kaigen: A Theonite War Story (the Theonite Series) Kindle Edition
"The Poppy War's darkness meets The Last Airbender's Elemental Magic... I haven't been so emotionally moved by a book in a long while." - JC Kang, USA Today Bestselling Author of The Dragon Songs Saga
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.
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?
A rich elemental magic system and deep world-building make this martial fantasy perfect for fans of R.F. Kuang, Brandon Sanderson, Leigh Bardugo, and Lian Hearn.
More praise for The Sword of Kaigen
"Complex societies and an unique magic system make The Sword of Kaigen an engaging work of high fantasy... compelling and rife with magic and heartbreak." - Foreword Clarion Review
"This companion novel to a YA series tells the story of a mother and son caught up in a shadow war... Wang's (Theonite: Orbit, 2017, etc.) novel mixes sci-fi technology with the martial arts lore of East Asia to create a fantasy realm that is intricate and original." - Kirkus Review
"Tonally reminiscent of Lian Hearn's bestselling Tales of the Otori saga... The Sword of Kaigen is an utterly readable novel and the perfect starting point for Wang's Theonite saga." - Blue Ink (starred review)
"The Sword of Kaigen is an excellent Japanese-inspired military fantasy in all its glory... Wang knows how to write catastrophic elemental magic and implement extraordinary heart-hammering scenes very effectively. If you love The Poppy War, shonen anime/manga, or elemental magic battles--Avatar: The Last Airbender for example--you seriously have to read this book. Ice magic, wind magic, blood manipulation, and terrific duels... Honestly, sometimes it even felt like I was reading Brandon Sanderson's magical battles and that's pretty much one of the biggest praises I can ever give to any high fantasy author." - Petrik Leo, Novel Notions
BOOKS by M. L. WANG
Theonite Book I: Planet Adyn
Theonite Book II: Orbit
Theonite Book III: City of Ghosts - Coming 2019!
The Sword of Kaigen (A Theonite War Story)
- ASIN : B07MNWKF2M
- Language : English
- File size : 3833 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 651 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN : 172019386X
- Best Sellers Rank: 8,104 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from Australia
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Wang takes a whispering blade and aims it straight at my heart in this completely engrossing tale. For an unputdownable story, I actually had to put it down a few times to catch my breath – and dry my eyes.
Everything about this book is excellent. Like the world in which they reside, the characters are complex, intriguing, and diverse. Each one adding a thread to the unique tapestry that makes Sword of Kaigen so compelling.
The prose is wonderful – loaded with quotable passages. Foreign words are used quite extensively, but the context makes the plot, and purpose, fairly easy to comprehend and follow – there is also an extensive glossary and character list to assist in that area.
Highly emotional and action-packed–the fight scenes are amazingly well choreographed and detailed–this sweeping tale will appeal to a huge audience. I love it.
In its heart, The Sword of Kaigen tells a story about the titular peninsula, where clans of warrior have been guarding the peninsula from foreign invasion for generations. After decades of peace the invasion is looming yet again, and this time, the ripples of the dark past it brings may break the families apart.
Delivered with crazy elemental magic action and musings about the natures of water, this book is a complete package of delight and melancholy, war and peace, lies and honesty, and family and duty.
Anywho, that's a ramble. I loved the blend of different Asian cultures in this book. It's brilliant. I can't wait to read more of this world and see how it's developed and what's been done with it.
I'm writing on my phone, so won't talk for long. I'd recommend this book for fans of Jane Fonda's The Green Bone Saga for the blend of old and new, Will Wights Cradle and the other power fantasy stories for the adrenaline action scenes, and KS Villoso's works for the perspective of older characters.
And potentially fans of Jackson Bennetts The Divine Cities. They don't feel much the same, but thematically they share a bit.
Wow...this was a wonderful read. At its heart, It’s an in-depth character study of war and violence, and the consequences of both on families and communities. The character work in this book is stunning and the world building rich and detailed. If you like Japanese-themed fantasy that is largely character driven I think you’ll love this book
I liked the idea of the setting, and the magical abilities of the characters, and even some of the relevations that are made during the events of the book. I'd love to see a sequel that explores the politics of why certain things happened, and why.
I'm uncertain if I'll read the other two books in the series though, as I'm given to understand the characters from this book are not in the next two.
All in all, I liked it.
Top reviews from other countries
I don’t mean this to invalidate self-publishing in any way, but if this novel doesn’t get picked up by a big SFF publisher like Orbit or Tor, I’ll be very, very surprised. This is such a good book. Shout out to Kaitlin @ Kitty G for bringing it to my attention.
In this Japanese-inspired fantasy novel, the community who live on the Sword of Kaigen, named because they are considered the country’s first defence should they be attacked by a rival nation, keep to the old ways. Technology is available in the bigger cities and is starting to creep into their own way of life, but this is a community where learning martial arts and marrying well amongst the wealthy, upper class families is still considered the norm.
Misaki is a somewhat unusual woman in that she has experience of the world outside of her own culture when she was at school, but after her schooling has settled into the expected role of wife and mother after she was married into the respected Matsuda family. Throughout The Sword of Kaigen we follow Misaki and the eldest of her four sons, Mamoru, as they try to strike the perfect balance between serving their family and being true to themselves.
For Mamoru his struggle is in his discovering that the Empire he’s been raised to serve might not value him and the warriors who’ve come before him as they should, while Misaki, a talented swordswoman in her own right, chafes against the confines of what’s expected of her as a woman.
This is such a difficult novel to review because it’s the kind of novel you need to experience. It’s intense and nail-biting and often absolutely heart-breaking, but the depth of research Wang has done for this book is clear from the very first page and her character work is exquisite. Mamoru is the sweetest of beans and Misaki is an absolute triumph of a character. She’s one of the best heroines I’ve ever encountered in fantasy, and one of the best mothers I’ve encountered in SFF since Essun in The Broken Earth trilogy.
On the surface The Sword of Kaigen is a military fantasy novel, but it’s so much more than that. There are a lot of fight scenes that go on for pages – I don’t think I’ve ever been so stressed while reading a book before in my life – but Wang also explores the horrors of war and the short and long-term impact it has on individuals and entire communities without any of her exploration being gratuitous. One character, for example, is the victim of sexual assault, but Wang handles the topic with great respect and dignity.
There’s also a fantastic female friendship in this book between Misaki, her sister-in-law and their shared friend, and their scenes together were some of my favourites to read. Women supporting women is something I love to see in all novels, but especially in novels like this which are set in a patriarchal society.
The only reason I knocked off half a star was because, for me, Misaki forgave her husband for his behaviour a little too easily. I can’t say anything else because that would be going into major spoiler territory but, while I do ultimately love how this novel ends, I’d have a few choice things to say to Takeru if I were Misaki. The moments when she does stand up to him are glorious, though. Misaki is the best.
If you read one Asian-inspired fantasy novel this year, make it this one.
I wasn't sure quite what to expect going in, because the blurb promised an interesting premise but left the details unclear (as usual), and at first I wasn't sure it would be for me . First, it isn't a traditional fantasy, rather set on a world with modern technology, just in a place where they don't use it - or need to - much (a place very much like feudal Japan). Second, it features powerful elemental magic a bit like Avatar, and I'm not really that into magic. When it opened with some younger characters going to school, I was honestly a little worried...
However, as soon as you meet Misaki, you get an idea what the heart of the story is about - and this story has a lot of heart. It starts a little slowly, but once things start to happen, it explodes, with some surprising and heart-rending twists along the way. More than the action, I was impressed with the way the author handled mature characters and themes - family, marriage, children, regrets, duty, etc. - and the clash of internal and external conflict. My only criticism would have been that it seemed at one point like the ending was going on too long, but the coda proved itself in the end.
I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for character-driven fantasy (with plenty of action).
The two main characters of the book are Misaki, the wife of the younger of the two Matsuda brothers, and her oldest son Mamoru. Mamoru is very powerful, just like his father Takeru. Takeru however is a very cold person, literally and figuratively. He doesn’t really show any emotions and he’s quite cruel to his wife and his children. He never really bothers with them and when he does it’s usually to berate them.
These jijakalu who can control water are not the only ones in the Duna world who have these kind of powers. Throughout the book we learn about other people that can control fire or wind. The powers all seem to be rooted in the elements which is something I really like. I loved the magic system and I thought it really cool how the most powerful of these theonites can manipulate the elements to the extent that they can form it into weapons. Specifically for the Matsudas this is the Whispering Blade. The Matsudas are the only family that has ever been able to produce the Whispering Blade and only certain members of the family have been able to. Both Takeru, Misaki’s husband and Mamoru’s father, and his brother Takashi are able to produce a flawless Whispering Blade. This is testament to their strength and power. The Whispering Blade is a very strong weapon as it’s almost indestructible. It can cut through everything and can be formed whenever needed by someone as skilled as Takeru or Takashi, making it a superior weapon on the battlefield.
Mamoru is still young but he is very ambitious and he is struggling to master the Whispering Blade because he sees it as the ultimate form of strength for a Matsuda. He wants to prove that he is worthy of the family name.
I thought the world building was vivid and the Japanese-like culture was beautifully brought to life in this new world. I love reading high fantasy books that are not set in the typical mediaeval European world. I was quite taken aback by the fact that the story for the most part feels like it was set in the past but it actually isn’t. It has very modern elements. I guess the reason it feels like this book is set in the past is because the village is so secluded up on the mountain and they are not really in contact with many modern day things. But suddenly there are mentions of a TV or a communication device which is quite jarring when you think that everything is set in the past. It kind of gives it a little bit of an edge because you have to adjust your view of the story setting, which gave a rather fascinating reading experience.
I enjoyed reading about both Misaki and Mamoru because they were both very strong characters. Misaki had to endure a lot in her life: she had to abandon her life as a warrior to become a housewife and have children with a husband she didn’t love. Her children remind her of her husband’s cold nature because they have the same cold aura of strength. She has trouble really connecting to her children because of this. As the story progresses there is a lot of character growth for Misaki but also for the other characters, a lot of them letting go of ideas and beliefs they have held on to for a long time opening up a whole new world and confronting them with their own faults.
It was quite interesting to read how devoted the warrior families in this village are to the Emperor. His wish is their command and anything that goes against the Emperor or the Empire is treasonous and strictly forbidden. It’s strange because these families have absolutely no contact with any aspect of the Empire or the Emperor, but still they are extremely loyal. It’s so deeply ingrained in their culture and has been passed down from generation to generation that it’s hard for them to imagine their Emperor could do anything wrong.
I also loved getting to know the Kotetsu family. They are not warriors but make the most amazing swords for the warrior families. I liked that they were quite revered as well because of their skills. The Matsuda children have to go and apprentice in the forges to learn what it takes to make a good blade. Their shared history and these apprenticeships create an almost unbreakable bond between the two families.
I really enjoyed reading about Misaki‘s past and then seeing that coming to the forefront later on in the book. It takes a while but ultimately we get to see her as she really is: fierce, strong and powerful. Finding her true self again came with quite a few revelations about how she had lead her life to that point, making her character development one of the best of this books and one of the best I’ve read in a long time.
There is a big chunk of the book where the action just suddenly takes off and throws you into this whirlwind of battle scenes and emotions. I was absolutely glued to the pages because I needed to know what would happen. I was on the edge of my seat for about 10 chapters straight and I can’t remember the last time that has happened to me.
It is however also quite heartbreaking. The story deals with the difficult topic of war and the casualties of war. It’s told in a really beautiful, but heart wrenching way.
The ending was very satisfactory and we get closure on most of the storylines, however it also introduces a new threat. The Sword of Kaigen is a standalone prequel that takes place 13 years before the main Theonite books, so that might explain the introduction of a new storyline. I’m curious to read those to see what story they tell and if my favourite characters make an appearance. Although the pacing dropped significantly in the last part of the book, providing more padding than actual story development, it didn’t negatively impact my love for this book. Highly recommend this to anyone who likes reading Asian-inspired epic fantasy.
*high-fives self and makes a mental note to reward self with a new book
The blurbs do a pretty good job of explaining the basic premise, so let’s not taint them with my ramblings, other than to say JAPANESE MILITARY FANTASY! JAW DROPPING ELEMENTAL MAGIC! DEVASTATING BATTLES! SCINTILLATING SWORD FIGHTS! Got your attention? Great! Now forget those things, because while all those things are present, there is another something which elevates this book to magical. That something else is the thing that many of us readers cannot do without, and it makes or breaks a book. Compelling characterization.
ML wang has written characters with such depth and humanity, that had the plot completely flown out of the window, I might not even have noticed, so engrossed was I. And there are a bevy to choose from. I mean, we have Mamoru! And Takeru! And Takashi! And Setsuko! And you have no idea who I am shouting about! Ok, let's backtrack slightly - the book takes us to a place called Takayabi whose inhabitants have for centuries been responsible for protecting their small corner of the Kaiganese empire from its enemies. While this is no small task, the warriors are exceptional - unrivalled in their fighting expertise and also wielders of deadly elemental magic, they are a force not to be trifled with. At the head of this village, stands the Matsudas, of whom Misaki and Mamoru Matsuda are the two main characters we follow. This noble house is well known for being without peers in terms of sword fighting, and their almost mythical bloodline technique called the Whispering Blade is a legend all on it’s own. As young Mamoru, son of Takeru & Misaki Matsuda grows up in this peaceful and isolated place, learning to fight and master The Whispering Blade, he tries to figure out his place in the world. Takayabi is steeped in lore and tradition, and there are very clear expectations of him. But his foundations are rocked to the core when he meets an outsider and the possibility comes to light that much of what he believes may be a lie.
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.”
The path Mamoru follows as he grows and learns is a joy to behold, and the way the author has written it is something else that elevates the story. Often times we are told to believe that characters have evolved from a to b, without having spent the time or effort validating the change for us readers, but here it is not the case, and character arcs are well thought out and believable. There is a particular character I loathed throughout. If you have read the book you are in no doubt as to whom I am referring. He inspired many a stabby thought. The word irredeemable might not be strong enough, and yet… I was shocked to be proven wrong. *slow clap The most significant example of the sublime characterization is reserved for Mamoru’s mother Misaki, the outright star of the show. She is a housewife, bound by tradition and duty to play the role she has been assigned. Obedient, subservient, loyal. She is so much more though. The ways she has grown from what we get to see of her in the past to present, the choices she has made. Misaki… is probably one of the best female characters I have ever had the pleasure to encounter on the page. To say nothing more may be a huge injustice to the complex characterization captured, but it is also a huge favour to you future reader, for I would prefer you to experience this masterful portrayal for yourself.
While the characters are the lifeblood of this story, that's not to say that this fascinating world Wang has built lacks for anything. I know almost nothing about Japanese culture, their way of life, as I have had little exposure to any of it apart from my love of martial arts, but this little microcosm of an age gone by mixed with a fantastical world is just another added element that helped to cast a spell on me. The only thing I struggled with slightly was learning all the unfamiliar foreign words used throughout the book. I did not realise that there was a handy glossary in the back until a friend mentioned it, and by that point I was a fair way through the book already. The glossary made it easier, but it was a mission going back and forth on the Kindle. I have since learned that there is a downloadable pdf on the author’s website, so rather grab that if you can. Eventually though, I did learn most of the words and and was able to read without worrying if I was missing something, adding just another level of immersion for the eastern setting. And even with the learning curve it felt like I had barely picked the book up before story had transported me, bringing that magical whoomph of a rush that you get when a story just whisks you away. You’re with me, right? One minute you're getting a feel for it, yes, this is fascinating and entertaining and how did we end up here, this is the ending, WHEN DID THIS GET SO AMAZING!?!?! Woah. Did ML WANG just get a new fan? Yes, yes she DID.
Lastly, it would be very remiss of me to forget to mention the explosive action sequences filled with exhilarating and creative elemental magic, the breathtaking duels and the cutthroat sword fighting that makes up much of the action packed second half of the book. And when the dust settles and the frantic drumbeat of your skewered heart wanes, the story eases you into a denouement that fittingly takes it’s time in assuring you of the final outcome, the future ahead and the power of empathy.
Take a bow dear author, for you are a storyteller, and The Sword of Kaigen is a tale, beautifully told.
While there are a quite a few action sequences, which are all well written and exciting, it is the overarching storyline and the characterisation that I found to be totally engaging through out.
One scene that stood out for me was when a mother found the body of her son after a battle, it was so powerfully written that the anguish and the horror were palpable.
While not being a fast paced action packed story, thought it does have it's moments, I found myself totally enthralled and wanting to keep reading and would recommend it to anyone who wants something out of the ordinary.