Ahoy there me mateys! This book has been on me list ever since it was featured in the SPFBO #5 in 2019. It was the book that sounded the most interesting to me from that year’s list and then it won the contest. Well I just found the time (and mood) to pick it up and raced through it in two days. It was a perfect fit.
The main reason I wanted to read it was because one of the characters is a 34 year old mother, Misaki, who put her sword fighting behind her to marry and have children. She tries to focus on being a good housewife but when war comes to Kaigen she chooses to defend her family and reflect on her past. Between the older mother protagonist that I never really see used as heroes in fantasy and the Asian inspired setting, I was sold.
Now by the time I got around to reading this book, I didn’t recall the blurb and I mistakenly thought the book was all about the mom. Not so. The book actually starts out following Mamoru, Misaki’s fourteen year old son. It didn’t matter because I was immediately drawn into the story. Mamoru belongs to the Matsuda clan whose family trains with swords but can also fight with ice. He believes in the Empire and its teachings but life is disrupted when a new outsider comes to the school. But the story quickly spirals from there.
I can’t really do this story justice. For a book over 500 pages, the time flew by and I was completely immersed. The novel starts out as a tale of two school boys and morphs into a larger story of familial relationships, personal growth, and survival. The magic was lovely. The world building was excellent. But the characters were exquisite.
The majority of the book is told through two perspectives – Mamoru and his mother. Seriously this was fascinating. Mamoru is the stereotypical teenage prodigy who just needs to tighten his magic control so he can save the world. And then suddenly he isn’t stereotypical anymore. He is a human fighting with himself and his understanding of the world. He struggles in spite of his powers. Nothing I thought about his character proves true in the long run. His personal growth was amazing to watch. He is wonderful.
But the highlight is Masaki. Everything about her character is engaging. Ye meet her and are confused at first. She is nothing that I could have expected. In fact her path is the story is never straight forward and never anticipated. It was stunning. She has become one of me all time favourite characters ever. She is complex and confusing and compelling. And kickass. I can’t explain her satisfactorily but love her.
This book made me cry and celebrate and contemplate. The secondary characters are lovely, the plot turns are unexpected, and the conclusion was perfect. The author’s ability to have the people evolve and change was just awe-inspiring. This book is so nuanced and layered and yet flowed so well. It is seemingly simple at times only to leave ye stunned by another revelation that seemingly comes out of nowhere but really was delicately being drawn out the whole time. I was satisfied and drained and still wanted more.
This book was described as a standalone. I was sad. I went to see what else the author had written only to find out there is a series set in this world. Only to find out that the author decided to abandon the series because “. . . my writing has changed so much since then that those drafts [books one and two] are no longer usable and I’ve realized that, as an adult writer, I lack the skills to make the series what it should be.” words in italics are mine. Dang I respect that. I will take the author at her word, not read those Theonite books, and wait patiently for whatever she writes next. Because I am in love. Arrrr!
Goodreads’ website has this to say about the novel:
A mother struggling to repress her violent past,
A son struggling to grasp his violent future,
A father blind to the danger that threatens them all.
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?
High 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.
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