It is with great pleasure and a fully broken heart that I present to you my experience reading The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang. Complex, brutal, unforgiving, and down right mesmerizing is how I walked away from this masterpiece with my head held high for the future of the fantasy genre. M.L. Wang has accomplished something in one standalone novel that a lot of authors couldn’t fit into a trilogy. The story will resonate with you for days upon completion with the brutality and shock of warfare will not wither from the depths of my mind.
The story takes place 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 as is the blood technique of the legendary Matsuda family. We follow two characters throughout this story: fourteen year old Mamoru and her mother Misaki. Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. When Mamoru learns of the lies and deception his empire has spread through propaganda, he is morally distraught with defending his country in the face of the enemy. Misaki hopes to have left her passions of youth behind when she marries into the Matsuda family. Sheltered away as a housewife and mother, she has placed her sword and all reminisce of her youth as a fighter to the side in order to raise her family. With an impending invasion looming, Misaki feels the fighter rising back to the surface once more.
Let me say right off the bat that this story will not work for everyone. This story tells the real hardships and brutal realities of war. If you are faint of heart, you may want to turn back now. Another aspect to the story which you will not see in other epic fantasy novels is the inclusion of technology. The society and characters resemble that of Feudal Japan but with the modern technology of: airplanes, cell towers, roads, and hospitals. To be honest, if I hadn’t read Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson earlier this year, I would not have enjoyed this novel nearly as much as I did. The choice to include technology into an epic fantasy story is a risky proposition and comes down to the execution and skills of the writer. M.L Wang weaves her technology into the story brilliantly and it adds complexity and depth to the world in more ways than I can ever imagine. Words can’t describe how amazing the world-building in The Sword of Kaigen is so you will have to experience it for yourself.
Misaki is by far the shinning star of this book. We follow her through two timelines: the past and the present. In the past, we see the warrior she is and the difficult choices she had to make for her family and their honor. In the present, we see Misaki as a mother and wife in emotional and psychological pain. Pushed into the corner due to her female status with no say over the raising of her children. When she suffers through two miscarriage’s and her honor and duty are put into question, you can’t help but feel for her and the abuse she has endured for years. When the war arrives at Misaki’s doorstep, the warrior will be unleashed once again on the world.
No doubt many readers have heard of The Sword of Kaigen and its many accolades is some form of another. If after reading this review you are still on the fence about it, take the jump to the other side where the grass is greener and the emotions bursting at the scene. M.L. Wang may have been a relative unknown before writing this novel, but she has now propelled herself to the top of my reading list from this day forth. Whether rain, shine, sleet, fog, or hail I will be there to sing the praise of this masterpiece until the end of time. Don’t let the gates of time pass you by and be a prisoner to the moment where you pick up The Sword of Kaigen and scream, “That was bloody brilliant”!
History is told by the victors and the history of The Sword of Kaigen will forever be written as a resounding victory for the fantasy genre and M.L Wang. Witness this masterpiece and be proud that you did!