The Sword of Kaigen is a perfect mix of fantasy, feminist fight, and family which is perfectly balanced on the snow of this East-Asian inspired world and follows a mother and her son down their own individual lanes but also focuses on their intersecting lives. From intricate setting descriptions to the essence of culture seeping through the pages, this masterpiece explores themes like carrying out your legacy in a war, fighting misogyny & patriarchy, and loving unexpectedly.
➝ Sum it up in points!
🌑East-Asian inspired military fantasy
☠War, community, and family tensions
❄Ice daggers & ice dragons
🌪Tornadoes and winds
📣Changing relationship dynamics
💭Very valid teenage thoughts
🙆So many emotions
➝ Trigger Warnings
⇾ mass destruction and death during the war
⇾ unannounced military attack
⇾ blood and killings while fighting
⇾ grief and depression
⇾ rape & societal unacceptance of an illegitimate child
⇾ misogyny and patriarchy
⇾ marriage without love; indifferent husband
⇾ political blindfold
The Sword of Kaigen is a high fantasy standalone revolving around a mother, father, and son; the reprised roles they have to play and yet, the surprising remolding they undergo.
A mother who has buried her past that involved playing a rightful assassin can no longer stay silent with a misogynistic husband, can no longer see her son being subjected to patriarchial obligations, can no longer stay away from the sword she loved holding once.
A young boy who needs to carry out his duty, needs to wield the family pride—The Whispering Blade—and needs to jump into the battlefield for that’s what everyone says he’s meant to do can can’t help but wonder about the Emperor, and question the media blindfolding a country.
A father who considers his family as just another responsibility he has to undertake, who allegiantly trusts the government that supports everyone around him, who stays indifferent to all feelings and emotions has to finally, metaphorically, break the ice.
Their individual stories are explored through the sudden attack of an enemy military on their grounds, alongside all the action that unfolds.
“Wholeness, she had learned, was not the absence of pain but the ability to hold it.”
Centered around a Chinese-Japanese inspired military war, the world-building sits perfectly with the intended visualization. From snow-covered mountains to cold winds, the descriptions take you right into this fictional world called Dunia. The houses pictured through words are authentic from a Japanese perspective, as is the frozen lake in the midst of the mountains. There are different clans or families living in this world—from warriors to blacksmiths—of which The Matsuda Family is at the topmost rank for their bravery, honor, and ability to wield the deadly Whispering Blade that holds the power to cut through bodies easily and protect the people of this Dunia.
“But if I learned one thing from Firebird, it’s that a person’s tragedy doesn’t define them or cancel all the good in their life.”
When The Sword of Kaigen promises a high fantasy ride, it isn’t bluffing. The magic system is essentially the power to manipulate water which involves controlling it in any state as well as converting it to any state. Deadly ice swords to fascinatingly terrifying ice dragons, the magic is strong. The genre doesn’t confine itself to magic, it dwells into implementing this magic on the basis of strength too.
The duels featured are mesmerizing with the offenses and defenses described; every action scene vibrates through the pages. The use of ruinous elemental magic to build stakes, trigger deaths, and pull readers right in the middle of that blood-drenched snow is commendable.
This book doesn’t shy away from the historicity and accurate cultural expectations of its readers. It promises an East-Asian representation and authentically delivers. From the names of the characters to the regional languages, The Sword of Kaigen will create a universe different from our world yet the same. Suffixes, prefixes, time, and locations were displayed in an honest manner that belonged to the culture depicted, along with a guide at the end of the book to help everyone grasp the narration with as much clarity as a reader with prior knowledge of this rep would.
“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 The writing not only brings the characters to life but also urges the reader to empathise with each and every one of them. The two main characters, and their perspective through which the story is narrated, are complex in terms of their own personality—which allows the plot devices to only strengthen their ideologies and enhance their individuality.
🤱Misaki: middle-aged mother of four sons, loves sword-fighting, assassin-turned-housewife, spent her school years outside the borders, understanding, tries to confine herself to societal norms; strong, brave and regretful; wife of Takeru.
🙅♂️Takeru: middle-aged member of the Matsuda family, excellent at sword-fighting and wielding The Whispering Blade, prefers to stay indifferent, faithful towards the Emperor and government, believes in fighting for the country and its people.
🏃Mamoru: fourteen-year-old son of Misaki and Takeru, first-born Matsuda of the new generation, brilliant student, burdened with the family legacy; values love and honour.
The side characters weren’t in the foreground, their dialogues, actions, and stories interlaced the main characters’ voices too. Whether it’s Setsuko and Hyori from Misaki’s present or Robin from Misaki’s past, or even Mamoru’s friend, Kwang, they all capture the reader’s attention with as much ease as the main characters do.
Overall, just read this book if you trust me even a little.
Digital Art – The Whispering Blade
Inspired by the Japanese high fantasy book—Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang—that introduces The Whispering Blade as a jijaka bloodline technique, unique to the Matsuda family, wherein the jijaka turns ice into a bladed weapon strong enough to use in combat against steel and glass weapons.
I loved the Matsuda family’s ability to turn water or snow into iced weapons and this just shows the reversal of it. A particular excerpt from the book sits well with this art and can give a great hint about the most deadly weapon in this Dunia: The Whispering Blade, so here’s a little something for you to read while studying this art.
“Yukino Izumi is one of the best swordsmen in the region,” Kenzou warned, in despair. “The sword he wields is one of mine the best I ever made. How do you expect to protect yourself with no weapon at all?”The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang
Takeru just smiled. “You many have given Yukino-dono a great sword, but the weapon you have given me is greater than metal. You have given me knowledge of the blade itself.” With that, the young Matsuda embraced his mentor and adoptive father and promised to return to him after the fight.
Yukino Izumi appeared the next day with the sword Kotetsu Kenzou had forged for him, the best weapon of its time, folded a thousand times, sharpened to cut through five men at a stroke. Yukino met Matsuda at the centre of the main square, in view of all of Takayubi…
Yukino unsheathed the great sword and the fight was over.
In a single stroke, Matsuda Takeru’s jiya sliced through Kotetsu-forged blade and Yukino’s body. The usurper was dead before he hit the ground, the first victim of the Whispering Blade.”
Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this via my participation in a blog tour but that, in no way, affects my rating and/or review. Thank you, Karina and ML Wang! This post contains affiliate links. Do not repost the art without credit.
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Title: The Sword of Kaigen
Author: M.L. Wang
Publisher: Independent Publishing
Release Date: February 19, 2019
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.
M. L. Wang was born in Wisconsin in 1992, decided she wanted to be an author at the age of nine, and never grew up. She got her Bachelor of Arts in history in 2015 and currently works at a martial arts school in her home city of Madison.
When she isn’t building worlds on the page, she builds them in her aquarium full of small, smart fish that love to explore castles and don’t make noise during writing time.