Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book


The Sword of Kaigen

Rate this book
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.


First published January 1, 2018

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

M.L. Wang

8 books1,632 followers
Hi, I'm M. L. Wang, writer of sci-fi & fantasy, winner of Mark Lawrence's 5th Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO).

I'm rarely on Goodreads, so if you need to get in touch, please see the contact page of my website: https://mlwangbooks.com/contact/

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
9,969 (60%)
4 stars
4,691 (28%)
3 stars
1,314 (7%)
2 stars
336 (2%)
1 star
144 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,627 reviews
Profile Image for Petrik.
688 reviews46.1k followers
December 4, 2022
I have a Booktube channel now! Subscribe here!

ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

5 stars from start to finish for this exceptional Japanese-inspired military fantasy standalone. As of this moment, The Sword of Kaigen has become not only one of the four best self-published books I’ve ever read, but also my personal number one favorite self-published book.

This is one of those books where I just want to write “Please buy it and read it. It’s fucking amazing!” as my entire review. This book came out of nowhere and it totally stole my heart. If you’ve been following my reviewing progress, then you probably know that I like to keep and show my personal stats and facts on books I’ve read and reviewed. So here it goes. After The Mirror’s Truth by Michael R. Fletcher, We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson, and Never Die by Rob J. Hayes, The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang is currently the fourth self-published book that I’ve rated with a full 5 stars. I honestly didn’t expect to love this book that much but I was madly engrossed by every page. Trust me, you’ll want to pre-order this book right now. I already did, it’s only $0.99 at the moment on Amazon for god sake! (More info on the amazing bonuses that come with the pre-order at the bottom of this review.)

The Sword of Kaigen is M.L. Wang’s first high fantasy book, a standalone companion prequel to her Theonite series, and this was absolutely incredible. It’s an Eastern Asian (mostly Japanese) inspired military fantasy and I loved this book deeply from cover to cover. The official blurb on Goodreads and Amazon did a great job explaining the premise of the book without spoiling anything, so please feel free to check there if you want to know more. Let’s begin with what I loved about this book. I’ll start by saying that I seriously flipped (or swiped) through this book insanely fast. The Sword of Kaigen is brimming with seductive pacing and it was truly unputdownable. Every moment I wasn’t reading it, I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen next. From deadly propaganda, to non-stop escalating tensions, to superb character developments, Wang did a fantastic job in making sure that every chapter has something important happening. No pages were wasted; the book was utterly tension-packed and contained a very endearing cast.

“A life of dangerous adventures might seem worth it now, when you are young and seemingly invincible, but one day, you will have children, and you will not want that life for them.”

I’m serious here. I’ve said countless times before that I prioritize characterizations over everything, and a crystal clear talent for characterizations was displayed from the first chapter. The two main characters, Mamoru and Misaki, were extremely well-written; but what amazed me further was how in-depth the characterizations were for EVERY character in this book. The characters were flawed, and none of them stayed the same as they were at the beginning of the story.

Picture: Mamoru by Tara Spruit (@taratjah)

Mamoru’s development in the face of the harsh revelation regarding everything he believed was astounding. Reading about his growth, struggle, and determination in living up to his name (Mamoru is Japanese for ‘protect’) was something I immensely enjoyed. But as much as I loved Mamoru, I have to give my biggest praises to Wang on her stunning achievement in writing Misaki.

Picture: Misaki by Tara Spruit (@taratjah)

The natural and gradual development in her characterization and relationship with her family compelled me to be heavily invested in her storyline. She has become one of my favorite heroines in fantasy and I was also thoroughly impressed by the awesome and wholesome female friendship nurtured in this book. The characters in this novel taught me the meaning of facing hardships together, and how crucial family, friendship, love, adulthood, and parenthood are in the face of disaster. These and the terror of war were the main themes of the book and they were expertly delivered to the reader with finesse.

“I’ve never needed a sword to protect you—to raise you the way your father wanted. Caring for my family meant putting away the fighter, so I did.”

The world-building was intricately crafted; the clothing, honorifics, attitudes, older Japanese customs, and the languages used were all spot-on. I found the world-building and setting to be quite unique. It’s more like an alternate Earth that’s imbued with high fantasy elements than a totally new world. Planes and technologies were in the book, the languages that the characters used were literally Japanese and Mandarin in our world. I may be wrong here, but the name of the Planet, Duna, may have come from the Indonesian word for ‘planet’: Dunia. This book also serves really well as a rival to The Poppy War with a bit of the foundation of the world-building done from the opposite side. In The Poppy War, the Nikara Empire (Chinese) was invaded by the Federation of Mugen (Japanese) and the main character there employed fire magic. In The Sword of Kaigen, the Kaigenese Empire (Japanese) was invaded by the Ranganese (Chinese) and the main character here used water/ice magic. As a Chinese person who devours Japanese culture and media on a daily basis, I’m totally satisfied by the evident amount of research Wang has done for her world-building, and I thank her for it.

To say that this book was thrilling is an understatement. I’m not joking. The Sword of Kaigen is one of the most intense books I’ve ever read. I gritted my teeth, I clenched my fist, and I was constantly breathless. 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; without writing skills of a certain caliber, the battles in this book could’ve been really frantic and too hard to follow. However, that wasn’t the case with this novel because Wang’s prose was easy and delightful to read. Her prose may not be poetic but it is vivid, simple, and flows without any obstruction.

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. Wang provided not only one but two climax sequences in The Sword of Kaigen; the first one began at approximately 35% and the second one at 75% mark of the book. I can say with temerity that both of them were stupendous in quality. Showing the raw and violent power of the magic systems, the calamity that appeared when the bloodline of the gods clashed was bloody destructive. I need to also mention that the book features one of the most memorable duels I’ve ever read in a fantasy novel. Not only was the duel itself magnificent in execution, but it was also so emotionally impactful that it formed unforgettably vivid images in my head. The Sword of Kaigen is a war story, a brutally pulse-pounding one. The great characterizations enhanced the sense of danger and impending loss the characters felt during and after the war. Bad things happened to good people and you WILL feel their palpable pain and tragedy. The piercing blade of ice will stab at your empathy, white snow will turn crimson, the summoning of the Whispering Blade will break your heart, and you will beg for more because you won’t able to stop reading the book until you’ve reached the satisfying conclusion.

“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.”

The Sword of Kaigen is an excellent Japanese-inspired military fantasy in all its glory. Written with words sharpened to fatal edges that cuts straight to the heart with merciless precision; full of colossal frigid blasts that freeze its suspenseful familial drama and outstanding action scenes into the reader’s memory; emotionally demonstrating the terrifying truth of the atrocity of a devastating war that left incurable scars to the fictional characters who have become real to me. All of these components combined to make this book my first 5—and 6—stars read of the year. I’m only five days into January at the time of writing this review and I already know that this superlative book will not only be in my ‘best books of the year’ list by the end of the year, but will also be listed as one of the best books I’ve ever read. In my list of brilliant and favorite self-published books, The Sword of Kaigen stands tall at the top of the mountain and I honestly have no idea when or if another self-published novel will steal its rightful spot. Without any shred of doubt, this was a phenomenal read and I will recommend this glistening jewel of a novel to every adult fantasy reader from now on. If you’re a fan of The Poppy War, read it. If you’re a fan of military fantasy, read it. If you’re a fan of high fantasy, read it!

Sidenote regarding Pre-Order bonus:
This pre-order currently is priced at $0.99 and ALL entrants (worldwide) who pre-order will receive cool bonus swag. Details here: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog...

Official release date: 19th February 2019

You can pre-order the book from: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository (Free shipping)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
Profile Image for chai ♡.
322 reviews156k followers
January 16, 2023
It is a perpetual pleasure to finally find a book you can give yourself up to, a book you can curl inside and let the rest of the world flow around you. And it is always an agony to have to uncurl yourself and return to the real world, feeling abruptly unmoored, like a sleepwalker awakened mid-dream wondering what exactly they’d been doing.

First, a brief summary.

The Kusanagi Peninsula bred warriors, and not just any warriors, but the fiercest that ever were. Years of defending the Kaigenese Empire against its foreign enemies earned the province the nickname “the Sword of Kaigen” and enshrined it as deeply as any truth whispered to the gods before an altar.

14-year-old Matsuda Mamoru wants to claim his legacy as the son of the most eminent warrior family in the Kusanagi Peninsula, but it comes with too high a price. Mamoru’s friendship with Kwang Chul-hee, a new transfer student at the elite Kumono Academy, has forced him to confront uncomfortable truths about the government and the insidious lies they circulate to justify bleeding great gouts of Kaigenese men in never-ending wars so those in power could pull the world’s riches to themselves like spiders in the center of a golden web. Lost and conflicted, Matsuda turns to his mother, Misaki, for answers. Misaki had once been a warrior herself, walking side by side with death, before giving it all up to seek some mute purgatory where she could live as the wife to the distant and hard-hearted Matsuda Takeru. Determined to leave the past behind, she could only offer her son halting truths. But when an attack sends her family careening alone into the fearful darkness, it is as if someone had removed a fuse in her mind: Misaki will protect her family and she will not count the cost.

It’s difficult to talk about this book through my fierce admiration for the author’s achievement in it. The Sword of Kaigen is a massive book. From the outset, the sheer volume of backstory provided amounts to literary whiplash: the world of potent gods, undaunted warriors and horrific monsters is brimming with detail. In a lesser author's hands, this could easily become potboiler, but Wang plots with the meticulous deliberation of a piano tuner. She keeps the dialogue slashing, the prose detailed yet concise, and the action so enthralling my heart often flied out ahead of me. Add in the persistent sensation of dread throughout—that sickening suspicion of where the story might be headed that I didn't want to even think lest that would make it true—and you’ve got a page-turner in the true sense. I literally could not stop turning pages.

The Sword of Kaigen has some of the most vivid and cleverly choreographed action sequences that I have ever read, keeping me on the literal edge of my seat most of the time. But some of the book’s most memorable moments occur in stillness, when the author will drop scalpel-sharp insights, striking, with the precision of a well-sent arrow, at so much of what ails not only her fictional world but also most areas all over the world today. (”What sort of a man closed his eyes to the world and called it clarity”) The true monsters of The Sword of Kaigen are, after all, eerily familiar: propaganda, disparity, militarism, and the ways countries can both liberate and dehumanize.

The characters, however, make the book. Crafting a multi-voiced novel can trip up even the most seasoned of authors, but Wang makes it look effortless. Wang is exceptionally good at flipping the reader’s perceptions and offering unexpected moments of clarity. As the plot tightens, the characters begin to tell us who they really are. Too often, it is as if we have always seen them from one angle, and now that they have turned, rotated, we are confronted with another facet. The fact, for example, that the author had me feverishly rooting for characters I spent the majority of the novel hating with a Casanovian passion says enough.

Misaki, in particular, is an exquisitely refreshing protagonist, and the character that followed me off the page the furthest. Through a series of flashbacks, we witness how her personality has changed throughout the years from a sharp, hot-tempered teenager to an older, detached, mute facsimile of herself. The insolence is gone, that old aggressive glint: Misaki had curled into her good-wife place like a bird bred in a cage, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. But over the course of the novel, she becomes something else entirely. Misaki grows tired of listening to her husband, tired of the weight of his will crushing her smaller and smaller, tired of minding her place. She was a woman—not just a body, not just skin and softness, not a toy or a tamable creature, and her transformation (more an unlocking than a change) is a wonder to behold.

The exploration, too, of mother-son relationships is unforgettable. At turns tender, touching, and terrifying, it speaks deeply to the rewards of motherhood without shying away from its risks. Misaki had four children, and for years, she had not seen any of them clearly. When she looked, she saw only the mirror of her own faults, and she had stood, and watched them recede from her, shrinking to the end of a tunnel. Misaki's journey is, in many ways, about reclaiming her name as a mother, which she hadn't felt capable or even worthy of. "How had a soulless block of ice like Takeru and a selfish thing like her", Misaki muses at one point, "created something so bright?"

All in all, The Sword of Kaigen is an adventure and a half, and a new all-time favorite. I genuinely do not doubt that every single fantasy reader will hungrily devour this novel (and, if you're like me, ask for more at the end).
Profile Image for Mark Lawrence.
Author 72 books51.7k followers
September 23, 2023
Congratulations to M.L Wang - The Sword of Kaigen is the SPFBO champion for 2019 with the joint-highest score in the contest's 9 year history (from ~3,000 books!)

Find out more here:


Well, this was excellent. My favourite SPFBO champion so far.

Wang is a highly skilled writer with a talent for bringing her characters to life, making them feel vital, unique, real. She very quickly invested me in the lives of the families around which this story revolves.

It takes a while to understand what this story is about as it's set in a large, complex world and often I felt that we were going to follow those threads into some larger, world-threatening plot. But really this is a story concerned with the Matsuda family and the young woman who marries into it.

There's an interesting magic system and an enjoyable mix of these magics and modern science set against the background of a very traditional society into which almost no technology intrudes. The battles (and Wang writes wonderful fight scenes) are based around swords and magic (primarily ice-magic).

Wang's unashamedly ruthless - all of the characters are in danger, nobody is safe. There's a LOT of heartache waiting for you among these pages, along with tons of excitement, intrigue, and satisfaction.

A lot of frustration and tension is generated by the constraints of the society imposed on characters who we want to have the freedom to flourish / be happy, and by the failure of characters to communicate - but not in any artificial way but because people are complex and flawed and often fail to understand each other's motives and feelings.

It's a mature book in the way that it presents, understands, and resolves various conflicts, showing every one on whom the spotlight lingers to be deeply human. There are no mustache twirling villains here.

Wang maintains the pace, tension, and interest extremely well, hauling the reader through this lengthy book.

Only in the early stages when the focus moves to a new location did I worry that I wasn't going to fully enjoy the book, and those fears were short-lived.

This book pleased me on all levels and I give it my highest recommendation.

Join my Patreon
Join my 3-emails-a-year newsletter #prizes

Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,535 reviews9,956 followers
August 26, 2020

Holy shit!!!!!!!!! I can’t!!!! I’m having a damn panic attack I’m so hyped up on this damn book!! Someone run over and buy me the paperback!! This is going on my shelf, I don’t just want the kindle. I’m getting it in July!!! And I missed out on all that swag 😫. Damn it all to hell!! I’ve actually had this book on my kindle for awhile but like most things kindle it takes awhile. But, when I started out with the book, I couldn’t get into it. I was on crack apparently but my sweet friend told me to push on so I’m naming her as a recommendation and I love her for telling me to keep going!! Anyhoo....

I freaking love, Misaki!!!!!!!!!

And for the moment, Misaki let herself be thankful for the thing she was. After all, a lady wouldn’t have been able to slice a man’s legs out from under him and then plunge a blade into his mouth when he opened it to scream. A mother wouldn’t have been able to cut a young woman’s head from her shoulders. A human being wouldn’t have been able to turn from their dismembered corpses without a single pang of guilt.

Thank the Gods she was a monster.

Omg!! Why 😫



"You lost your right to my obedience when you stopped being a man!" Misaki cut him off. "If you want me to go back to the house, you’ll have to fight me. I’ve stood by too long while you disgraced yourself, but this—this is the last time you will be weak in front of me. One of us is going to rest here with our son. Draw!

Read the damn book!!

Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾

BLOG: https://melissa413readsalot.blogspot....
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
November 6, 2022
alright. lets break down how i feel about this book.

things i liked:
interesting world building - i really loved the old traditional japanese feel to the story and the setting is described in a way that makes it very easy to feel immersed.

the characters - really well-rounded and complex characters that go through some great development, so its not difficult to root for them.

all dialogue - the vast majority of the narration is dialogue and i personally enjoy that because it always makes for quick and easy entertainment.

things i didnt like:
odd pacing - the climax takes place in the middle of the story and the remaining 60% feel like a very extended epilogue.

unclear genre - with elemental magic, brief sci-fi technology, a setting in a modern future but has made-up lands/empire like traditional fantasy, this felt all over the place.

more positives than there are negatives, so a pretty good reading experience overall. i would be really interested to see if this becomes a series. the ending definitely lays the groundwork for a sequel, so i will be keeping my eyes open.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Hamad.
1,048 reviews1,381 followers
November 21, 2019
This Review ✍️ Blog 📖 Twitter 🐦 Instagram 📷

“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.”

★ I have to agree with the quote above, the pieces of this book fit together perfectly! You can’t understand the crazy expectations I had for this book and yet it was able to blow me away! I have some bold confessions: Best Self-published book I ever read, Best Fantasy Standalone I ever read and one of the best books I read this year! (Okay I made them in bold and then realized it became a bad pun for the previous sentence!)

★ I don’t know where to start with this one, it was just perfect in all aspects as if it was written and tailored to my taste! But I love that almost everyone who read it gave it 5 stars (4 if not 5) and I have to agree with my friend Petrik that it is a master piece.

★ The writing was so good, it was so atmospherical and I felt that I was part of that word. There were a lot of quotes I like and the book uses dialogues to touch upon very important, very sensitive subjects! It took me a few pages to get used to the Japanese terms and the glossary surely helped! But after those few pages that I invested some time in, it was like winning the million-dollar lottery! The book is unputdownable! I am writing this and I am suddenly in the mood to reread it soon!

★ The characters are some of the best characters I read at all! They were so well written and so fleshed out, I could relate to them and I loved them and I mourned them and I can’t stop thinking about them. I think the author was smart because the book had 2 POVs, one of the characters was a young kid and the other was his mother and I am assuring you that this worked a 1000% positively for the book. But the great thing about the characters is that I even cared about the secondary ones and I can still picture them all in the village in my mind!

“A life of dangerous adventures might seem worth it now, when you are young and seemingly invincible, but one day, you will have children, and you will not want that life for them.”

★ The world-building is amazing, I saw many people comparing this to Avatar the air binder and I can see why given the magic system but I also think it is not a fair comparison because this was a bit more mature due to delving into the war and the tragedies it entails. But if you love Avatar, then I am pretty sure you will love this one.

★ The Plot is just so clever and so well thought! the synopsis sounds good but the book is actually better! This book has lots of action, and I like to think of it as 3 thirds, the first third is an introduction and setting the world and preparation for everything. The second third is where most of the action and War take place and it may be my fav action scenes in all the books I ever read. The last third is like an epilogue but at the same time it had a scene I really dreamt of having in the book and I was so happy it was there in this part. The pacing was so well done that I was glued to the book the whole time!

★ I also loved how the book discussed very important things without feeling it tried so hard to do so, or without feeling like there were checkboxes it needed to have! The author genuinely approaches topics such as family and martial arts and feminism and racism! The thing that still blows my mind is that she did this by herself, It was better than 90% of the traditionally published books I have read so Wang just raised the bar of self-publishing and she just destroyed the stereotype that self-published books are bad! The book even had its maps, glossary, characters list, and chapter header!

“I’ve never needed a sword to protect you—to raise you the way your father wanted. Caring for my family meant putting away the fighter, so I did.”

★ Summary and Prescription: If you are a fantasy fan then do yourself a favor and read this book!!!!!!!

Petrik picked this as his book for my 10 bloggers, 10 recommendations challenge! Thanks a million Petrik!!

You can get more books from Book Depository
Profile Image for Althea ☾.
625 reviews2,020 followers
June 17, 2023
We need more child-mother-father protagonists in fantasy like this, I said what I said.

the only thing i have the energy to say right now is that you are SLEEPING if you have not read this STANDALONE FANTASY masterpiece. this reads like an anime with Demon Slayer and ATLA/Avatar: The Last Airbender vibes, in all the best ways.

"We keep to the old warrior tradition the rest of the world has forgotten and we're proud of it.”

This is a brutal, angsty, intense, imaginative, heart-warming, satisfying, and hard-hitting fantasy standalone that centers around a powerful water-ice power wielding family/community. These nuanced family dynamic tropes in fantasy will always have my heart.

It’s perfect for those who like a lot of heart and action in their fantasy. I found out that ML Wang works at a martial arts school and it really shows in the writing. The characters and maximized potential of their powers were so investing. The battles scenes are some of the most realized and vivid (and brutal) that I have ever read. I AM SO IN LOVE. The potential of water-based elemental powers wasn’t wasted since we already get so little of it. Or at least not in the feeling and detail that ML Wang does while incorporating sociocultural context and practical applications into it.

“A life of dangerous adventures might seem worth it now, when you are young and seemingly invincible, but one day, you will have children, and you will not want that life for them."

I say it's like Demon Slayer and ATLA because it takes tropes and themes from both then combines it in a way that satisfied me on another level i can’t explain without spoiling. The effects of transparency/communication on government-level and family-level environments were so well implicated that I lost count of the number of times I had to close the book because I had to take a deep breathe at the intensity before continuing. It was an insane time.

ML Wang doesn’t hold back when describing what needs to be described and brutally shows the tragedies of war, fair warning. It honestly felt weird at first to think that 14 year olds and 5 year olds are capable of the things they do in this book but I see how that’s the point of the story. That these children who are so young are also so burdened by that much power. The reversed prejudice on light skinned people was so interesting to read about and this might be the first book that tackled it so blatantly while still underlining that any kind of racial prejudice shouldn’t be perpetuated.

"You might look like a decorative flower,
but you're more sword than anything else.”

The early and successfully established family dynamics were built on so well. I didn’t expect to get the perspective of the mother (i like being surprised with books) but it really was a stroke of genius. It added another layer of depth that this book would have been lacking otherwise, both in character dynamics/relationships and world-building. Besides, we love seeing women saving women and themselves in this household.

The character developments and themes were so well-executed. The things that were meant to be slow burn were so SATISFYING to see unfold *ehem*. I was rooting HARD for that to tie up well.

For those of you who care: this has an arranged marriage trope as a side plot.

"There was no way you could have understood. You can't until it's you."

I would describe the pacing as chunky because it's not really slow nor fast but in the action parts, it's a lot of action. In the parts where it's world-building, it's all world-building. I didn't mind it but that may be why some people might find it tiresome to read, I guess.

Wang tends to use conversations to info-dump but i honestly didn’t mind. In my opinion, it wasn’t done in a way that was boring? I think there is a huge difference between info dumps that suit the plot and info dumps that are lazy writing. And I think this fits under the former. Just keep the glossary handy and you’ll be fine.

If there’s something to be nitpicky about, I didn’t really agree with the undertones of how the queer rep was executed but it was so short and towards the end that i didn’t even have time to dwell on it. Some lines towards the end did feel weird in the sense they suddenly felt more modern and didn’t fit the vibe but it felt miniscule to everything else I loved, as a character-oriented person. There are also some dialogues that felt weird and out of place (in the end mostly) but it didn’t bother me that much. My critiques seem so insignificant compared to what I loved. The character arcs are worth every little critique I can think of.

“Wholeness, she had learned, was not the absence of pain but the ability to hold it.”

Everyone who not-so-subtly influenced me to read this was right.
I was destroyed.
I had to meditate on my own feelings for a hot minute.

↣ I have nothing else to say, I was shaking at how much I loved every second of this. I both want more and want to preserve this precious book in it’s standalone glory. This feels like it would be one of those books that only gets better with a reread. It’s truly like if Demon Slayer met ATLA, you cannot convince me otherwise. Give me more child-mother-father protagonists in fantasy. READ THIS.

“The moon and the ocean fear no change.”

— 4.5 —
content warnings// Physical Abuse (implied) Violence, Graphic Deaths, Graphic Violence, Mass Death, Suicide Bombing, Suicide, Mentioned Murder of Baby, Mentioned Attempt at Murder of Baby, Rape, (Post Partum) Depression
Profile Image for Daniel B..
Author 3 books32.5k followers
February 28, 2020
A step in the direction fantasy should be headed in. Outstanding with a structure that will raise eyebrows. I cannot promise everyone will love it, but everyone obsessed with fantasy should read it.

Full review here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pqwa...
Profile Image for Mayim de Vries.
577 reviews884 followers
February 15, 2020
“We are the Sword of Kaigen. If we’ve let it rust, then we deserve to die on it, along with our enemies.”

…It is 3:27 AM and I finished reading the book. There are 73 people among my friends who want to read it too. If you are one of them, do this today. If you are not—do it anyway.

I don’t think enjoyment is an apt word to describe my experience with The Sword of Kaigen. It took me a while to compose this review because even now I do not know how to put together a coherent sentence that could portray the sheer magnificence of this book (especially that I most definitely do not possess an ounce of Ms Wang’s stupendous writing talent!). This book appeared out of nowhere, grabbed me by the throat and then shattered me only to rebuild me in a new shape. I cannot remember last time that a book shook me out of my complacency and annihilated the ironic subconscious voice that offers snark comments whenever I read to leave me both awed and grateful. The Broken Earth maybe. But I’m not sure.

The main idea is persuasive, yet deceptively simple and relies on a universe where humans have supernatural powers relying on natural elements: air, water or earth. Some humans that is, roughly those inhabiting lands modelled after what we call South East Asia in our world, with the derivatives of Japan (Kaigen) and China (Ranga) being at the focal point (we, the Westerners are weak and backward peoples worth only some pity in the best case, with no magic or civilisation to our name). More specifically, the story unfolds in a remote and obscure corner of Kaigen, seemingly backward village, neglected and forgotten, keeping to the traditional ways and values of a warrior culture that are no longer respected or remembered elsewhere in Kaigen. Indeed, the Empire seems to be bent on denigrating the way of life they represent while the enemy is closer than anyone thinks.

But the overall settings and the high politics serve only as a backdrop for harrowing individual stories with the members on one particular family: a father, a mother, and a son, at the fulcrum of the tale. The Matsudas don’t cut corners and they are the epitome of their culture. And what a difficult culture it is! A culture of austerity, of perfection, of denial. Of silences measured in years and weighted in ice mountains. You can already see that this persuasive, yet deceptively simple design I mentioned is rendered into a masterpiece thanks to the sublime and complex characterisation of each of the protagonists. Misaki’s unflinching ferocity, Mamoru’s heart-breaking stubbornness, Takeru’s pertinacious skill are a mixture of virtues that are flaws and blessings at the same time. I hated Takeru but was forced to respect him for his principles and deadly skills. My heart cried for Misaki but I had to grudgingly acknowledge the darkness inside her. I loved Mamoru knowing that my love is doomed from the onset. They were all both alien and relatable at the same time, and always, always surprising until the very end of the story. As they breathed and bled on the pages, I breathed and bled as I read.

While the relatively modest scope of this harrowing tale might sound discouraging, do not be deceived as The Sword of Kaigen is a novel of rare density and potency. The pacing is relentless in spite of retrospective flashes. The chapters are short but well crafted and with a superbly balanced description to reflection to action ratio.

Regarding the latter, I simply must note that since Ms Wang is a martial art practitioner herself, she means business when she writes fighting sequences. These are simply phenomenal, take my word for it. I normally tend to skim through battle scenes because I don’t find them that interesting since they habitually serve the authors as mere tools for plot-advancement. In The Sword of Kaigen these scenes are a form of art.

And the best thing about The Sword of Kaigen is that to achieve all of the above the Author does not need a ten-instalment-long series sprawling over thousands of pages and millions of words. No, it takes her one modest novel. Which of course meant, that immediately upon finishing I longed for ten more books like this to exist in readiness to be devoured by me (before you check: there are not).

As a final word of caution, please be prepared for the fact that especially at the beginning of the book you might have the impression that English is peppered with numerous words you will probably not know or understand (unless you are a manga pro). In my case, this somewhat lessened my reading experience. There is a glossary at the end of the book but a) I hate when these things are at the end instead of the beginning so I can at least familiarise myself with the terms b) a book is written in such a way that the reader essentially needs to check every second word. I’m all OK for introducing specific terms and names (like in Inda for instance) but it must be done intuitively or gradually to give the reader a chance to internalise the meanings. Having said this, by chapter 7 I was comfortable with the narrative but I can see some readers being dissuaded and frustrated.

What else to say? I kept reading until small hours of the night and then I couldn’t sleep for a reminder of it. This book is everything you need to read this year. It deserves words of the highest praise and as wide a readership as possible. Please make it happen.

PS The end of the world is coming, I loved the same book that Petrik did! (he agrees!)

PS 2 Thank you for reading. In case you do not know me: my average GR rating is 3.4 and I really do hoard and guard my 5-starers with more alertness than a paranoic dragoness could wish for. I do not hand those away like candies. When I reluctantly do so, it counts, it matters and it is supposed to mean something.
Profile Image for Nicholas Eames.
Author 11 books5,745 followers
September 17, 2020
A masterpiece, plain and simple.

I can see some people being thrown off by the pacing (the action peaks about halfway through the book), but this is an incredible study of character, and so beautifully written.
Profile Image for TS Chan.
719 reviews886 followers
December 5, 2019
Simply phenomenal. A true masterpiece. The Sword of Kaigen is a stunning achievement of empathetic and masterful storytelling.

Every once in a while, a book comes along that sinks its hooks and claws into your very soul. It transcends beyond what a 5-star book usually means to me. It is a book that I will plead, beg and maybe even force everyone to read, so that they can experience the same awe and emotions as I did.  Thus far, I have not gone down the road of awarding 6 stars to some of my favourites, but there are several that I could easily place in that category. Namely The Stormlight Archive, a few titles from Malazan Book of the Fallen, and Heir of Novron, the final omnibus of The Riyria Revelations. Now, this extraordinary stand-alone fantasy novel, which is a rarity in itself, has earned itself a well-deserved spot among these masterpieces.

The Sword of Kaigen is the most well-balanced stand-alone fantasy book that I've had the pleasure of reading. From its convincing worldbuilding and awe-inspiring elemental magic system to the spectacular action scenes and intensely emotional moments, and most of all, its stellar character development. Throughout the entire novel, there was not one moment which did not matter, and a palpable tension permeated every turn of the page.

The world was heavily inspired by our Far Eastern cultures and its people. The Kaigenese are reminiscent of the Japanese and the Ranganese the Chinese.  A lot of new and unfamiliar terms, such as those used to describe time, length, clothes, social classes and honorifics, did result in a rather steep learning curve at the beginning. Fortunately, there is a detailed glossary available with the book, and after reading several chapters, context helped to enhance the understanding of these strange words. I do not know much Japanese, but I have an inkling that a lot of these words are derived in some form or another from this language. A lot of care and attention to detail evidently went into creating a world that was entirely new and yet felt familiar and believable.

I will not elaborate on the plot as the book's synopsis did a great job of revealing just enough without any spoilers. Misaki is the only daughter of a well-standing and powerful family who had to turn her back from her exciting life of adventure and the man she loved when she married the second son of the Matsudas, one of the formidable old warrior houses whose bloodline wields the legendary Whispering Blade. Such a union of powerful families through arranged marriages was a tradition observed to maintain the lineage of the bloodline. Wives are expected to bear as many sons as possible for their husbands or are deemed a failure. The treatment of women as portrayed in The Sword of Kaigen was a brutal reality in our Far Eastern patriarchal societies. While advancement and progress have decreased the extent of such gender discrimination, it still exists in the more traditional and prominent families who treasure the continuation of their lineage above all else.

It was entirely by chance that I ended up finishing this book on International Women's Day. This book, which honoured the strength and courage of women, and their capacity for sacrificing all for the ones they love, could not have come at a better time. I have either too many words or not enough to describe the characterisation of Misaki. As an Asian woman, the distinctive cultural sensibilities in Kaigen, and Misaki's inner turmoil as she teetered between resistance and submission, resonated like a windchime. The empathy and strength of her character made for one of the most enthralling and relatable portrayals of a woman that I've come across. Undoubtedly, Misaki is now one of my favourite female characters of all time, if not the favourite.
She had taken every hardship like a stroke of a hammer, turning it into strength.

No character, regardless of how well-written, can stand on his or her own. What made The Sword of Kaigen spectacular was that the author gave even the supporting characters equally masterful strokes. This enhanced my level of emotional investment which made the story so intense and gripping.

I had high expectations when my co-reviewer mentioned that the action and magic battle sequences were Sanderson-worthy.  I was far from being disappointed, and was gifted with two exceptionally memorable scenes. Barely halfway into the book, the power of the gods made manifest in humans clashed in a devastating battle of wind and ice. Sometimes action scenes in fantasy can be written with either just a bit too much of a technical or abstract quality that I find it hard to picture the actual fighting. In The Sword of Kaigen, this was astoundingly well-written and with such clarity and simplicity that I could see and feel everything that happened. I could feel the force of the wind crushing the air out from my chest, and the sharpness of ice piercing the armour of my soul. The unrelenting power of destruction rained upon the civilians, defenseless in its wake. The vivid imagery of the forces of nature wielded by men and women of superlative skills, battling for supremacy. The vicious desperation of a lone mother protecting her family.  As the madness of war abated, I could see the hauntingly blank faces of survivors grappling with loss and grief. The poignancy in the evocative contrast of snow and blood amid the peaceful yet ghastly aftermath of violence and death; dark red essence of life against the purity of white.

Then came one of the most breathtaking scenes that I have ever read. From each of the little or not-so-little moments that have transpired, and from each flicker or flare of emotions, culminated an intense scene of such ferocity and strength of will that it belied how small it was on an absolute scale. The sheer intimacy of this fight, fueled by anguish and anger suffered in silence for years, overwhelmed me in an emotional hurricane of ice and snow. My already crumbling armour shattered into a million pieces.

What followed after that was a beautifully written and lovingly crafted closure to Misaki's story. I appreciated that the author took the time to draw out the ending in what I felt to be a fitting send off for these characters in whom I've grown so invested. I cannot imagine saying goodbye so quickly after that emotionally powerful scene. I needed to see better times ahead for these people, who after so many years of harbouring pain and loneliness, have finally found hope. Sword of Kaigen was for me a love story, or to be more exact a story about love. It was about the love of a mother for her children, the love between a man and a woman, the love between siblings, family and friends, and the love for one's home and its people. It was about being a bigger person than you thought possible to protect what you love, no matter the costs. And to let go when you had to, no matter how hard. In Misaki, it was ultimately about a woman's capacity to love and forgive, and in doing so, achieving wholeness.
Maybe this was the 'how' Robin had been looking for, the simple magic by which she held herself together. Love for what she had and what was gone. Love no matter the pain.

I can't praise this book and its author, M.L. Wang, enough. I also can't believe that I've not even heard of her before. This exceptional book only proved that the fantasy genre has once again been blessed with the emergence of a brilliant young talent.

Do I need to elaborate any further on how amazing The Sword of Kaigen is? Run, don't walk, to get this book and read it. Now. You can thank me later.

You can order this book from: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository (Free shipping worldwide)

You can also find this, and my other reviews at Novel Notions.
Profile Image for ChopinFC.
273 reviews79 followers
February 21, 2020
5 Stars (Masterpiece)

‘The Sword of Kaigen’ is a masterpiece in standalone fantasy writing and the story and characters are so captivating that the story transcended into an emotional and deeply rooted literary experience!!

I admit I have a real soft spot for well written, plotted and developed fantasy books. There’s something about the fantasy genre that lifts me from my everyday life and catapults me into pure bliss. The Sword of Kaigen represents the BEST that a fantasy book could elicit from a reader! I was so blown away and connected to the story and main character ‘Misaki’, that the book left me with tears in many instances! Thanks again to super- reviewers ‘Petrik’ and ‘TS’ for their wonderful review and endorsement of this magic book, otherwise I would have never had the privilege to read it!

The Sword of Kaigen

‘The Sword of Kaigen’ achieves near nirvana in storytelling, mostly because the characters were so well developed and the story so personal and engaging. This wonderfully gifted writer, M.L. Wang has my utmost admiration! I’m used to ‘fantasy demi-Gods’ like Sanderson, GRR Martin, Tolkien, etc. Never in a zillion years would I expect a freshman writer to create such a unique and powerful story!

The story is heavily influenced by old Japanese military culture and battlegrounds, where samurai swords and martial arts played a vital role in combat. The ‘Kaigenese’ empire is fractured and always surrounded by enemies. At the snowy mountain of Takayubi at the ‘Kusanagi peninsula, rest the legendary Matsuda family who have protected the empire for generations. Known as ‘The Sword of Kaigen’, the Matsuda family, along with many other prominent families form an essential role in the defense and history of the empire. As story unfolds, we follow the Matsuda family in their everyday life and the perils they face defending the empire.

The characters are the prized jewels of the narrative, and provide the backbone of this astounding story. Misaki’s,plight is filled with so much emotion and fluidity, that it’s hard to compare a character I felt so connected in recent memory. Misaki is so well characterized, she parallels to perhaps, my favorite fantasy character of all times: Sanderson’s phenomenal ‘Kaladin’ in the Stormlight series. M.L Wang's inspiration carries over to the ‘supporting’ cast, and Misaki’s son ‘Mamoru’ and the entire Matsuda family are brilliantly portrayed.

At its core, ‘The Sword of Kaigen’ is a story of love between a mother and her son, a story of irreversible loss, a story of redemption from a troubled past, and a story of survival for those you love.


M.L. Wang’s use of ‘magic system’ is seamless integrated in story, allowing for ‘awe’ inspiring scenes throughout the book! Each ‘cast’ of families have different magical ‘abilities’, that allow the control of snow, wind and fire. Their magical abilities create an organic feel to everyday life and the battles. For instance, the ‘Matsudas’ are able to master the ‘Whispering Blade’, a sword made of snow that is so pure that it can cut through virtually any object, including steel! Awesome!!

I was blown away by the unrelenting,and brilliantly written action scenes! M.L. Wang’s prowess as a writer is in full display during the action scenes. I completely agree with other reviewers, that thought the unbelievable ‘battles’ with sword/martial arts and magic, are very similar to Sanderson’s brilliant writing! The zenith of the narrative comes at the 40% and 70-75% mark , and it will leave you breathless

The Sword of Kaigen is a masterpiece in standalone fantasy storytelling. The narrative and characters are so powerful and emotionally charged and the M.L. Wang’s writing is so ‘personal’, that I was moved and inspired in the end. This is why I love reading!

10 Brilliant Stars!
Profile Image for John Mauro.
Author 5 books517 followers
September 23, 2023
In this ambitious, self-published, standalone fantasy novel, M.L. Wang tells the story of a conservative warrior society and the impact of war on the relationships in a family of magical fighters.

There are many good aspects of this novel, especially the last third which focuses on the impact of the main battle on the family. While the world-building is expansive, the novel truly shines when it focuses on the smaller scale of personal relationships.

The author is very talented, and with some editing this could have been a masterpiece. There were some annoyances throughout the book, viz., the fantasy society was basically copied from Japanese culture, there was an overzealous and unjustifiable use of italicized dialogue, the magic followed a traditional elemental system, and much of the world-building was done as info-dumps with little relevance to the key story. In my opinion, the novel would have been more effective if it had been scaled back in scope.

Still, there is much to love here, especially the emotional impact in the final third of the book.

Note: this book is not nearly as dark as "The Poppy War," despite claims to the contrary. "The Poppy War" is the better of the two books, in my opinion.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books468 followers
February 6, 2022
Spoilers and mentions of sexual violence and suicide follow.

“You learn over time that the world isn’t broken. It’s just…got more pieces than you thought.”

So What’s It About?

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?

What I Thought

The Sword of Kaigen left me with quite a bit to think about. So much of it worked incredibly well for me, but at the same time, I’ll confess that some of it didn’t land quite right with me. At the heart of what works and doesn’t work about this story is Misaki, a woman who abandoned a crime-fighting youth to settle down into the role of a dutiful wife to an esteemed family. She’s a mother whose peak fighting days are behind her and she struggles with her sense of duty while trying to reconcile her past and present, her use of violence and her feelings for her children and husband in a way that is truly engaging. It’s immensely satisfying to see her fight for her family and herself after years of passivity, and her struggle between the strictness of Kaigen’s culture and the freedom she found with her friends abroad is so well-written.

There’s a scene where she rejects her would-be lover Robin when he comes to visit her before she marries Takeru according to her family’s wishes. Robin asks her if she is sure that she wants to get married and she insists that she is; he implies that she is throwing her life away and what she says in response is so interesting:

“How dare you claim to respect my choices and then deny them because you don’t agree with them? How dare you claim to respect my autonomy and then deny it because it means you don’t get to keep me?”

It so perfectly captures the conflict at the heart of Misaki’s story – what does it mean for a woman’s empowerment/autonomy/independence to make the “right” or “wrong” choice according to different cultural milieus and different people? What makes it even more complicated is that part of her does truly mean this when she says it to Robin, but Wang also makes it clear that there is a part of her that secretly wants Robin to come sweeping in to carry her away from her decisions. It’s just such an incredibly rich moment for characterization, and I love it a lot.

Misaki steps up to the plate to get her husband to be the patriarch and leader that their community needs in a time of crisis, challenging him and confronting him in a way that violates gender norms and breaks the pattern of their unhappy marriage. There’s one line in particular that’s really interesting to me:

“You lost your right to my obedience when you stopped being a man!”

This was frustrating to me at first, and my immediate reaction was “Well, he doesn’t have the right to her obedience in the first place!!!!!” But then I started thinking about cultural relativism – how presumptive it is to assume that my values are the only right ones and that every women from every cultural context should aspire to those same values and subscribe to my thoroughly Western model of female empowerment and independence. Misaki knows about other countries and their gender norms and, informed with that knowledge as well as knowledge of her home country, she is equipped to know her own values perfectly well and decide what is important to her, what she wants to fight for.

The book does end with Takeru listening to her opinions, respecting her decisions and autonomy and generally being a much more equal partner than he was before, but it’s not the kind of 100% Gender Revolution Patriarchy Overthrown!!!!! plot that I think some other authors might have written instead – their roles and spheres are still separate in many ways, and Takeru is very much the leader of their community.

I will say that as much as I valued this and as much as it made me check my own assumptions, this arc does falter for me in a couple of significant ways. Other readers might feel differently but the message I got from the story was very much that Takeru and Misaki were both at fault for the state of their marriage, because Takeru repressed all of his emotions and refused to value Misaki’s perspective while Misaki…was submissive and didn’t try to understand him more? At one point she reflects that in the fifteen years of their marriage she had “never once looked at Takeru as someone who might need her help.” The idea of joint responsibility for the state of their marriage doesn’t sit quite right with me – it’s automatically complicated for me by the very unequal power dynamic that was at play in their relationship, for one thing. For another, I feel like there are actually many mentions of Misaki trying to engage with Takeru in a more meaningful and equal way over the course of their marriage – the problem definitely seemed to be much more about Takeru shutting her out and refusing to see her as a partner despite her continued attempts. Finally, I'm not super into the implication that the only reason Takeru didn't treat Misaki like a complex human being with feelings and autonomy was because she wasn't helping him and trying to understand him enough. Ultimately I think the message is that they both subscribed to gender roles that ruined their marriage, and improving their relationship now requires both of them to act in challenging and unconventional ways.

My other concern with this part of the story is that Takeru seems to change his mind about a lifetime’s worth of preconceived notions and social norms and emotional regulation techniques VERY quickly. Don’t get me wrong – the duel between the two of them is amazing, and I understand that Mamoru’s death was a major turning point for him. But I’m not quite convinced that that would be enough to get him to change and I wish I could have seen the process of that change happening. There is one brief section of the book from his perspective and it really helped me understand his inner turmoil. As I was thinking about the book afterwards, I decided that Takeru’s development would have been a lot more believable to me if I could have read more of his perspective to see his internal process of changing. The first part of the book features dual perspectives between Mamoru and Misaki, and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like if the second part of the book after Mamoru’s death had featured Takeru’s perspective in Mamoru’s place. I don’t know if it would work or not, but I thought it was a kind of interesting idea.

My other big challenge with this book is the treatment of sexual violence. In this case I thought Wang started out doing a great job with Hyori’s feelings after being raped, with her self-blame and shame and conviction that she had betrayed her husband. I loved it when Misaki told her that it wasn’t her fault that she was raped and her husband had nothing to forgive her for. Unfortunately, though, I’ve read THREE books in recent months where a character who exists primarily to be a rape victim dies tragically, and I have to say it’s getting pretty old at this point. I definitely don’t think it’s inherently wrong to demonstrate that someone who’s assaulted may feel that there’s nothing to live for afterwards, but I do think there are ways that those feelings can be addressed in text in a way that doesn’t also feel like it contributes to the ongoing problem of authors treating assaulted characters as if they are disposable after they’ve been assaulted. Of course a lot of characters die in this book, so in that context Hyori isn’t necessarily more disposable than any other character who dies…and yet I do think the additional context of her having been raped complicates her death a little bit. I’d be interested in hearing what others think about this aspect of the story!

I also struggled with the fact that Misaki is so repulsed by Takeru for most of the book, especially when she remembers a time that she got so repulsed that she tried to push away from him while they were having sex and he simply held her arms away from her so she couldn’t push him anymore and kept going. I Did Not Like That and I wish they’d addressed it somehow while the two of them were learning to be better partners.

All that I have left are a few stray observations: I don’t think it is necessary to write the foreign dialects in italics and there are a few instances I noticed with inconsistent use of the italics. The use of perspective feels a little unwieldy to me at times, with a few passages that become weirdly omniscient, the single section from Takeru’s perspective and a scattering of chapters that are 100% flashback. I read some reviews where reviewers complained about the number of terms they didn’t understand and there is definitely a lot of jargon in this book. As I was reading on my Kindle it was very inconvenient to go to the glossary all the time so I ultimately just let a lot of it wash over me. In my case that ended up being fine and honestly sometimes I think that’s the way to go with really intricate world-building. I think the magic is really cool and the action is wonderfully-well written – I usually get bored of fight scenes but I was interested through all of them in this book. Finally, I really appreciate the themes of imperialism and the exploration of Kaigen being a corrupt state that is full of propaganda and sees its people as expendable.

That’s about all I’ve got. Wow, this review got SUPER long but I think it’s a testament to just how much there is to unpack in this book!
Profile Image for Katie Colson.
676 reviews6,902 followers
April 4, 2022
"You lost your right to my obedience when you stopped being a man!"


I loved this. It is such a well done novel. We got character development and history and political maneuvering and government conspiracies and magic and so much more all in a standalone? Who thought it could be done? Not me.

I have to drop it down a star though for Takeru. It's ON SIGHT with this 'man'. I hate him. Truly and deeply. What a spineless waste of space. Do I sound harsh? Good. He deserves so much worse. Don't talk to me about a redemption arc. That only made it worse. Mizaki is a queen and she deserves so much better.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,563 reviews2,938 followers
September 23, 2019
*A book I read for #SPFBO as a judge and which I quickly fell for as a fan*

**Trigger warning: Rape, Abuses of various kinds, Violence, extreme War.**

Onto the full review:

This is a story set in an icy landscape on a mountainside. The book draws heavily on Asian culture and there are many parallels with Japanese training and family structures, and this is something I think has been done very well. For a frozen mountain at the end of the Empire this spit of land is home to some of the most prolific and highly-qualified fighters out there, including the Matsudas...

We follow two main characters in this book, Mamoru and Misaki. Mamoru is Misaki's son, and he is the first-born Matsuda of the new generation. He is brilliant from birth, and there are heavy expectations placed on him by his family to master thier family skill, The Whispering Blade, and exceed all expectations. He is young when we meet him, still in school and learning fast, but he is also creative and clever. He's been fairly sheltered by the location he has grown up in, but he values his friends and family highly and his honour too.
Misaki is a woman who holds a lot of regret when we meet her. Her story is sad as she was once a great hero and now she is reduced to living with a man she's not sure she can love and loathing the life she has. She's not sure how she managed to let things get as bad as they are, but she knows she needs a shakeup and when her some Mamoru finally asks for her help she sees an opening to soften herself to him.

What I love about these two characters is that the author is not afraid to put them out there in all kinds of ways. There are emotional and heartfelt moments and also many moments of sheer brilliance. It's not even just these characters who shine from the page, it's all of the characters within the book. They all have a life and a sense of reality to them which makes them feel genuine when you read.

The fighting in this book was insanely good. I hate fight scenes usually but when they are fighting with magical blood powers and ice swords it makes things way cooler. I also think ML Wang has a very good way with words when it comes to fight scenes and the way that she portrayed the characters when fighting allowed me a visual image I do not usually get.

The magic of this world comes from the family houses and their inherited powers. Some families are highly regarded in the society as historically they have defended the Empire from its enemies and they also have a strong power. There's a lot of different types of magic in this world but the two we become most familiar with are the Matsuda ice and the blood magic of Misaki. These two powers were cool enough on their own, but there are others which are hinted at and discussed such as heat magic and more.

The break-up of this world is interesting as there is an old-world feeling to this area where the Sword of Kaigen sits and the people we follow live, but there is new technology and travel between areas. We follow an exchange student who joins and bring with him info-towers and news of the outside world which is most unwelcome to those that live on the frozen peninsula and mountain. This divide is a key part of the plot and it's almost self-inflicted at times, but it's fascinating to learn more about.

There is a very interesting economic scene within the book which I feel is worth mentioning as it's something you do not often see in detail, rebuilding. This moment touched me as it was something more than just a dramatic scene in a book, it was based on reality that people face when they have a tragedy. There is much trauma within the story, but there are also practical and realistic solutions alongside the magic and I appreciated this.

Finally, I think that this book has it all. Great characters, amazing fight scenes and loads of action, heartfelt moments, awesome magic and mayhem, and culture that is inspired by some of my favourite parts of the world. A brilliant book which is so SO worth a read and I have to say I recommend it very very highly. I wish there was more, and I will certainly have to read the series this one is a prequel for. 4.75*s which is 9.5/10 for #SPFBO.
Profile Image for Wick Welker.
Author 6 books383 followers
April 29, 2021
Stunning. Tragic. Raw and Beautiful. This Japanese high fantasy blends realistic characterization with a well conceived magic system resulting in a compelling story with incredibly fleshed out characters. There’s nothing like this out there.

The Sword of Kaigen will not be what you expect. At the onset Wang lays down some exposition, albeit with a little tedium. Slowly, the reader learns some names, some backstory a little lore about the world. Once you become hooked by the realism of these characters, namely Misaki, an isolated woman in a loveless marriage with magic-wielding children that she doesn’t understand, you are eager to read on. I quickly learned the depth of the main characters and felt as if they were real people with very relatable issues.

And then Wang smashes everything.

With broad strokes, the pace and plot take a one eighty, leaving you and the characters disoriented and grasping for anything. The plot is unpredictable, the pacing superb and the overall story structure totally unique. Like real life, the story is messy and doesn't follow a predictable arc to which a fantasy reader may be accustomed. The characters are beautiful. Misaki’s isolation, self doubt, tragedy and endurance make her one of my favorite modern, epic heroines. Misaki is so well fleshed out that I could predict how she would feel and say in any given scenario.

The Sword of Kaigen successfully explores many themes: patriarchy, tradition, sexism, motherhood, fatherhood, propaganda, government roles, geopolitical warfare, misinformation campaigns, loyalty and all the gray lines in between. These themes are not merely touched on, they are expounded on. For example, through the story telling, I began to understand why the patriarchy was in place and why Misaki’s husband, Takeru, behaved the way he did. Men are not vilified here. Rather, Takeru’s behavior starts to make total sense based on his backstory. Not only do all characters have an arc, but the culture in which they live also has an arc as the patriarchy takes on a new form. This book is also very sad. Strength through tragedy is likely its strongest theme.

The world building is solid. There are many cultures, languages and peoples that I really wanted to get to know more. Makes me excited to read more stories that take place in this world. The magic system starts out derivative but becomes more integral to the characters giving it more depth. Did I forget to mention the action? Wow. Incredible warfare and magic-wiedling battles unlike anything I’ve read in fantasy.

Highly, highly recommend. This is a masterpiece. There is nothing like this out there.
Profile Image for Eon ♒Windrunner♒  .
435 reviews483 followers
July 30, 2019
The Sword of Kaigen delivers the kind of fantasy you did not know you needed, and leaves you wanting more. If it’s not on your BEST OF 2019 list, you must not have read it yet.

THIS BOOK! It is the surprise of the year for me, up to now. It should not have been. Petrik did tell me to read it. TS loved it too. All my other friends who have read it since have loved it. And yet it still surprised me with it’s AWESOMENESS. I should have read it sooner, but you know how it is - sometimes books just get lost on the mountainous elephant that is your TBR list. So having just finished a book, there I was on Twitter, browsing around when the book cover popped up. Why not I thought, making a spur of the moment decision right there to jump the list and read The Sword of Kaigen next. I am so smart sometimes.

*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.

Misaki by Coralie Jubenot (@merwild)

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.

Takeru by Coralie Jubenot (@merwild)

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.
Profile Image for emily.
255 reviews2,194 followers
December 15, 2021
you know when you love a book so much that you start googling shit like "similar books to xy" just to find something at least HALF as good as what you just read???? yeah that's the sword of kaigen for me
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,204 reviews3,687 followers
May 28, 2022
Reading Vlog: https://youtu.be/MLxlIc-hQis

Okay, I see what all the hype is about! I absolutely loved this. If you're looking for a smart fantasy with a kick-ass mom, nuanced characters, and interesting magic and politics, you should definitely pick up The Sword of Kaigen. This was immaculate and such a pleasant surprise.

One thing to know is that while most of the book takes place on an island that functions as a patriarchial society a la feudal Japan, it's set in a modern world and people from the outside bring in more modern ideas and technology.

Misaki is among my favorite characters of 2022 and we so rarely get the perspective of women in fantasy who are mothers and not 20. I won't say too much more here since a video is forthcoming, but I loved this.
Profile Image for Nicole.
750 reviews1,937 followers
May 7, 2021
Best book I read in 2020.

I haven't reviewed this book and I don't think I'll do it justice even if I tried to, but all I can say this book was amazing. I loved that it's told from two point of views: a mother and her son. It's also standalone which is very rare in this genre. I rated only 3 books 5 full stars this year (and another was rounded up from 4.5 to 5). Sword of Kaigen was also memorable and something I'd consider rereading in the future. I know I'll be reading any new book M.L. Wang writes. I wish her success. This book deserves more recognition, honestly. I'm very glad it's getting more spotlight. It wasn't perfect -sure there were some flaws- but it was damn close.

I recommend it to all fantasy fans.

First 5 stars of 2020!! Took me long enough. Wonderful book, why isn’t it more popular?!
Profile Image for Niki Hawkes - The Obsessive Bookseller.
737 reviews1,260 followers
September 30, 2021
I now have a Booktube channel! Find me at: The Obsessive Bookseller

[4.5/5 stars] What started out as a potential DNF eventually evolved into one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read.

The unconventional plot structure was easily one of my favorite things about Sword of Kaigen. Many books these days seem to follow a basic try/fail formula with the climax of the book taking place near the end of the story. It’s a framework that has proven to sell big, so it’s over taught and over produced. I have a few critical opinions of the self-publishing market in general, but found a surprising appreciation for it here, as it allowed this talented author the freedom of creativity without outside mandates, and the ability to take risks not conducive to generating a series and making more money. It was a complete and utter breath of fresh air.

You don’t have to be a mother to fully appreciate this story, but for me it added a heart-wrenching level of poignancy. I felt deeply connected to this character and her children. The author was brilliant at making several scenes in this book a sensory experience and I can still feel the hairs on my neck tingling just thinking about some of the moments within. I was so caught up at one point that I found myself crying with the character. That level of emotional investment in books doesn’t happen to me often, maybe once every couple of years. This is why, even though objectively the book landed at about a 4-star rating I bumped it up to a 4.5. Stupid book, making me feel things.

As amazing as so many elements of this self-published novel were, there were a few areas where the lack of an editor showed through. I mentioned I’d almost DNFed the books and this was around the 20% mark. If it hadn’t been for the half dozen members of FBR on Goodreads who jumped on to our buddy read thread to proclaim their love for the book, I’d have called it quits. The reason for this was the poor pacing and plethora of info dumps. As interesting as the story was, the author spent a ton of time upfront explaining stuff to the reader. For every couple of lines the characters spoke, the conversation was paused for a couple of pages, unpacking what was just said. It slowed the plot progression considerably and made me wonder what magic I was missing.

Then around the 25% mark, stuff started happening. A little less information, a little more action. I started to find a connection to the characters.

Then the shit hit the fan at 50%, and I was absolutely hooked.

Another issue was the underdeveloped world-building and character roles. Initially, this idea that a place for a ninja society to grow untainted by the modern, technologically advanced society surrounding it was a cool juxtaposition. It was giving me very Hogwarts for Ninjas vibe at the beginning, which I loved. However, it did not develop much more beyond that as the book went along. Quite the opposite: it got more confusing and less well-imagined. Several things about the world and the behavior of the peoples within it didn’t make sense. And the roles of a handful of characters still remains very unclear.

And one final note: I have a hard time when awful things happen to children in books. This ultimately didn’t count against my rating, but it is a trigger-warning in case it affects someone else similarly. Several parts were difficult to read.

People are championing this series as a stand-alone, which I admit I find perplexing. There are enough things happening at the end of the book to indicate the author was leaving her options open for a sequel. Just because a sequel hasn’t been written yet and the author is supposedly not working on it doesn’t mean the book is a stand-alone. And I’d argue that not enough external plot points resolved themselves for it to be a satisfying solo novel in any case. I’ll believe it’s a stand alone if 10 years go by and nothing else is written on it. I will say I’m at least content with what I read if that’s all we ever get. [Edit: someone just told me that this was written as a prequel “stand alone” for a self-published YA series that had already been written… a lot of things make more sense now]

Recommendations: this book’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses, but it takes a good 25-50% in to really start appreciating what it has to offer. After that, hang on to your seat! I’ve heard some negative feedback for the audiobook version but I personally liked the narrator (I pretty much forgot he was there as the story got going, which is an odd compliment lol). There’s a lot of hype surrounding the book for a reason and I consider it worth the read.

Via The Obsessive Bookseller at www.NikiHawkes.com

Other books you might like:
The Poppy War (The Poppy War, #1) by R.F. Kuang An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors (The Risen Kingdoms, #1) by Curtis Craddock The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1) by N.K. Jemisin The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga, #1) by Kameron Hurley Minimum Wage Magic (DFZ, #1) by Rachel Aaron
Profile Image for Jody .
202 reviews141 followers
May 16, 2019
"There are a million ways to tell the same story. Our job as jaseliwu is to find the one the listener needs to hear. Not necessarily the one that makes them the happiest or the one that gives them the most information, but the one they need to hear to do what they need to do."

M.L. Wang’s The Sword of Kaigen is nothing short of remarkable. An instant classic that is both heart breaking and heart-warming in almost equal measure. I cried, I laughed, and I was awed by the emotion this book was able to bring out in me. M.L.’s ability to reach into the soul of this story and bring it forth is an amazing feat of literary genius. I’ve read several books this year that I have rated 5 stars, but this is my favorite of them all. I feel it may be sometime before I connect with a book the way I did with this one.

Takayubi is a small mountain village in The Kaigenese Empire, and also happens to be the home of one of the most powerful theonite families in the world, the Matsuda’s. The two main characters Mitsuki and Mamoru are part of the Matsuda family. Mitsuki married into the Matsuda family by an arranged marriage orchestrated by her father. Mamoru is Mitsuki and her husband Takeru’s first born son. The majority of the story is played out from these two characters point of view. Mitsuki is still living in the past after all these years. She struggles with her station as a house wife and can’t get over how different her life would be if she would’ve been allowed to make her own decisions. Mamoru is a 14 year old teenager trying to live up to his family’s powerful name and magical history. But when a foreign student joins his class, he is forced to question everything he has been taught to believe.

The Sword of Kaigen is a Japanese-military inspired novel that shows the effects war can have on a person, a family, and a community. I know war is horrible and I don’t condone it in any way, but M.L. Wang shows a different side of war besides just the unneeded slaughter that comes with it. She did manage to break my heart though. More so, than I can remember any book ever doing. It really was a roller coaster of emotions, but it wasn’t the quick highs and lows you get in a lot of books. Some sections of the story are a slow burn that really let the feelings of what just happened linger for a while. You’re not thrown from once scene to the next, so those emotions really have time to sink in. I am usually one for a fast paced book, but I think the pacing in this book was masterfully done. It just wouldn’t have had the same effect without it.

Of course, any great fantasy book is going to have a magic system. The magic system in The Sword of Kaigen is one of the better ones I’ve had the pleasure to read in some time. It is very well thought out and described in detail. If I had to label it, I would say it is has a basis to elemental magic. But there are also sub-genres to it as well which makes it unique in its own way. It also really enhances the battle scenes. Here is another area I have to give M.L. Wang props. She knows how to write close quarter battle scenes. These were described in great detail and she didn’t hold back. Giving a blow by blow commentary of each sword stroke and magical strike. This book contains one of the best single combat scenes I have read in a very long time.

"Men like Matsuda Takeru the First existed only in legends, because of course, there were no real men who could end the troubles of a kingdom with a stroke of the sword."

Like I said above, this is a Japanese-military inspired novel, so some of the terminology and formal names took me a while to get used to. Heck, I didn’t even know there was a glossary until I got over halfway through the book. Thanks to my BR companion Samir for pointing that out to me, but I already had most of it figured out by then. I say this because I don’t won’t anyone to get discouraged from reading this for a simple thing like terminology. You will be missing out on a truly remarkable story. I have no doubt I will be reading this multiple times over the years to come.

There are a few other things I would like to say, but I believe I will stop here. I don’t want to give too much away. Most of the magic of reading is finding out for yourself. Although, I would like to send a shout out to Petrik for convincing me this was a book I needed to read as soon as possible, instead of letting it sit on my TBR pile until who knows when. You were absolutely right, bro. As usual!!!

"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."

Actual Rating: 5 stars *****
Profile Image for Celeste.
933 reviews2,383 followers
July 29, 2019
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.

You can find this review and more at Novel Notions.
Profile Image for Twila.
130 reviews122 followers
April 12, 2020
4.5 stars
It was the teeth of winter. It was poetry. It was God in water.

Absolutely incredible. Truly, a stunning and affecting effort from a previously unknown author that now has my full attention.

M.L. Wang: "I’m alive to write this story because, in 1937, in a Jiangsu Province village outside Nanjing, a Japanese bullet missed my great grandmother when she bent down to get a cooking pot. Certain events in The Sword of Kaigen harken back to the Nanjing Massacre, holding true to the guiding principle behind the Theonite universe: the mile walked in another’s shoes. What if you had been on the other side? What if it had been your family?"

When I wasn’t sobbing through The Sword of Kaigen because of how honest and how raw it was, I was sobbing at how touching the story was to look at. Or at how extraordinarily riveting it was. Or perhaps simply with the relief of having my love for books reconfirmed.

“A life of dangerous adventures might seem worth it now, when you are young and seemingly invincible, but one day, you will have children, and you will not want that life for them.”

Here is a story about someone having their dreams deferred and ambitions reconsidered and failing to make the most of what they have. It’s a story about an inexpressibly poignant character that will touch your soul so deeply and so profoundly. It’s a story about a mother.

“Caring for my family meant putting away the fighter, so I did.”

I didn’t expect this story to be what it was, to do what it did. Books are remarkable because they can be tremendous vehicles for escapism, but they can also be a means of getting in touch with the essential elements of humanity. This is what separates good books from great books, in my opinion.

Misaki Tsusano-Matsuda, a 34-year-old mother of four, a housewife, is hardly the archetypal heroine you’d find in fantasy. She is someone who’s life did not pan out the way she expected and it’s a life she struggles to come to terms with. She is deeply unhappy. She has reduced life’s colours to greys and matched the experience of living to a chore, resigning herself to “pushing out Matsuda babies.”

A character in her circumstance is always incredibly intriguing to me because hers is a dynamic rarely explored in fantasy. She also sounds uninteresting while not being so at all. Depression can also be an unsuspectedly hard situation to represent, and in my opinion, Wang wrote it with brilliant perceptiveness.

The way in which the author showed such a spectrum of nuances in Misaki honestly amazed me. The richness of her as a character and her situation in The Sword of Kaigen is its biggest strength, absolutely. She is so well developed that the result is a great emotional resonance in the push and pull between her and the people around her. Her love, misery, and pain bubbled off the page. I could feel it. It was a palpable presence. It left a kind of lingering despair, even long after I set the book down.

It does not get 5 stars because it has an unorthodox structure that I was not the biggest fan of. It’s set in three parts and the pacing was wholly uneven. The first third was setup where we’re provided with the flavour of who Misaki is with early depictions of her life interspersed throughout. It’s hard to figure out here where the story is heading and requires more than a little patience. The middle was intense nonstop action. And the last third was the aftermath. This part dragged on a bit too long and felt like a forced setup for another book. It extended the novel a bit beyond its natural denouement and caused me to really start to feel the 651-page count. However, it’s not a large problem.

• A few words to describe this book: uncompromising, painful, and at times difficult to read. It will be challenging for some and sobering for others. It is the tale of a mother and her son, a son and his father, a wife and her husband, the bonds that exist between them, and the bonds they wished existed between them. If you intend to read this book, please do it as I did: in the dark. Don’t spoil yourself anything. The journey will be a million times more stunning and beguiling, I promise.

PS. If the premise doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, the book still might have something for you. There are some incredible set action pieces involving the use of elemental magic that were so fun to read. There were battles with ice dragons, duels, and scintillating sword fights. It has substance and style. Seriously, the whole shebang.
Profile Image for Viburnum (hiatus).
22 reviews237 followers
June 23, 2020
There is something indescribably beautiful about The Sword of Kaigen.

I loved the writing—the simplicity of its prose, sharpened into something so piercingly poignant. Sadness and anger, hurt and frustration stream through the pages of the novel—vibrant shades and subtle hues of feelings that wash and sweep over you, the colours diffusing into your soul.
And at the heart of this novel was Misaki. Her character was so real, woven together from the threads of longing, loneliness and regret. She was a mother, wife and daughter—someone who struggled to reconcile her desires against the ideals of those who sought to define her. She was a shattered mirror of herself, the pieces waiting to be put together into something wholly beautiful.

Silhouetted against the jagged backdrop of war, The Sword of Kaigen was nothing short of harrowing, a story filled with visceral insights and sombre reflections.
And as the saying goes—people don't win wars; they survive it.


note: thanks to petrik for recommending this! there are many, many things this novel does right that i haven't written about in this review, but there's very few left for me to say that other readers haven't said already. all i have to say here is that you should be reading this!
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
557 reviews141 followers
December 7, 2020
A great focused character study of an epic fantasy book. A bit slow at times, but with great feeling throughout. I could tell it was a standalone spinoff, but that never got in the way.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,627 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.