The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang

SPFBO: The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang

Series: Theonite stand aloneRating: 7.6/10
Date of Publishing: February 19th 2019Genre: fantasy
Publisher: self-publishedNumber of pages: 558


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.

Belle’s Review – 8/10

Oh man. ML Wang sure pulled a fast one on me. There I was, cheerfully reading an interestingly crafted, if not overly engrossing book, and then BAM FEELINGS. Turns out I was a lot more invested than I realised.

The two things that stood out to me while reading this book were the character development and the writing style. I have a lot of respect for authors that don’t shy away from the difficult decisions, and there were many difficult decisions to be made in this book. I also loved how immersive the cultural aspects of the world building was, even for someone with little knowledge of the cultures and countries that inspired those in the book. A very comprehensive glossary is provided in the book, but I didn’t access it at all – everything was clear through context, if not outright explanation, for me.

The characters were all very real and very flawed human beings, and exploring that was probably the highlight of the book for me. At no point did I feel like the narrative was holding back about any of the challenging aspects, especially around romantic and familial relationships, and motherhood.

While it has a slow beginning, The Sword of Kaigen quickly picks up the pace and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in military fantasy.


Jen’s Review – 9.5/10

Sometimes when I am about half-way through a book and I am reading something as powerful and impressive as this was, I have a fairly good idea what my review is going to be about. And at that half-way point, I did think I was going to write about the world building, and characterizations, magic and everything else that I found to be notable about this story.

But, then I read the last half, and I can say that since reading Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass a few years back – I haven’t been so affected by a story as I was by this one, or so emotionally invested in characters as these, that I cried through a good twenty percent of this book.

See, I was expecting a regular epic-style fantasy, and when we had that amazing battle midway through, all I could think was holy crap, how is the author going to top this? And where can this possibly go from here with so many pages left? What I didn’t realize was, that the incredibly intense first half of the book, was only part of the story and not even the best part.

So, this stand-alone book works to set-up a little history of a country, and way of life of a people for a later series. While the front-half gives us this incredible world, people, and epic scale battle, the back-half deals with the aftermath, and is about a community finding strength to survive events that are just too horrifying to even imagine – surviving loss of everything from your loved ones to your home and livelihood. It’s about rebuilding and finding hope in each other, and coming together as people. But, at the core of all of that was Misaki, and even though it was filled with a community of people that were just as full of life as her, this was really her story.

Misaki was the heart of this book. She is a mother and wife, coming to terms with a life that maybe didn’t quite go the way she expected. Her story is about healing, regrets, grief, and feeling like you have no voice but also being scared to have one. And just as importantly, it’s about being responsible for your own happiness.

Misaki’s journey is raw and painful but it’s also fulfilling and beautiful. As a mother, daughter and wife – her every fear, joy, and regret, resonated with me, and I applaud her characterisation. Without her this would have been a great book with some very cool fight scenes (I’m still in awe over the Matsuda brother’s Ice Dragon) and a good solid base for a later series. With her though – it became an outstanding piece of storytelling that needs to be experienced, and one that is going to stick with me for a long time.

Other Notes and small criticisms  

Even with the huge amount of subtitled stuff I watch, which most of it is tv and film (where they sometimes tend to drop/change this sort of thing in favor of digestibility) and not print, it took me a while to keep the honorifics straight in my head. Particularly when there were a lot of different characters addressing one character. Misaki for instance, who is an elder, mother, and/or respected member of the community, has a different honor appropriate for each title depending on who is addressing her.

There was a handy dandy glossary at the back of the book, which I did use once at the beginning, but kindle makes these things not the funniest things to flip back and forth between, so I rarely end up using them once I get going, and just rely on my bad memory for the rest of the book. Making this quibble more my problem than the authors’. Hey, I had to think of something to criticize.

The ending – while I did like it giving Misaki a little closure, and setting up stuff for later books, I also felt it could have been trimmed a lot. At that point, I was happy with her present and didn’t want her past to interfere with the contentment she was beginning to find.


Nick’s Review – 6.5/10

This is a review that I have kind of agonized a bit over, mostly because it seems that the vast majority of readers have been glowingly positive about it and I ultimately didn’t feel the same way when all was said and done. So I will try my best to explain the reasons why I thought it was a good book, but also the reasons why it just didn’t connect with me in the same way that it did many others.

Mamoru is a 14 year-old boy who has been trained in the arts of swordsmanship since birth. The son of one of the most legendary warriors and defenders of the Kaigenese Empire, Mamoru understands that he is to follow in the grand tradition of those men who came before in his long and historied lineage. It’s a lot of pressure to put on someone so young, but his father is unforgiving in his discipline and expectations, often bloodying his son up in their training sessions.

Mamoru’s mother Misaki is torn by conflicting responsibilities. Trapped in a marriage to someone who she doesn’t love, she understands her responsibility as a loyal wife who must provide more male descendants that will eventually become warriors as well. Yet she secretly yearns for an earlier time and an earlier love. She is also fiercely protective of her children, Mamoru in particular. So when whispers of a coming invasion of the Kusanagi Peninsula by a rival nation who has tried to do so in the past reach her ears, she takes it more seriously than most who believe their kingdom to be impenetrable and impervious to harm from an outside force.

And when Mamoru accidentally stumbles upon a secret that casts the Kaigenese Empire’s legendary history in doubt, it could have serious ramifications for the storm that may be on the horizon. And that storm is growing, make no mistake. Will complacency and a feeling of invincibility be a worse enemy to the famed warriors of Kaigen than any physical army could? A reckoning is surely coming, maybe sooner than anyone believes.

So, I had very mixed feelings regarding The Sword of Kaigen. When I started reading this book I was very excited, since it seemed that the majority of reviewers that I know and respect spoke in the highest possible terms about it. Naturally that caused me to have pretty lofty expectations indeed. But as I dove into the book and gradually made my way through each chapter, I was struck by the fact that not a lot happens in the first 230 pages or so.

There’s a lot of thoughtful conversation between the characters, A LOT of conversation.  There’s also quite a bit of flashback chapters to Misaki’s earlier life. I understand that it can sometimes take a while to set things up in a book and so I was very patient in this regard. However, I found myself putting the book down a lot through the first third of it and that’s not a good thing. The prose was beautiful and the writing had a good flow to it, but the story itself just wasn’t grabbing my attention for some reason. Also, many of the characters seemed to grate on me and I thought that Mamoru’s father especially was depicted as such an extremely stern disciplinarian with no feelings, that he almost felt like a caricature at times.

When things really did start to pick up about 35% – 40% into the book is when I began to get into the story  a little more. There are some incredibly vivid scenes of battle and also some very moving and gut-wrenching moments. We see a deep dynamic between mother and son that is unbreakable and how tormented Misaki is by her feelings of duty, set against the love and devotion that she has for Mamoru and her other children. We also experience Misaki’s inner strength as a warrior herself shine through as she battles both impossible odds and also archaic stereotypes of a rigid caste system.

My problem is that this came a bit too little, too late and by the time the action did ramp up for the finale, I just didn’t care as much as I would have had I been more connected to the characters. So the ending fell a little flat for me unfortunately. Having said that, I do see why people enjoyed this book. It’s a solid fantasy tale that touches on a good deal of mythology and magic. For me though, it was just good and not excellent. But it seems I’m in the minority with this one.


Timy’s Review – 6.5/10

I’m going to start with ripping the bandage off: I did not like The Sword of Kaigen. At this point you’ve probably read many glowing reviews of it and heard many people singing praises about how fantastic it is. (I mean, look at our scores, we are absolutely all over the place with this one.) And surely that many people can’t be wrong, but once again I find myself in the minority. I guess that’s just my role in life – quite literally as I happen to be short. Ironic, isn’t it? But let’s talk about the book at hand, shall we?

The Sword of Kaigen is set in world inspired by feudal Japan if it had modern technology which is a bit weird at first, but then I remember that modern day Japan (or many other countries for that matter) do have these small villages that are still clinging to the old ways and are not really keen on modern technology – either because they can’t afford it, or because they are fine with things as they are. Traditions are stronger than anything else. Seriously, look at Japan.

I had really mixed feelings throughout reading the book. Personally I liked Mamoru the most. Yes, he was a brat, but come on, he is 14 years old, his view of the world was challenged by this new kid who comes to the village with much more knowledge about the world. Give the guy a break. Taking everything into consideration, he coped pretty well. But he is not the main character of this story. Sadly. Instead, we have his mother, Misaki. I honestly still have no idea how I feel about her and it’s been a few months since I read The Sword of Kaigen. There were moments I liked her, even symphatised with her, but eventually she annoyed me more than not. Though I appreciated her character arc as she finally stood up to herself and made an effort to breach the gap between herself and her husband. My favourite moments regarding her was the scenes with Mamoru, which showed how deep the bond between them are and how much she struggles with the rigid rules of her role. Learning about her past was interesting, to a point. I think it was mostly an unnecessary filler as it really didn’t add much to the story, or her character, except that we learn she was an adequate fighter. Good for her.

As for the writing, Wang definitely has a knack for it, as there were some really powerful emotional moments. But I also think this book needs at least one more editorial pass. There were scenes where I was supposed to feel any number of emotions and the tension was there but they were just stretched out for way too long to a point where I thought “okay, I get it, I’m feeling whatever you want me to feel, but can we please just move along?”. I’ve been going through of phases where I was sitting on the edge of my seat, and phases where I was bored out of my mind and slugging through had become a chore.

Having the climax in the middle of the book sure was a choice. I probably would have enjoyed The Sword of Kaigen more if it started after the middle and focused on the aftermath and how it effected people and the village rather than the long build up at the start. With a lof of infodump. I would also have appreciated more worldbuilding to understand the politics and how the government worked behind the scenes.

All being said and done, I left the story behind with a feeling of being underwhelmed. The Sword of Kaigen had a lot of promise, but failed to deliver. Ultimately I couldn’t really connect with any of the characters, or the story for that matter. I think I can see why others love this book, but if it weren’t for SPFBO, I would have DNF-ed it way before I got to the end. 

Belle: 8   Jen: 9.5/10   Nick: 6.5/10   Timy: 6.5

Our official SPFBO 5 rating for The Sword of Kaigen: