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.
Wow, five stars. This book was genuinely one of the best books I’ve ever read. The story is excruciatingly painful yet hopeful in the most subtle ways. Every single chapter was intriguing, intense, and contributed immensely to the plot itself. Not only that, Wang’s prose is so digestible to grasp yet so devastatingly beautiful- I found myself rereading certain scenes while sobbing hysterically. More, the complex worldbuilding expands on themes of war, propaganda, and how people make a life for themselves despite the empire that failed them. This book is a military fantasy book with heavy elements from East Asia with such intricate and thoughtful language, culture, and traditions. The Sword of Kaigen, therefore, is a tale about trauma, pain, war, friendships, parenthood, survival, and most of all, hope.
It’s also important to note that because this book is so heavily engrossed with themes of war that there are very explicit contents and trigger warnings including but not limited to: decapitation, killing, murder, rape, stabbing, blood, mild gore.
“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.”
We mainly followed the story through two character’s POV: Mamoru and Misaki. Mamoru is Misaki’s son, as well as the heir to the old, godlike Matsuda house. Mamoru is curious, kind, and endearing. Readers are inclined to love Mamoru because he is good, he is selfless but also understands his own faults and how he can strive to be better. In a way, Mamoru’s POV allows us readers to have a glimpse of the complex and vast world of Theonite, as well as the character which voices our internal questions to the other characters. M.L Wang gave Mamoru such depth and complexity that he immediately became one of my favorite characters, portraying his gradual development from a naive boy to someone who beautifully embodied his name: the Protector.
“Wholeness, she had learned, was not the absence of pain but the ability to hold it.”
Misaki has to be one of my favorite heroines mainly because she’s so utterly human. Misaki’s development throughout the book is one of the reasons why The Sword of Kaigen received five stars from me. From the stories of her reckless past to how she navigates marriage, parenthood, loneliness, and survival, Misaki’s relationships both with other characters and herself were so captivating to read about. Wang did not shy away from anything and offered us the honest, raw experiences of motherhood and the role of women through Misaki. Also, Wang’s writing is so powerful that I could literally feel Misaki’s pain with her, laughed when she laughed, and felt joy whenever she smiled. Moreover, Misaki is strong. I felt inspired by her and her invigorating passion to protect those dear to her.
As I said before, this book is about hope. M.L Wang explores the scars and trauma of pain and how communities fostered hope for themselves. It’s a story about survival, remembrance, and resilience in the face of the impossible.
I can’t properly describe how amazing this book was through words. Please do pick it up! The Sword of Kaigen is such a beautiful story that deserves to be read. The book is also on sale on Kindle right now for only $0.99!
Thanks for reading!