M. L. Wang’s 2019 The Sword of Kaigen: A Theonite War Story is a standalone novel set in her Theonite universe. Sword won Mark Lawrence’s 5th Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO).
The Kaigenese Empire is the greatest of all nations! Its economy is thriving, its people are consumed with patriotic fervour, and its military is second to none. Or as someone willing to attract the ire of the Empire might phrase it, its economy is struggling, the penalties for dissent are severe, and its military is a joke.
The Empire does have one undeniable asset: the warriors of the Kusanagi Peninsula.
Boys like Mamoru grow up honing their combat skills. Should the Empire’s enemies attack, empowered warriors will either repel the attack or die trying. There can be no higher purpose to life! This philosophy is convenient for the Empire, because the Kusanagi Peninsula is the front line of the Empire, a likely target for a Ranganese attack.
While some regions in the Empire are cosmopolitan, the Peninsula has been permitted to enjoy the tranquility of isolation, rigid social structures, and vigorous discouragement of anything that even hints of the unconventional. This permits boys to focus on their glorious destinies on the battlefield and women to focus on the important job of birthing the next generation of cannon-fodder, all while being treated as subjects in a generations-long eugenics experiment. The arrangement works, although an outsider might notice more focus on stoic acceptance rather than on happiness and satisfaction.
Misaki Matsuda, for example, once travelled the world, has mastered powerful techniques (some she invented), and could be just as deadly as any man. But once she has married into the Matsuda clan, she is expected to obey her aloof, verbally abusive husband while producing as many children as possible. It is her duty! But not an especially satisfactory one.
The series to which this is affiliated has been discontinued for reasons explained here. Points to the author for ripping off the band-aid, rather than teasing readers for decades with promises that the next book is just around the corner.
Bad news first: this needed an editor. It’s overlong and the world building had me scratching my head. It seems to be set in the distant future, but the best technology available is early space age (not that the Empire has that stuff), and there are significant fantasy elements. I couldn’t find an angle from which it appeared a seamless whole.
It may not help that I am not a particular fan of stupendous martial arts combat scenes, which unsurprisingly are a significant element of a novel about resisting an enemy invasion with stupendous martial arts. But that’s the focus of the book, so it’s hard to fault it for having elements I don’t enjoy all that much.
The book does have strengths. For example, there’s the temptation to give the sympathetic, hard-working characters plot immunity, whether or not it makes any sense. That is very much not the case here: no-holds-barred psychic-enhanced martial arts combat is deadly, as are the massive air-raids that follow. Magic swords and elemental magic don’t care if someone is a protagonist; neither do bombs.
I appreciate the way the author devoted many pages to the aftermath of war, as the much-reduced cast struggles to come to terms with what they’ve lost and what they’ve learned about how the Empire really sees them. This section is quite effective.
While there is material that needed more work, there is also an interesting book here.
I did not find it at either Barnes & Noble or Chapters-Indigo.