The Sword of Kaigen • 2018 • Fantasy novel by M.L. Wang

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Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Unpopular opinion incoming – most of the reviewers in my network drooled over this title. I didn’t. 2.5 stars.

Synopsis: In an East Asian world full of contemporary technology like video games or mobile phones, magic wielders are the defenders of the Empire’s coast, they are the “Sword of Kaigen”. 

The narration follows two protagonists: Teenager Mamoru showing his magic and fighting talents, and confronted with news that the world isn’t as he was trained to belief. The second protagonist is his mother Misaki, who had a rebellious time as teenager fighting against crime in a foreign country. Now, she subsumes under the traditional role of women in pseudo-Japanese culture. 

Both, the family and the whole village, face the danger of a war, and they need to defend their home at all costs. 

Review: Reclusive author M.L. Wang declared that she discontinued the Theonite series with all its spinnoffs. As this novel is part of that series, we won’t see a followup anytime soon if at all. Also, Sword of Kaigen is supposed to be a standalone (in the author’s own words).

It just isn’t – Wang starts a complete new thread in the last fifth of the novel, including an assassination attempt, a new quest by Robin, and some other unfinished quests which in summary can only count as a huge cliffhanger. While the family relationships are well closed, and the village’s future secured, the whole novel feels more like a start of a series than a standalone. 

The novel started absolutely aweful with a huge load of infodumping in a history lesson – can you imagine reading year numbers with arbitrary background information for pages? This isn’t the only case of infodumps, there were others like a theological discussion of two variants of religious beliefs. Better put those in an appendix, but never include them within an heavy action oriented narration like this one.

One of the main protagonists felt like a Gary Stu right from the start. I never could connect to the boy. How glad I am that the main protagonist is a middle-aged super woman hiding her light under the bushel for a long time.

Lots of resolutions of encounters felt heavy handed, like a deus ex machina. Also, the timing of other encounters was often unnatural and coerced to fit an intended result – like some letters from Misaki’s brother. 

While I liked Misaki’s character in general, I wasn’t too convinced of her character development and that of her husband in a matter of hours. 

The setting itself is derivative – the whole magic system stems from Avatar: The Last Airbender, as the author declared herself in an interview. The same is true for the culture, derived of old Japan, but conveniently placed in a secondary world. The author cherry-picked traditions, concepts, and behavior but didn’t commit to anything by it. Which is fine for itself, just don’t expect anything new, innovative, or imaginative that you haven’t seen before. 

While the first part concentrated on Misaki’s son Mamoru as a main protagonist, the narration switched over to Misaki. This switch might look interesting from a structural perspective, but is heavy-handed retrospectively when Wang comments that Misaki was originally intended to die and Mamoru the only hero when she started writing. This shows through the whole structure of the novel.

I cannot stress how much this novel is in dire need of a guiding editor. It could have been so much better with a good bit of shortening, and ironing out the roughs, so that its really great parts could shine. With that I mean the awesome fights which is the real strength of this novel. 

While some parts of the novel were entertaining, I had those constant hiccups with the structure, motives, and plot flow.

While the novel seems to have been great for many (including my daugther who buddy read this with me), it was only okish for me. But that’s only me, and you might feel far less irritated by the many flaws and just ride the tiger. So go and see yourself without my blessing 🙂

 

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18 Responses to The Sword of Kaigen • 2018 • Fantasy novel by M.L. Wang

  1. Ouch. I heard nothing but good things about this novel. It’s good to hear a critical voice. This one was self-published, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. piotrek says:

    Sounds like it could be an ok anime, with flashy visuals covering issues with plot… I think I recognize the cover from somewhere,but I’m definitely not adding this to my TBR 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ola G says:

    This doesn’t sound too good; but I didn’t feel any inclination to read it anyway 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I be one of the ones who loved this. Sorry ye didn’t!
    x The Captain

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have heard mixed things about this one but I want to read it and see on which sides I end up. I don’t really understand why M.L. Huang decided to drop her series, it’s an odd choice especially considering that her books are very well loved.
    And that’s so cool that you buddy-read this book with your daughter! I usually gift books that I enjoyed to my father but we haven’t read buddy-read anything together.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      Buddy reading with my daugther started off last year with Dune. Of course there’s been a very different form of buddy reading, when I read so many books at her bed once upon a time. The first Harry Potter and The Hobbit have been remarkable cases.
      Now that she’s a young adult, studying English / German literature, I get interesting conversations from the buddy reads.
      While she saw my issues (as I wrote them in the review), she weighted them very differently and came to five stars.
      It all depends how you travel those bumps, I guess. And you might very well come to different conclusions than me.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oof yeah, this sounded like it needed some heavy editing!

    Liked by 1 person

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