The Sword of Kaigen: special edition & review

After I backed Brandon Sanderson’s Secret Projects through Kickstarter, I regularly received advertisements for other, similar bookish campaigns that I might like. And yes, many of them sounded nice, but I managed to restrain myself.
That is until I came across Wraithmark Creative‘s campaign for The Sword of Kaigen, a book that I saw popping up almost everywhere at that time (which in retrospect was probably just because this campaign had started, lol)

I had already seen a lot of extremely positive reactions about that book, which was self-published. For me, the fact that a book without a professional publisher receives such attention says something about its quality and I was of course also curious to read it. And yes, you all know how easily I am persuaded to buy special editions, even for books I haven’t read yet. The FOMO is real. So of course I signed up for the campaign.

Now, more than a year after I backed the campaign, and a good two months after I received the special edition package, I read the book and felt it was time to share both the special edition and my review here!
[click here to jump straight to my review]

With the popularity of the book, it was not surprising that the campaign was successful. In fact, their goal of $5,000 was achieved approximately 44 times! As a result, the book received a number of upgrades than what was originally provided (especially extra illustrations), but everyone also received a few extras, such as this very nice sturdy bookmark with silver foil and beautiful illustrations from Felix Ortiz, and an iron-on patch with the family crests of the book’s main characters.

When I opened my box I was a bit surprised to find not one, but two versions of the book, a paperback and a hardcover edition.
At first I thought this was a mistake, but it turned out that I had read something wrong and chose the option that came with two books, lol. Well, then I have a copy to read (the paperback) and one to display (the harback) đŸ˜‰

Let’s first zoom in on that hardback, because that’s what it was mainly about.
The original edition, which was self-published and therefore available for purchase in paperback in a very limited edition, already had a very cool cover in my opinion. The artwork for this issue’s cover is even cooler, though, from the colors to the depth to the characters. Very nice.

The hardcover itself is made of black linen with stamped silver foil.
The illustration, just like the iron-on patch, is the family crest of the Matsudas, which is depicted on here with additional details.
The text is in Japanese, and although I can’t find any confirmation of what it says, my own detective skills yield something along the lines of In the coming days, an ancient sword will have to be sharpened. I have no idea if this is even remotely close to the actual wording, but what I got is at least applicable to the book, lol.

In the meantime, I am quite used to spray-painted edges, with or without a drawing, but I had never seen a silver edge before for this book. I was already familiar with gilded with gold or something similar, but I had not yet seen silver. And this is really very shiny, not quite a mirror, but very close!

The endpapers come with two separate illustrations.
There is a double-page illustration in the front, again by Felix Ortiz. At the back a colour map of the planet Duna by Charis Loke.

The book also comes signed and numbered. I have copy 487 of the limited edition of 4000.
Inside the book there are a number of black and white illustrations, of which I will only show these here, as the other illustrations give away some of the story.

The paper the book is printed on is also quite unique.
First, each first page of a chapter is black with white lettering. The rest of the pages are white and have a matte-glossy feel. Moreover, they have a kind of gray, misty illustration, which makes them look a bit older. Nice effect.

The paperback copy is identical on the inside to the hardcover. On the outside it has the same illustration as the cover of the hardcover. The silver foil illustration of the hardcover is on the back of the paperback, in an ice blue colour.

What I didn’t expect is that this paperback is also signed! No numbering here, even though the same template was used as for the hardback.

So yeah, two very clean, unique editions of this book. But what about the story?
Thanks to Andrew Watson‘s readalong this month, I finally put the book on a concrete TBR . And at the beginning of December I read this 700-page thome in about 9 days.

M.L. Wang – The Sword of Kaigen ★★★★

Genre: Fantasy

On a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful fighters in the world, warriors capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For centuries, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their treacherous spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’

Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always know 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 ralizes that he might not have much time before he has to become the fighter he was bred to be. Even worse, the empire he was born to defend might 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 son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of invasion looming on the horizon, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.

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 ever reach their shores?

This is an extremely difficult book for me to review.
If I could, I would give it three separate ratings. One for the first two chapters (3★), one for all subsequent chapters except the last (5★) and one for the last chapter (1★). In the end I decided on an overall rating of 4★.

For the most part it was an absolutely wonderful, impressive and surprising book, but it also has its flaws and after finishing it I felt mostly betrayed and angry at first.
After a somewhat rocky start, this book had me completely captivated and was absolutely breathtaking. However, the ending was unexpected and disappointing. It really took me some time to accept this, to be able to look beyond it and remember how great it was before it ended in such a disappointing way.

This book is mainly set in a remote village that greatly values tradition and the ways of old. The inhabitants are loyal to their emperor and are proud that their warriors are the best in the country. Their strip of land is called the Sword of Kaigen because they serve as the first line of defense in case of an invasion.
We read from two perspectives, Misaki and Mamoru.
Mamoru is a young warrior who revels in his status as the son of the most powerful warrior clan in their village. He idealizes fighting and his status in it and cannot wait to prove himself to his emperor. But what happens when his idealized vision collides with reality?
Misaki is Mamoro’s mother. She has a mysterious past that she left behind to fulfill her parents’ wishes: marry the son of the powerful Matsuda clan and give him sons. She has resigned herself to her role of housewife, in a village where a woman is little more than an incubator. But suppressed emotions have their own way of resurfacing.

In my review I try to reveal as little as possible, but I would still recommend that if you are interested in this book, that you learn as little as possible about it beforehand, and this includes reading this review. I do not really get into spoilers, but your expectations about the story might change. It’s up to you to decide whether this is something you want or not.

This book had a rough start for me. Some of that is no doubt due to the fact that I had a lot on my mind at the time, but this doesn’t change the fact that too much information was dumped into the first two chapters in particular.
Our two main characters were introduced masterfully and I immediately connected with them. They felt real and they definitely intrigued me to get to know them better. At the same time, however, so much information came our way in the form of expositions, lots of new terms that I had to look up again and again in the glossary only to promptly forget, and even a literal history lesson. It was a lot and I wanted to absorb everything as best as possible, so I was actually always taken out of the story, instead of becoming immersed in it.
Fortunately, there were also those fascinating characters that I wanted to get to know more, so at a certain point I decided to just have faith in the process. I would read on without looking up too much, assuming that I would gradually remember and understand the most important information. If this weren’t the case with the next few chapters, I would put the book aside.
Luckily, halfway through chapter three I no longer wanted to put this book down. I actually got annoyed when my train arrived only 40 minutes late, because it meant I had to stop reading. So I could safely say that the book had me hooked!

This book was not at all what I expected.
It went in a very unexpected direction and I loved how it played with my expectations to give me something completely unpredictable, breathtaking, gripping and heartbreaking.

The action is fantastically written and really very cool.
I could really visualize it, a bit like you would watch an anime, and the way the magic in this world is incorporated into it was so otherworldly and grand and exciting. I was literally breathless from the tension several times while reading these scenes.
And the emotions, man, the emotions! The fact that we’re following a mother and son already gives an indication that the emotional stakes will be high, but this was really intense and so damn well written.

However, the book’s most memorable moments take place in the calm after the storm, when we move from the bird’s eye view of battle to zooming back in on the individual. It could have felt very jarring to go back to this small, contained image, but instead it made the battle scenes mean so much more. It made everything so much more emotional and impactful. How does a community deal with such sadness and grief? How do you find your place again in a world that was destroyed both literally and figuratively? How do you find your faith and purpose again when your entire worldview has been shattered?

While a big part of me absolutely loved this unique direction of the story, it also left a lot of room for dissatisfaction and unfinished storylines.
Throughout the book we are regularly fed small bits of information about a larger story, events evoke an extra mystery or characters appear and then suddenly disappear.
I fully understand that this book was initially part of a larger series that has now been discontinued and that the author decided to publish this book as a standalone book. However, in my opinion she should then have re-edited this so called standalone story to exclude any remaining loose threads, so that it could really have stood on its own. Now I can’t help feeling a sense of loss, because a number of things from the book were not explained or completed, certain scenes that even felt very important are simply left as they are. This is just sloppy and made me feel bamboozled.
Initially, this really detracted from all the great things I had read before.

In the last chapter, a few personal storylines are quickly concluded, and therefore completely unbelievable and unworthy of the characters with whom I had sympathized so much, while at the same time a broader perspective is opened up and then the book is ended without further ado. As a result, this felt more like a bridge to the next book than a real ending.
I find that I really care about how a book ends and if it evokes a certain feeling it can colour my entire experience and this is exactly what happened here for me.
Despite the fact that I was really impressed by most of the book, the last chapter really ruined it for me. I really felt cheated and just wanted to give the overall book a negative review, which in hindsight wouldn’t have been fair at all.

Did it end somewhat abruptly and unsatisfactory? Absolutely, but it shouldn’t take away from the fact that the majority of this book really told an incredibly stunning, unique and moving story. I just needed a little time to see this again.

So overall I found the majority of the book absolutely stunning, unique and gripping, but with a beginning that didn’t immediately hook me and an ending that almost canceled out the emotions of the middle of the book, this is a book which I really have conflicting feelings about. The author is definitely a very talented writer and is a master at conveying emotion. I’m definitely interested in reading more from her. If it interests you at all, I would still definitely recommend giving this book a try, but with a caveat.

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