“Was it impossible to hide who you really were forever?”
What an incredible book! Blade’s Edge is such a phenomenal story. A fantasy world built with similarities to feudal Japan, but written with such intensity that it mirrors a dystopian novel. I was immediately swept into the enormity of this world and immersed in the beauty and horror of these characters lives.
To be a woman in Gensokai, the island that this story takes place on, is a terrible fate. We don’t know the details, but learn that the actions of one powerful female Kisoshi have damned the future of all females for the past one thousand cycles. It is dangerous to be a girl. Even more dangerous to be born a girl with any detectable kiso.
“Fear can be a powerful destructive force.”
Kiso is the ability to manipulate energy. People have various levels of kiso and some are stronger than others. Once trained, they test to become kisoshi and can move up to higher ranks. At the beginning of the book, we get a glossary of terms and even a forward by the author ensuring that while this may feel and sounds like pieces of Japanese history and culture, this is entirely fantasy.
I will say that this is an instance when having the physical copy would have been enormously helpful. I find it a pain to toggle to an index with a kindle, and would have preferred to simply be able to turn the pages.
That said, the terms and their uses are so thorough that I didn’t feel lost while reading, or really feel that I needed to flip to know the terms. You learn them quickly as you read and by the end, they are as much a part of the story as if you had known the definition all along. That is quite an accomplishment in writing!
The story is written entirely from two main characters, Taka and Mishi, both female. We do get a third perspective thrown in from a woman we are introduced to who plays a larger role later in the book. Given how dreary this world is from a female perspective, it was a nice touch to only show us the viewpoint of female characters. It really focuses on how awful and male driven this society is. It isn’t just the power that the men hold. It is the way they look down on women, dismissing them as not being worthy of any respect or worth the air they breathe.
“It was clever work really, the work that the instructors put into making the girls fearful, then timid… wouldn’t that timidity eventually lead to self doubt?”
This book reads a bit like The Last Airbender blended with The Handmaid’s Tale. The fantasy portion of this book is incredible. Amazing world building with such vivid descriptions of the sweeping landscapes that you practically smell the forest and feel the mountain breezes. The elemental magic and magical beings are very creative and come to life on the page. But the portions that depict life as a woman, are so bleak, it’s nauseating. The contrast between the beauty of the land and the horror of life as a girl is stark and severe.
While there aren’t any graphic scenes, this book tackles incredibly brutal topics. Abuse, rape, murder, slavery, war. These are the horrifying realities of this world. With each new truth revealed as the girls grow into their own powers, the more you are chilled to the core at how this society functions.
“She hadn’t understood it very well when she was still living under Haha-san’s roof, but over the cycles since then she had come to understand the cruel fate that produced the girls with the empty eyes.”
Regardless of the brutality and dark nature of their surroundings, the girls Taka and Mishi are incredible characters. Both strong in their own unique ways, the journeys their lives have taken them on give us a broad view of this country and society. Even though Mishi’s journey seems easier than Taka’s in some aspects, they both have an incredibly difficult road in their futures. Regardless of the difficulty in their paths, though, they are smart, strong, funny, resilient women.
Even though we see only from the perspective of Mishi and Taka, that doesn’t mean we don’t get a good idea of the people in their lives. We are introduced to a wide array of men and women, some good, some evil. They are all complex and unique. The side stories are well developed and even though we don’t know their thoughts, we get a really good sense of who they are based on dialogue and the girls’ observations. Again, this is solid writing.
The main accomplishment of this novel, (outside of the brilliant character development and fantastic world building, is that throughout the very dark and brutal topics woven into this society), these girls never lose hope. This is such an amazing novel of the strength of finding yourself and resiliency. No matter what is thrown at them, they never lose faith that they are fighting for a better future. And it made the book an amazing read!
“How can anything about me surprise you, when you know absolutely nothing about me?”
In addition to creating this divine landscape and these incredible characters, the book itself is gorgeous. Each section has a haiku written for it, and the chapters have Japanese characters depicting the timeframes they take place in. It just feels balanced and beautiful. The physical layout of the book is as poetic as the writing.
I haven’t been as enthralled in a world like this in a long time. This novel is simply phenomenal. As both a fan of fantasy and dystopian, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves either genre. The themes and topics are difficult but eerily relevant to not just history, but our present as well. This book would be fantastic for a book club. There are so many detailed and complex topics to explore. I cannot wait to dive into the second book, and will be looking for this author in the future.
I received a copy of this book from Rockstar Book Tours to read in preparation for for m participating in their tour of the sequel, Traitor’s Hope. I was not required to review it.