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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Blade's Edge by Virginia McClain (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)


Official Author Website
Order Blade's Edge over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Virginia thinks dangling from the tops of hundred foot cliffs is a good time. She also enjoys hauling a fifty pound backpack all over the Grand Canyon and sleeping under the stars. Sometimes she likes running for miles through the desert, mountains, or wooded flatlands, and she always loves getting lost in new places where she may or may not speak the language.

From surviving earthquakes in Japan, to putting out a small forest fire in Montana, Virginia has been collecting stories from a very young age. She works hard to make her fiction as adventurous as her life and her life as adventurous as her fiction. Both take a lot of imagination.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The Kisōshi, elite warriors with elemental powers, have served as the rulers and protectors of the people of Gensokai for more than a thousand years. Though it is believed throughout Gensokai that there is no such thing as a female Kisōshi, the Rōjū ruling council goes to great lengths to ensure that no one dares ask why.

Even as young girls, Mishi and Taka know that they risk severe punishment - or worse - if anyone were to discover their powers. This shared secret forms a deep bond between them until, taken from their orphanage home and separated, the two girls must learn to survive in a world where their very existence is a crime. Yet when the girls learn the dark secret of the Rōjū council, they discover that much more than their own survival is at stake.


FORMAT/INFO: Blade's Edge is 310 pages long. This is the first volume of the Chronicles of Gensokai series.

The book was self-published by the author on January 23rd, 2015 and is available as an e-book and paperback. Cover art and design is provided by Juan Carlos Barquet.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSISI like it when authors look for influences further than in an imaginary medieval Europe. I’m not alone, as clearly seen by an increasing number of Asian-inspired fantasy books. Blade’s Edge takes place in a setting strongly influenced by feudal Japan history, traditions, and myths. Kami (Shinto spirits) are real and they influence the world and interact with the living. The magic, based on Zen meditation practices, involves mastery of the elements and requires a solid grasp of inner energy’s working, and self-restraint.

Kisōshi are an elite, magically enhanced protectors of the realm. Only men can join them as no woman is born with elemental powers. At least that’s what the Rōjū council wants people to believe. They’re ready to kill innocent children to keep the truth from citizens. Mishi and Taka, two orphan girls who meet in an orphanage, share not only a beautiful and lasting friendship but also immense elemental powers they need to hide.

The girls are separated from each other in the early chapters. We observe their growth and development of their powers as their plotlines start to converge. Mishi becomes a fierce and dangerous warrior, more competent and deadly than any male Kisōshi. Taka becomes a healer. Both undergo training from Kami (powerful spirits). Both meet sweet boys they initially dislike (although things don’t turn the way one would suspect. A good thing.)

Blade’s Edge builds the plot on well-known tropes (magic school, an orphan with immense powers etc.) but also crafts an intriguing new angle on the formula. Because I have a soft spot for magical training arcs I wish McClain had spent more time showing Mishi and Taka’s training with Kami. She didn’t but I understand the choice. What we get allows us to understand the extent and limitations of their powers and focus on well-thought-out plot and strong twists instead. The narrative stays focused and things develop at a steady pace.

The cast of characters is diverse, and it’s good to see the female characters playing leading roles as convincingly as their male counterparts. Both Mishi and Taka are bright, proactive, resourceful and good at heart. As a warrior, Mishi struggles with all the killing she has to do, but her inner conflicts lack credibility and could use some fine-tuning. McClain repeats time and again that Mishi feels bad about the killing and won’t do it anymore, but, truth be told, it’s not something I felt as a reader. I think showing instead of telling is one aspect of an engaging storytelling McClain has yet to fully master.

That said, the plot engaged me and the build-up to the climax kept me at the edge of the seat.

Unfortunately, the ending itself felt too tidy and convenient. Don’t misunderstand me - I have nothing against stories that don’t finish with everyone broken and miserable, and the world destroyed. I just prefer when things don’t get too easy the closer to the end we get. Here, though, everything felt too tidy, happened too fast, was slightly anticlimactic. And we’re speaking about a huge social change.

Sure, we’re told one of the characters can no longer live the life she used to live but I must take the author’s word for it as I don’t think she portrayed this change convincingly enough.

One more thing. McClain uses a lot of Japanese or pseudo-Japanese terminology throughout the story, and I applaud her for including an excellent glossary at the beginning of the ebook version. Seriously, more writers should do it. Having a glossary at the end of the paperback comes handy, but in ebooks, I prefer to read and memorize it before starting the story.

I liked Blade’s Edge. Victoria McClain has a smooth touch with characters and plotlines. Her focused narrative should keep most readers engaged in the story and the characters’ arcs. I’ve already bought the sequel and plan to read it soon.

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