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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Daughter Of The Sword by Steve Bein w/ bonus review of Only A Shadow (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order “Daughter Of The SwordHERE
Read “Why Swords?” by Steve Bein
Read Luc Reid's Interview with Steve Bein

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Steve Bein was born in Oak Park, Illinois, a near west suburb of Chicago. He has done his undergraduate and graduate studies at universities in Illinois, Germany, Japan, and Hawai‘i. The end result being, a PhD in philosophy from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Steve is a rock climber, mountaineer, SCUBA diver, skier, and avid traveler, and he has dabbled in a wide range of martial arts (twenty-five at last count) and he holds black belts in two American forms of combative martial arts. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Interzone, Writers of the Future, and in international translation. He currently splits time with his family in Rochester, New York and Minnesota. This is his debut.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Mariko Oshiro is not your average Tokyo cop. As the only female detective in the city’s most elite police unit, she has to fight for every ounce of respect, especially from her new boss. While she wants to track down a rumored cocaine shipment, he gives her the least promising case possible. But the case—the attempted theft of an old samurai sword—proves more dangerous than anyone on the force could have imagined.

The owner of the sword, Professor Yasuo Yamada, says it was crafted by the legendary Master Inazuma, a sword smith whose blades are rumored to have magical qualities. The man trying to steal it already owns another Inazuma—one whose deadly power eventually comes to control all who wield it. Or so says Yamada, and though he has studied swords and swordsmanship all his life, Mariko isn’t convinced.

But Mariko’s skepticism hardly matters. Her investigation has put her on a collision course with a curse centuries old and as bloodthirsty as ever. She is only the latest in a long line of warriors and soldiers to confront this power, and even the sword she learns to wield could turn against her.

FORMAT/INFO: Daughter Of The Sword is 480 pages long divided over nine book sections and further sub-divided into eighty numbered chapters. Narration is in the third-person via Mariko, Fuchida Shuzo, Saito Toshiro, Hisami Toshiro, Okuma Daigoro and Kiyama Keiji. There is also a glossary of the terms used in the book alongwith a detailed author’s note and acknowledgements page. Daughter Of The Sword is the first volume of the Fated Blades series and the author is currently working on the second Fated Blades book, which is tentatively titled “Year Of The Demon”.

October 2, 2012 marks the US Trade Paperback and e-book publication of Daughter Of The Sword by ROC books. The cover art is done by Chris McGrath.

ANALYSIS: There are some books that grab your attention because of their blurb or genre details, some books that hook your eyes with their cover art. Yet few books manage to do both and this debut by Steve Bein beckoned me with its blurb details and awesome cover. I was excited and began reading to see how this book would hold up against my curiosity. I couldn’t have ever imagined what was to happen next.

Firstly a few details are necessary in regards to the book, the blurb above does not tell us about the full story that is contained in this book. This book is divided into nine sections that take place is various time eras; the first one is set in the 22nd year of the Heisei era or 2010 C.E. The first story thread is about Mariko Oshiro, the only female detective of the elite Tokyo Metropolitan Police department and her constant struggle in gain respect among the eyes of her peers. She is assigned to a simple probable robbery case wherein she meets professor Yasuo Yamada, who clues her in to the mystery regarding the Inazuma blades. The Second thread is set in 124th year of the Kamakura era or 1308 C.E. and focuses on Saito Toshiro a samurai in the service of lord Asikaga Owari-no-kami Jinzaemon. The story focuses on what happens when he comes across a special Inazuma blade and the carnage that follows.

The Third story jumps to the 20th year of the Azuchi-Momoyama era or 1587 C.E. and centers upon Okuma Daigoro who is bequeathed his father’s sword upon his death and wonders at the reason behind it as familial tensions arise due to that single decision. Lastly the fourth story is set in the 17th year of the Showa era or 1942 C.E. and Kiyama Keiji is the narrative force. A young lieutenant in the Military intelligence wing of the Japanese army, he strives to do right by his country in the time of World War II. He comes across a young girl Hayano Shoji who clarifies the nature of things around him and his sword and sets him on his path to redemption.

This is the main gist of all the four stories occurring in this book, the first thread has five sections devoted to it while the third one gets two sections and the second and fourth has one each. The main reason why this book resonated with me so strongly was because of the excellent characterization that occurred with each new POV voice, they all succeed in making the reader completely engrossed in their specific portion of the story and oblivious to the previous parts you have read.  Beginning with Mariko who's trying to fight chauvinism in her department and help professor Yasuo Yamada with his quest, then with Saito and Hiyama as they each try to get to bottom of a mystery. Then we come across Daigoro who has to manage family and his new status and yet try to remain true to his Father's wisdom and lastly Keiji upon whose youthful shoulders rests the future of a nation at war. All four story threads have been impacted by the various Inazuma blades and it was interesting to see which story focussed on which blade. This multifocal character approach made this debut that much more exciting to read and not to mention special!

The story threads all focus on these various characters but behind them are the Inazuma blades that ascertain their characteristics from time to time. Thereby often swaying the characters and the trajectories of their lives. This mystical aspect of the blades is never overtly explained but things happen too much in concert for it to be labeled as simple coincidence. I liked this light-handed authorial touch in making this mystical aspect a natural occurrence of the story without over-emphasizing it and yet the reader will be convinced of their effect. This light paranormal approach to the storyline was very reminiscent of John Connolly’s Charlie Parker books and I hope that Steve Bein will strive to achieve excellence in his craft a la John Connolly. The second aspect of the book that I cherished was how smoothly the story flowed from section to section. The author has presented each tale as a standalone piece and yet there are links tying each the stories intricately to each other. This aspect of separate stories that link together to form a wonderfully enigmatic mosaic was a great way to draw the reader into the world of the Inazuma blades and one which should gain the author many accolades.

Another point that I want to talk about is the world showcased within as well as the author’s research undertaken. The places and times shown in this book are presented very precisely. The details of samurai ways and Japanese culture along with minutiae about swords and sword fighting are interspersed generously throughout the story. This not only enriches the story but also helped me imagine the world as detailed by the author’s prose. I daresay none of it felt like info-dumping at any stage and I was completely absorbed by the author’s focus in presenting several different worlds that are so lushly described within these pages.

Lastly the epic-ness of the story is very much understated but its there. In regards to this factor, I can vouch without worry that this is one of the best debuts I have ever read. Come to think to of it, Its hard to put a genre label on this book. It can be called a contemporary fantasy story or a historical thriller with a supernatural bent to it. In the end all that matters is that this book is simply FANTASTIC and the reader will be thoroughly enthralled by the storyline & characters presented within. On a side and personal note,  for years I’ve been trying to get my wife to read SFF books to no avail as she prefers thriller & mysteries only. However with this book I think I can finally get her to come and read the fantas(y)tic side of fiction.

The only smidgen I can think about this book which didn’t fit amidst all the awesomeness of this book, is its ending. It seemed all ends were tied up a bit too neatly (if that can be thought of as a drawback). Everything worked out a bit too perfectly but this is a personal quirk and I'm sure we'll discover further discrepancies associated with the blades in the sequel. This book is supposed to be book one of a series and so it’s obvious that there will be more to follow however should the reader be interested in reading a standalone book. Its safe to say this book can be read as a standalone story and as you reach the last page you can be satisfied with all the plot resolutions offered.

CONCLUSION: Steve Bein’s Daughter Of The Sword is one of those rare debuts that checked all my critical points that I look for in a book. Daughter Of The Sword is an epic story that cannot be precisely defined by genre settings or its blurb. Read it for what it is; an epic tale that heralds the emergence of a major talent. For me Daughter of The Sword is the 2nd best book I have read this year and most importantly one of the best debuts I have ever read. Grab it ASAP and see for yourself why Steve Bein deserves all the praise coming his way…

Order “Only A ShadowHERE
Read an excerpt HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Only A Shadow is a novella set in the Fated Blades Universe. It was originally a part of Daughter of The Sword in its earlier drafts however was later removed and now is being offered as an e-special. It was released on September 4, 2012 and is 59 pages long. The story is eight chapters long and its blurb can be found here

The story is set in 117th year of the Muromachi era or 1442 C.E. and is about Iga Jujiro and his new ninja recruit Tada and their plan to steal the Tiger of the Mountain from Jujiro’s clan enemies. Both Jujiro and Tada are Point-of-view characters and they each have their own plans and machinations. The story is a heist story but also one in which both characters strive to do what they feel is right and in the end only one may prevail.

This novella is a perfect introduction to Steve Bein’s writing style and the Fated Blades milieu. The story immediately drops the reader into a world wherein ninjas are actively working and feudal clan warfare is raising its ugly head. The author then introduces both main characters and their motivations while simultaneously laying out the background story of one of the famed Inazuma blades. Terrific action scenes are combined with rousing characterization to make this novella a must read for all those interested in a slice of historical Japanese fiction.

Since I had previously read the Daughter Of The Sword, I knew how crucial the Tiger On The Mountain’s presence was in several sections of the debut book and so I was excited to know more about its background. While this story is a small snippet in its illustrious history, it doesn’t give us the entire backstory. I believe that is the author’s objective in doling out tantalizing bits of information and secrets for beguiling readers bit by bit. This attempt works and readers will find an excellent story here about a theft that is to occur while at the same time contemplating who is fooling whom. An excellent introduction to the Fated Blades milieu and a must read for all those looking for a short, fast paced, and twisted read.


Mori Lii said...

Very interesting review! I must look into both books. They seem very intriguing!

kara-karina@Nocturnal Book Reviews said...

Insanely jealous right now :) I've been waiting for this book since I saw it for the first time. You are right, - both fantastic cover and the blurb grab your attention straight away. Thank you for such a great review! I'm looking forward to Steve Bein's writing even more now.

The Reader said...

@ Panda Ninja

Thank you, I hope you enjoy them. Please let me know what you think.

@ Kara-Karina

Thank you for your kind words. I hope you enjoy the book as i loved it very much. I hope to read your review on it and if you could let me know when you do post. I would really appreciate it.


Joel said...

Just finished reading "Daughter of the Sword". I am a long time fan of Lustbader and authors of stories in similar genres as theirs. But I must say this story is every bit as good and well crafted as all the others I have read. I hope that the author will continue to write other novels for a long time to come. Thanks for a great read!


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