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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Year Of The Demon by Steve Bein (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order “Year Of The DemonHERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Daughter Of The Sword and Only A Shadow 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's interview with Steve Bein
Read Steve Bein's Guest Post on Cool Samurai Trivia

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.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro has been promoted to Japan's elite Narcotics unit—and with this promotion comes a new partner, a new case, and new danger. The underboss of a powerful yakuza crime syndicate has put a price on her head, and he'll lift the bounty only if she retrieves an ancient iron demon mask that was stolen from him in a daring raid. However, Mariko has no idea of the tumultuous past carried within the mask—or of its deadly link with the famed Inazuma blade she wields.

The secret of this mask originated hundreds of years before Mariko was born, and over time the mask's power has evolved to bend its owner toward destruction, stopping at nothing to obtain Inazuma steel. Mariko's fallen sensei knew much of the mask's hypnotic power and of its mysterious link to a murderous cult. Now Mariko must use his notes to find the mask before the cult can bring Tokyo to its knees—and before the underboss decides her time is up....

FORMAT/INFO: Year Of The Demon is 544 pages long divided over ten book sections and further sub-divided into sixty-three numbered chapters. Narration is in the third-person via Mariko, Okuma Daigoro, Kaida and Shichio. There is also a glossary of the terms used in the book along with a detailed author’s note, acknowledgements page and a Japanese pronunciation guide. Year Of The Demon is the second volume of the Fated Blades series and the author is currently working on the third Fated Blades book.

October 1, 2013 marked the US Trade Paperback and e-book publication of Year Of The Demon by ROC books. The cover art is provided by Chris McGrath.

ANALYSIS: After last year’s fantastic debut Daughter Of The Sword, Steve Bein was very high in my lists for this year. I got a copy of Year Of The Demon early & was very intrigued to see how it would mark against its superb predecessor.

Like the previous title, the book’s blurb doesn’t reveal the entirety of the story. Similar to the last book, this book also has multiple POV characters and occurs in various time periods. The first one focuses on Mariko Oshiro and is set in the 22nd year of the Heisei era or 2010 C.E. Mariko has become somewhat famous due to the events of the last book wherein she lost a minor appendage and gained a major reputation as a badass cop. Her reputation comes with a hit on herself & the only way to avoid that is to help the same Yakuza retrieve his iron mask. In the second thread we are reintroduced to Okuma Daigoro in the 21st year of the Azuchi-Momoyama era or 1588 C.E. Daigoro is now the lord of the Okuma clan & commanders a viable area. He is soon to be wed however a dastardly turn of events finds him in opposition with Shichio, the advisor to general Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Lastly the third and last thread is set in the 148th year of the Muromachi era or 1484 C.E. and the reader is introduced to Kaida. A one-armed child who is also an “ama” or pearl diver. Fate has been cruel to Kaida in the form of her stepsisters and an indifferent father. Things change when a shipwreck occurs near the coast of her village and brings in a group of individuals that might just be her salvation if they don’t kill her first. These are the complicated threads that make up the second volume of the Fated Blades series. As with the last book, Mariko gets the lion’s share of the sections, in this case five of them. Daigoro gets three and Kaida the last two. The plot once again twists and turns through out the entire book and making the reader wonder what is finally going to happen. With this book, the author brings another part of the fascinating period of Japanese history to the fore and also introduces an iron mask in to the fray.

With this book the primary focus across all the three time periods is the iron mask and it’s affinity towards the Inazuma blades particularly Glorious Victory Unsought. This fatal attraction is what propels the story with Mariko and Daigoro as both of them have to fight people with the mask who have been under its influence. The author doesn’t quite reveal the how and why about the mask but there are some crucial clues in Kaida’s story that dwell upon the mask and the tribe that originates about it. The members of this tribe or the “Wind clan” leave their imprint in almost every time period and it will be up to the reasders to deduce what their agenda is. Another part of the story that was different from its predecessor was the struggles that each character faces. For Daigoro & Mariko, both face immense personal tribulations that would perhaps break many a person however how they strive to overcome these is what makes their threads such a rousing read.

With Kaida, the author explores a grim Cinderella-like storyline that showcases Kaida’s fortitude and makes her the most endearing among all the POV characters. Surprisingly in this book, the focus is more on the mask and less on the blades & the blades perhaps will come to the fore in the third book. Wherein the hope is also that the POV characters that survive are sure to return. The author makes sure to keep all the sections intriguing and with the constant switches, keeps the tension spread evenly throughout the story. The sequel story is much darker and also has a graphic sequence present even though the author doesn’t believe in torture. The sequence from a story perspective makes sense and doesn’t seem gratuitous in the least. As with the last book, this book takes a very cautious approach to the magical front & again while we are shown a magic-lite storyline, it is still very addictive.

The only point that I thought which deducted a bit of awesome from this book is that this book suffers from the classical “middle book” syndrome (assuming that this might be a trilogy). There are quite a few threads that aren’t sufficiently resolved and I believe are left for the third book. This caused me some consternation and might do the same for readers who expect a complete resolution to all the plot points.

CONCLUSION: Steve Bein gives out a strong sophomore effort that proves he’s not a one-book wonder. Year of The Demon is a darker story that excoriates its characters much more than was thought possible. Year Of The Demon makes sure that readers invested in the Fated Blades series will find a new corner to be intrigued by & is a good follow-up to one of my favorite debuts of all time.


Unknown said...

I fully agree this is a complex, very well crafted novel.


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