SPFBO: Blade’s Edge by Virginia McClain

Series: Chronicles of Gensokai #1 Rating: 7.1/10
Date of Publishing: January 23rd 2015 Genre: fantasy
Publisher: self-published Number of pages: 310

Blurb

Mishi and Taka live each day of their lives with the shadow of death lurking behind them. The struggle to hide the elemental powers that mark the two girls as Kisōshi separates them from the other orphans, yet forges a deep bond between them.

When Mishi is dragged from the orphanage at the age of eight, the girls are unsure if or when they will find each other again. While their powers grow with each season-cycle, the girls must come to terms with their true selves--Mishi as a warrior, Taka as a healer--as they forge separate paths which lead to the same horrifying discovery.

The Rōjū council’s dark secret is one that it has spent centuries killing to keep, and Mishi and Taka know too much. The two young women have overcome desperate odds in a society where their very existence is a crime, but now that they know the Rōjū’s secret they find themselves fighting for much more than their own survival.

 

Jen’s Review – 7.3/10

A friendship forged during their time together at the orphanage has stayed strong in the hearts of Mishi and Taka. Separated and set on their own paths, they hope to one day reunite. Both girls are powerful in kiso, and face a difficult road ahead as they try to survive in a dangerous and unforgiving time while keeping the strength of their magic under the radar.

***

We meet the girls when they are together at the orphanage but their stories branch off into different directions fairly quickly when they are taken to separate schools to learn their trades.  Mishi, to become a warrior, and Taka to study healing. Each school has very different set of goals with an underlying agenda that isn’t what they appear to be on the surface.

Mishi is being trained as a Kisoshi warrior, to use her elemental powers and weaponry skill to fight. Her training is secretive and all done during the night because a woman being trained or even having this magic is illegal, and means death. During the day she, and the other girls, are there under the guise of servants.

Taka, on the surface is being trained in midwifery. Unfortunately, Taka’s school is not a great place, and their teachings and practices outside of the skills in healing and midwifery, are poisonous and horrible.

I was worried that the girl’s friendship would eventually turn to enmity because of the differing things they were being taught at the schools, and I was very glad that Taka’s story took a little turn and they didn’t end up that way. The girls’ friendship was present even without having seen one another for years. As I have said numerous times in many reviews – there are too few stories with girls as friends, so I really looked forward to the day Mishi and Taka, would find one another again and hoped it would be sooner rather than later.

***

While reading this I at first thought it would be great story for a younger audience.

I loved all of Taka’s time in the forest communicating with the animals, the Kami’s, the hawk Riyoshi, and it was a lot of fun with her tree kami helping her with her home etc..
All things I would have loved to death as a teen (still do really) and even though I’m not huge on school settings, I enjoyed Mishi’s sections as well, getting to know some of her friends and her time with Katagi. I actually wanted more of training and friendships in her sections.

So, even though bad stuff happened and some of the content was dark, a lot of it was read-between-the-lines and things where an older reader would catch on (like the lie behind Kiko’s pregnancy) but a younger reader, would just know that it was nothing-good.
Later in the story though, things are more openly talked about, pushing that age group appropriateness up a bit – depending on your preferences for younger readers.

***

The story covers a large span of time and a lot occurs over the course of it, but it tells most of it in that jump forward, and catch-you-up to what happened in conversations or thoughts, way of telling. It’s not my favourite storytelling style, I always feel like I am leapfrogging through and I find there’s a bit of a disconnect with this style, because you lose all the build to an event and/or never really suffer or find happiness, with the character as they go through it. The story does catch up to a point where we follow along for the most part but there is still the odd thing that gets jumped over. This kind of style also makes me think “younger reader” because it tends to gloss over a lot of the emotions and “bad stuff”.

There is a pretty good build to the ending but like others I found it a little underwhelming, especially for the change this event is supposed to bring about. There is a sequel and a lot of that change will undoubtedly be seen more in-depth in that book but I did wish for a little punch to the build-up.
I was happy to see the girls back together again and I am glad that we didn’t have to wait for their reunion until the next book.

 

Other notes

I’ve read a few Asian themed books lately and I found this one very easy to catch on to the honorifics and other terms without using the glossary (conveniently placed in the front of the book btw) or maybe I am just getting used to the terms.

Because of their similarities in stories (minus the setting) I had a hard time remembering which girl was who, and being trained for what. I could only keep them straight in my head by the characters around them.

 

Nick’s Review – 7/10

We’ve all read the “forbidden magic” trope before, right? It’s a tried and true formula in fantasy these days and has been for quite some time actually. Blade’s Edge has sort of that theme playing throughout it, but with a slightly different twist that makes it a better read than most. The story centers around two female main characters named Mishi and Taka. The setting is very reminiscent of ancient feudal Japan in the time of the Samurais.  The world that Mishi and Taka have grown up in is one that cannot separate itself from the magic all around, yet much of the magic that is practiced, especially by young girls like Mishi and Taka, is frowned upon and outlawed.

This results in the two having to conceal what powers they have while also trying to discover the depths of what they can actually harness and master. They are each endowed with their own unique magical talents, Mishi in the arts of a skilled warrior, and Taka with the ability to heal injuries and sickness.  But when they are torn apart and separated from each other at a very young age, the two are forced to find their own paths as individuals. The story then follows each character as they navigate through an unforgiving land populated with those who would kill them simply for existing and possessing a magic that is feared and mistrusted.

As they continue on their own journeys, Mishi and Taka never give up looking for the other. This special relationship between the two strengthens each with a determination that can only come from true and lasting love of another person. They soon uncover a number of hidden secrets that would overturn centuries of thinking and rule, which makes them even more of a target than they already are. It’s a secret that also could save them in the end, but in order to do so they must find each other again and use what they have learned against the forces of despair and oppression that continue to pursue them.

Blade’s Edge was an enjoyable read for sure. It begins a little slow, but quickly immerses you in its story after a few chapters. It’s interesting how many Asian-inspired fantasy books have made it to the finals of SPFBO this year. Blade’s Edge was along the same lines as The Sword of Kaigen and Never Die in that feel, but this book was very unique in its own right. The coming of age story of Mishi and Taka made it seem at times like a YA novel, but there were also some very edgy and mature moments that brought it into a more adult read. I think this is what made it a better book for me quite honestly, because you really couldn’t pigeonhole the plot into any one subgenre.

In the end, I thought this was a solid read with an excellent magic system and interesting word-building. I wished that a little more backstory was given with regard to the main characters and also some of the history of the world, but these are minor issues that didn’t impact my overall enjoyment ultimately. I look forward to reading more of what Virginia McClain has in store for us in the future. Definitely an author who has caused me to stand up and take notice of her wonderful storytelling talents.

 

Timy’s Review – 7/10

I have a bit of mixed feelings about Blade’s Edge in general. It took me a long time to get into it and get over my annoyance to actually enjoy it. Blade’s Edge is the story of Mishi and Taka and all the girls in this world who didn’t have a chance in life due to the brutality of the Rōjū council’s rule. 

The story is definitely engaging as we follow the two girls finding their own paths in life. While turning the world upside down. There is a lot to like about this book, and I can see why it was picked as an SPFBO finalist. First, we have two very different kick ass characters – Taka and Mishi – with their totally different skills and powers. They balance each other out pretty well and their bond is something that I enjoyed reading about. I also liked the magic system and the fact that both girls had a mentor of mythological being. In Taka’s case a tree kami (spirit) and in Mishi’s case a dragon. Mitsuki’s appearance and the hint about his and Taka’s relationship is something I considered a nice touch. There were some really nice twists along the way and the pieces fell nicely together by the end.

And while overall I enjoyed Blade’s Edge, I also had a number of issues with it, especially in the first half. At the beginning, I felt like some things weren’t explained well and I had a hard time to get the terminology sorted out in my head. I think the worldbuilding needed some more to be added about the magic, about the council, about the aforementioned mythological beings, about why Kishosi needs to complete a task, about why the Josanko was so strict and cruel to the girls, etc. Sometimes the sudden jumps in time were disorientating – one moment Mishi is sent to the dragon, the next 1 year passed and they are training. I was left blinking, thinking “Wait. What? How did THIS happen?” I had a few instances like that. I’m also not very much of a fan of that kind of storytelling where something happens then it’s left unexplained but gets hinted at in later conversations and eventually cleared. Somewhat. It works in some cases, but I don’t think it did here. I was especially annoyed with Taka not seeing through Kiko’s lies. I wanted to shout at her “ARE YOU DAMNED BLIND? IT’S. SO. DAMN. OBVIOUS. WHAT. HAPPENED.” I mean, Taka was supposed to be a smart girl and a close friend to Kiko. Anyone would have put that together in about 5 minutes, but it had to be someone else telling her what happened much later. Seriously. Maybe because of this, but I wasn’t able to really connect with either of the characters.

Blade’s Edge is a pretty decent coming-of-age YA(ish) fantasy novel, in which the two main characters discover their strength and worth in a world which outlaws them. Set in an Asian inspired world, tradition and “modern” ideologies clash with each other, determining the future of Gensokai, in which equality might become a reality. It definitely has an interesting world, I just wish we got to know it a bit more to be able to immerse ourselves in it. Virginia McClain is sure one of the authors we should look out for in the future.

Belle: DNF   Jen: 7.3/10   Nick: 7/10   Timy: 7/10

Our official SPFBO 5 rating for Blade’s Edge:

7/10

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble Author’s website: –

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