I could sum up this review with just four words: this book was awesome.
Daughter of the Sword is about a group of swords created by master Japanese craftsman Inazuma. In the present day, only three swords are known, and Mariko Oshiro, the only female detective in the Tokyo Police Department, is about to become acquainted with one. Constantly fighting for her place in the department already, Mariko faces fierce sexism in her determination to prove herself. Instead of a case which is easily solved, she’s sent all the way across town to help an older man, Professor Yamada, in a seemingly inconsequential case. Twined in with her story are those of other sword owners, set in a variety of historic versions of Japan, as we learn more about the swords’ unique personalities and their context throughout history.
This book combined so many fantastic elements to create a beautifully cohesive whole that was simply a pleasure to read. I loved each and every story as we followed the swords throughout history. I’m not all that familiar with Japanese history, but I love the feel of these and I relished in the unfamiliar. I liked getting back to Mariko, but I also felt like each of the smaller stories was surprisingly fleshed out for a relatively short book. They added so much context and history which could have otherwise been lost in big city Tokyo – it’s a clever construction that adds layers of Japanese culture onto a modern day bustling city and police department.
Contrasted with these beautiful bits of history, the yakuza, or Japanese mafia, comes to light through the character of the villain, a man who has and is seduced by one sword but is determined to have two. I’d never even heard of the yakuza before, but having poked around on the internet, it appears to be a real thing, an institutionalized part of Japanese culture. He’s not exactly a pure villain, though; how many villains go and visit their fathers in the hospital in the course of a story?
And then there is Mariko herself, who is a wonderful main character, so determined and stubborn and ambitious. The sexism that she comes up against is so frustrating that I wanted to scream against her superiors myself. She is Japanese, but because she grew up in the United States instead of in Japan, she is determined to fight against the trend and make a name for herself, paving the way for other female detectives in Tokyo, while the establishment is firmly against her. This not only helps this American reader cheer her on, but gives those who are not Japanese an easy way in to start trying to come to grips with a culture that is mostly unfamiliar to us.
The fantasy touches in this book are very very light, mainly around the personalities of the swords and the way they influence their owners. I thought the focus on swords was fantastic, but I have a strange fascination with swords anyway, so your opinion of this may vary. But I love books that take a single element and use them to tie everything together, and in this case, all was beautifully done.
Very highly recommended! I can’t wait for the release of book 2 in December.
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