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.
You can read an excerpt here.
A solid first effort from Steve Bein, Daughter of the Sword is a competent police procedural with an alluring touch of fantasy – but while I liked it, generally speaking, I also didn’t ever truly warm to this story.
Far and away, my favorite thing about this book was the setting. The story ranges far and wide, from historical Japan to modern day Tokyo, and every inch of it is wonderfully detailed and authentic – in his other life, Bein is a professor of Asian philosophy and history, and his knowledge permeates this story in lovely ways. This book is as much a chance to explore Japan, past and present, as it is a mystery to solve, and that I very, very much enjoyed.
But as to why I didn’t unequivocally love this story – my main problem with this book was how it kept veering away from the emotion of the story, which ultimately left me feeling emotionally distant from the narrative. In terms of the characters, they were frankly standoffish – I just never really got the chance to get inside anyone, to really get to know and care about them, and so I couldn’t fully vest in this story. I mean, sure, Mariko is certainly a tough, likable sort – and the way she deals with the entrenched chauvinism of her law enforcement world quickly earned my respect – but I just never really got a feel for what was going on inside her, her emotions, her feelings, despite the fact that I was watching her interact with her Mom and addict sister – and so I never could truly cared about her for herself. And while yes, I did want Mariko to catch the bad guy, I just felt like something vital was missing from her story.
In the same vein, Mariko’s most important relationship in this story – the mentorship that develops between Yamada and herself – was also frankly this story’s greatest missed opportunity. That relationship, so crucial to the story in terms of both plot and emotion, SHOULD have been THE beating heart of this story, but instead it gets weirdly glossed over and delegated to off-page interactions, becoming almost an aside – which drove me nuts, because it was what I wanted most to see. And so what should have been the meat of the narrative was ignored in favor of the bones, the by-the-numbers, standard police beats, which resulted in a skeleton instead a fully fleshed story. So while the case-work works fine, and yes, the bad guy is certainly nefarious and deadly, and sure, the fantasy elements do add a nice touch of interest to the proceedings, ultimately this book comes across as flat, because it just lacks vital emotion. Frankly, there just wasn’t enough character to this story.
I also was less than enamored with the long historical vignettes Bein drops in throughout his story – essentially short story asides that feature different eras and families in Japanese history – to illustrate the history of the swords. And while I found the sidebars to be historically interesting, all my issues with emotional distance were only compounded by the fact that I was regularly being wrenched away from the characters I did want to see more of and forced to start again from zero, with an entirely new set of characters about whom I had no reason to care – who after a short cameo would then, by and large, entirely disappear from the story afterwards. It wasn’t until towards the end of this book that the flashbacks actually started to tie into the main narrative, instead of serving as exposition – and the minute they did, the minute they were about someone I actually knew was a vital part of the larger story, suddenly they worked. Suddenly I cared and was invested, and suddenly this story came together – I just wish it hadn’t taken so very, very long to get to that point.
And so I did like the ending of this book, which brought things together in a satisfying way – though I could have used a little more oomph to that final battle scene (yes, it’s a story about samurai swords, of COURSE it ends with a climactic battle). But all in all, the case was solid, the heroine tough, the world opened up in interesting ways towards the end, and the sense of place and culture was downright fascinating. More than anything else, I just really, truly enjoyed how echoes of the past permeated this story in such a quintessentially Japanese way – which for me, made Daughter of the Sword a perfectly respectable read. But still, I can’t help but wish I’d had more reasons to care.
Byrt Grade: B+/B
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
Even though the fantasy elements are negligible, Daughter of the Sword is a gritty and compelling police procedural. I was halfway through the book before it even occurred to me that it wasn’t the promised urban fantasy. It was so good that I didn’t even mind.
I loved the plot of this book and I felt that it was very well-crafted by the author, but there was just something stopping me from getting completely into it…The writing was good, the description may have seemed a little long-winded in places, but for me it was just missing that spark that makes me unable to put a book down.
Bein’s gripping debut is a meticulously researched, highly detailed blend of urban and historical fantasy set in modern Tokyo.