Blade’s Edge by Virginia McClain – #SPFBO Finalist Book Review

Write on: Thu, 26 Mar 2020 by  in Archive Read 7385

If Blade’s Edge began a third of the way in, I would’ve loved it. So much of the latter 70% speak to Virginia McClain’s strengths and skills as a writer: she constructs an intricate world, inspired by Japanese culture and society with samurai who wield elemental magic; the conflict that dominates this novel has bearing on the real world; the action scenes McClain writes are excellent, and her characters are likable…after a fashion. Let’s expand on all these.

The world is moulded after feudal Japan, a fact obvious in a dialogue heavy with Japanese vocabulary. This identity is evident also in the Kisoshi, element-wielding samurai, all of them male, peacekeepers to the rule of law in the land, many of them having power over the lives and deaths of the commoners they watch over. The society Blade’s Edge reveals is steeped in tradition and folklore. It is rigid, resistant to change to the utmost.

Take the role of women: they have no say in the political or social spheres of society; even magic seems to scorn them, for no woman can wield the elements the way the Kisoshi do…or can they? This is the conflict at the heart of the novel, and it’s done well. Main characters Mishi and Taka are both women strong in the Force elemental magic of the Kisoshi. Mishi and Taka grew up together in an orphanage but the opening of the novel sees them torn apart, one young woman sold off to a Kisoshi, eventually finding herself in a school for midwives; the other, trained in secret to use her magic as any male elemental user would. Separated, both Mishi and Taka eventually find their purpose in fighting the regime that has held women down and left them powerless for a thousand years. Taka embraces the healer’s path, while Mishi threads the way of the warrior…to the effect of some spectacular fight scenes. Infused with tension, fun to read – McClain’s action is an enormous draw.

What’s my problem with the opening, then? To begin with, the voices of both Mishi and Taka are too similar; I know for a fact I’m not alone among the SPFBO judges to have mistaken one character for the other due to the similarities in both their voices. Some issues with the prose were well-pronounced early on – in particular, an abundance of adverbial and adjective phrases which bloated both descriptions and character dialogue. But the majority of these issues are overcome after the first third of Blade’s Edge.

One problem I never quite saw resolved had to do with the descriptions. I won’t mince words – many of them bored me and I struggled to follow along more than a few of them. Too many descriptions epitomize “quantity over quality,” which is not what I look for in a description. Some of this is down to preference, of course – many will find no problem with the descriptions but I’ve always preferred a more economic, pinpoint approach.

The addition of a glossary is commendable. A book about women rising up against the injustices of men – that’s a great theme, and well-done, too. My – and by extension, Booknest’s - SPFBO score for Virginia McClain’s Blade’s Edge is 7/10. An excellent magic system and pertinent theme bring this fantasy world to life in ways pleasantly surprising, despite its rough opening.

PS: I was surprised to discover this book has a sequel – the story closes on a strong note, leaving off at a place I wouldn’t have thought to continue past. Good news for anyone who can’t get enough of this one!

Filip Magnus

Filip picked up his first fantasy novel when he was seven and hasn’t stopped reading since. A critical reader who judges novels on their technical use of language and plot alike, he has a soft spot for literary fiction and tragic, heroic tales.

In his free time, Filip writes fiction, makes gaming reviews on YouTube, and maintains a personal blog. All that when he’s not too busy going through piles of books in as short a time as possible.