The Sword of Kaigen: A Review

“You any good at it?” “I’m a Matsuda.” “I don’t know what that means.” “It means ‘yes,’” Mamoru said.

*takes a deep breath, lets it out* Well, if I was the long-stream-of-expletive type of gal, I’d be letting ‘em roar. Okay, who am I kidding. I am that type of girl but I know some of you aren’t, so I’ll tone it down… but HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLY SHIT. Sorry. There’s only a few series that have inspired this passion in me. All time: Rothfuss and Hobb, extending somewhat further to Martin. Last year: Abercrombie and Wendig (Wanderers specifically). This year: John Gwynne. And now: M.L. Wang. The Sword of Kaigen. If you’ve heard any sort of accolade about this book, it is well deserved. I expected to enjoy this like I do most fantasy series. I did not expect to have my heart racing, to have my mind consumed by it during daily activities, for it to be the type of book that I long to get back to. There was never a moment of boredom. In the beginning, my only hindrance was learning the terms well enough to be able to continue without a hitch. I am often that person that goes through the whole novel trying to figure out terms without checking to see if there is a glossary in the back. Thankfully, I had the foresight to check out the glossary, so the sailing was smooth. Every unknown term is back there, I promise.

“We can’t claim to be crime-fighters if we disrespect life just as much as the criminals we fight.”

This is an extremely action-packed story. To be honest, I’m not usually that fond of huge battles or constant battles. I tend to glaze over for them, which is ironic, since fantasy is ripe with battle scenes and it’s my most-read genre. John Gwynne and Joe Abercrombie are some of the few authors I have read that write battle scenes well enough that I pay attention throughout the whole battle. Sword of Kaigen can now be added to that list. It starts off with the fight scenes with almost… vigilante superheroes. Misaki’s formative years are much different from her years as she matures, but we start out at Daybreak Academy, where she fights crime with her good friend Robin. Eventually she marries and settles down, hiding her fighting roots from her family. Years down the road, the fighting comes to her home and her whole family is pulled into the fight. This is where the REAL fighting happens. We watch various characters train throughout but you haven’t seen the least of what they can do until this moment. Absolutely breathtaking battle scenes start to take place. It feels like a punch to the gut, I had to put the book down at moments because it was so hard to read, my adrenaline was SOARING.

“We hold this line!” Uncle Takashi boomed. “We hold this line!” the other fighters echoed, matching his ferocity. “We are the Sword of Kaigen!” “We are the Sword of Kaigen!”

If you have any biased or sexist thoughts that women can’t write fantasy, check yourself. This is a prime example of women writing some damn glorious, and often, gory fantasy. What’s even better, it isn’t gory for the sake of being gory. It’s war. It’s ugly. It isn’t glorified. It’s traumatizing and scary and terrible. There’s beauty in fighting well, but there’s always the terrifying devastation of carnage that goes with any physical fight. People you love will die in this book.

“I believe this is why the two greatest empires are Yamma, built on the power of fire, and our own Kaigen, built on the power of water. The two exist in this realm, not to destroy one another, but to create a balance.”

The contrast of these harsh, brutal scenes with the tender, beautiful scenes is exactly the universal balance that these characters take comfort in. There’s a constant theme of yin/yang, light/dark that runs throughout the book. The balance of nature. With every tragedy, there’s a moment of grace and symmetry. The contrast of the man Misaki wanted to marry, to the man she actually married. Her father has a prediction for the man she wanted to marry and what it would mean for their family, and the ironic thing is, for that exact prediction… his worry was about the wrong man. There’s a lot more to her relationship with both men than first meets eyes and there’s a balance between the two men.

“For fifteen years Misaki had lamented being fated to raise her husband’s sons. All that time, she hadn’t considered that these boys might have something of her in them too.”

We go back and forth between Misaki’s narrative and her son, Mamoru. Misaki doesn’t hide that her bitterness at marrying her husband, Takeru, spoiled the love she “should” have felt immediately for her sons. While it makes me sad that Mamoru grew up without feeling the full envelopment of a mother’s love (especially when his father isn’t exactly warm), it reminds us that motherhood isn’t for everyone. Women are told that that’s their purpose when maybe, just maybe, alll women aren’t maternal. Even more so, the fact that Misaka probably would have been more maternal if she was allowed to choose the way she mothered is sad. Instead, she spent years denying a major part of herself. When she’s finally able to reconnect with the fighter that she was prior to getting married, she feels that intense maternal protection of her family. I think that’s so relatable to motherhood in general, as mothers often sacrifice a lot of who they were to become a mother. It takes time to find a balance between the mother you want to be, the person you were, and the person you’re becoming.

“Listen, son… when I was your age, I had to face truths that seemed to break the world. That’s what happens when you come into contact with people who aren’t quite like you. You learn over time that the world isn’t broken. It’s just… got more pieces to it than you thought. They all fit together, just maybe not the way you pictured when you were young.”

As for Takeru, I absolutely hated him throughout the entiiiiire book, almost. M.L. Wang shows her masterful writing with him. I longed for some Takeru chapters earlier because I wanted to get into his head. I didn’t think there could possibly be anything to make me see his side. The way she set this up was so effectively done. I also like that Wang acknowledges that sometimes burning, passionate love isn’t the best love. Sometimes that love can consume until there’s nothing left, can be dangerous. Often, a love that makes you feel safe, that is constant, that has the soft strumming of home to it, is the most sustainable love.

“Falleke!” Kwang swore. “You guys in this village really believe all this stuff, don’t you? You believe everything the government tells you?” “Why wouldn’t we?” Itsuki asked earnestly. “You must see what’s happening here.” Kwang’s voice was almost imploring as he looked from one face to the next. “The emperor is using you.”

I think my favorite part about this book was how it addressed government propaganda, especially in this day and age. Especially RIGHT NOW, when there is a conversation about the sanitization of American history and skewing the facts so that they fit the narrative of what the government wants to sell its citizens. There’s also this idea that you’re supposed to have blind loyalty to your country —that you’re not supposed to question them— that is addressed here. It was a hard pill for some of our characters to swallow, while others were completely aware of this. I think that’s cohesive to our daily lives.

“You’re patriotic and loyal. You’re exactly what everyone’s told you to be.”

There’s this notion that people are meant to die for their country and if you don’t want to do that or you don’t believe in what your country is selling, that you’re not a true citizen. That’s ridiculous and I’m glad that Wang takes that on. It is okay to be proud of your country but you should never blind yourself because of your service to your country.

“The world doesn’t need another powerful theonite trying to force his idea of justice on a city of adyns. That’s not what I’m going to be.”

Another thing I found so in tune with today’s world was addressing brutality from people that have sworn to protect. Robin refuses to kill just to protect himself or others. He refused to be cruel to get his job done. He would rather disarm. Maybe M.L. Wang had the foresight that these conversations were long overdue, or maybe they were just ideals of her own that she wanted to put out into the world, but she puts into words what a lot of people haven’t been able to.

“The power of gods rose, thunderous, like a wave inside Mamoru, and he rode the swell, moving his body with it. As the wave hit its apex, he sent its full force down his arm, through his open palm, into the ice.”

I really loved the pureness of Robin. I liked how Misaki was able to open up like no other when she was around him. There was the air of gentleness that mixed with the fierceness of so many of these warriors. The story starts off so softly, almost dreamlike, and quickly turns into a raging symphony of words, revelations, and war. There’s some absolutely devastating moments that made my heart break, but in the end I was left feeling so satisfied. I’m also a self-professed book masochist. The more heartbreak, the more I end up liking it. The magic system in this was glorious, too. It was a mixture of the elements and science, the power of gods, and sheer will that was awe inspiring. The culture shines through and jumps off the page. M.L. Wang will forever be an author to keep your eye on. If I could give this 100 stars on goodreads, I would. I ended up highlight 58 quotes in my kindle. I was so thankful that I read it on kindle first and ordered a paperback after. For all of the quotes that I put in this review, I easily could have put a dozen more. I was thinking how I would love to see Robin and Misaki’s kids at Daybreak Academy together and then read that her previous books DO involve Robin’s son, at least. If you’re thinking about reading The Sword of Kaigen, just do it!


“A decade later, a fifteen-year-old Hiroshi would become known as the youngest swordsman ever to master the Whispering Blade. What the world would never know, was that he was the second youngest.”

Re-read, Review, and Theory Speculation of the Wise Man’s Fear

“All the truth in the world is held in stories.”

* theories will be separated at the bottom, after a mostly spoiler free review (I won’t go into specifics throughout the first portion of this)*

Ahhh, the series that makes my soul sing, the one I have read countless times and yet… it gets no less intriguing, no less confounding, no less eloquent. For this reread of The Wise Man’s Fear, I joined my bookish friends David and Lily for a buddy read. I had never done a buddy read prior to this, but I am a big fan now. Though I have read the series many times and gained something each time, this was the first time that I got to go chapter by chapter, write out my thoughts, and discuss it. For a book like Name of the Wind or Wise Man’s Fear, WOW. Whole new perspectives, more time to thoroughly get my hands dirty by digging through those theories, it was so satisfying to be able to discuss this phenomenal book as I read through it. This is one of those series that you BURST to talk to someone about but by time you find someone, you forget half of what you wanted to say.

“Then I played the song that hides in the center of me. That wordless music that moves through the secret places in my heart. I played it carefully, strumming it slow and low into the dark stillness of the night. I would like to say it is a happy song, that it is sweet and bright, but it is not.”

Okay okay, enough. Onto the gushing. Here’s the thing that sets Rothfuss apart for me. I think it’s safe to say that he really distinguishes a writing style for himself, nobody writes like him. One thing that is really remarkable, is that we don’t linger in certain areas you would think are important such as his trial or the adventure on the ship to the Maer’s. The focus of this series is on building the legend of Kvothe, and where other authors would use that time on a ship or a trial as filler for the book, it serves no purpose here. This book doesn’t need fillers, on the contrary, there’s SO MUCH knowledge and so many intertwining lines that if anything, I think we all agree that the next book will be far too short for our liking at whatever length (and Rothfuss has indicated that he doesn’t intend for it to be any longer than the previous ones). Rothfuss has pulled us in so thoroughly and efficiently. As I said: let us not forget, this series IS about the building a legendary man. I’ve heard people complain that Kvothe is too perfect, too good at things. Kvothe is extremely talented in many ways. That’s the thing about legends though… they are gods among men, so to say. They become legends for a reason. Kvothe takes his share of beatings, literally and figuratively. He knows tragedy. His life isn’t perfect, but he makes himself into something larger than life. I love how Rothfuss touches on all of these simple folklore that have been mentioned in passing, in some way these shaped Kvothe’s story and the tales told about him. Dracus, Chandrian, Fae, Amyr, even the Adem. These seemingly mythic people and creatures all come to life, after being mentioned casually throughout the novels. Honestly, I’m waiting for the shamblemen to make an appearance in the next book, they’re one of the only superstitions talked about more than a few times that we haven’t come across yet. There’s even whispers about Kvothe wearing varied rings that we eventually get reasoning for. All of these little pieces are making this story, and it’s beautifully done. As I said, I think the way Rothfuss does this is so unique, using smaller moments to create a whole instead of leading us into a pirate ship for months at a time or dragging us through a trial. We get a shock almost, when he chooses not to divulge those moments, but these would-be interesting things have been done many times in fantasy. Alternatively, I can’t say that this intricate and subtle way of building this larger-than-life person is something I’m often exposed to.

“On his first hand he wore rings of stone,
Iron, Amber, Wood and Bone.
There were rings unseen on his second hand,
One blood in a flowing band,
One was air all whisper thin,
And the ring of ice had a flaw within.
Full faintly shone the ring of flame,
And the final ring was without name.”

The subtleties create such an immense and powerful story, which I find extremely satisfying in tandem with the innate magic system that Rothfuss creates. I can’t say enough about how much I love this magic system. It’s the best sort of “sorcery”, the kind that is wholly believable because it comes from probing your brain, from reaching deep within and coaxing, training yourself to harness this power that people so rarely have the discipline or self-awareness to reach. That’s the magic that as young kids or teenagers we wish to find within ourselves, until we are older and shelf that longing, immersing ourselves in fictional worlds where it IS possible.

“What use is care? What good is watching for that matter? People are forever watching things. They should be seeing. I see the things I look at. I am a see-er.”

As I mentioned in my review of Name of the Wind, Rothfuss is a god when it comes to characterization. The women burn with passion for life and for control over their own lives. This is furthered even more when we meet the Adem women. That is a whole new scope of female empowerment. I won’t spoil anything about their culture, but I will say: lol, man-mothers. Rothfuss takes something that is a very well known fact and completely spins it on its head. The best thing is, though it seems illogical to us, Kvothe has no way of convincing the women otherwise, especially in this time period where scientific advancement hasn’t progressed that far yet. I always get the best chuckle out of this part. While we are talking about characters, I’d like to mention that every time Bast calls Reshi, my heart grows three sizes. The tenderness between these two is something that is scored on my heart, and I long to know the journey that led them to this absolutely endearing friendship. I love that Rothfuss has created this world at the University where the oddballs of society have found a home. Puppet, Auri, Elodin. Even Manet, to some degree. The overly intelligent, the cracked ones, the ones in need of a safe haven, the ones who regard knowledge as the meaning of life. The man has absolutely seized my heart with these books. They are pretty close to perfect, my ideal fantasy series. The streak of humor that runs through them too, at the most unexpected times (the disposal of the rings, the letter to Ambrose, Elodin’s absolute manic weirdness).

“You can divide infinity an infinite number of times, and the resulting pieces will still be infinitely large,” Uresh said in his odd Lenatti accent. “But if you divide a non-infinite number an infinite number of times the resulting pieces are non-infinitely small. Since they are non-infinitely small, but there are an infinite number of them, if you add them back together, their sum is infinite. This implies any number is, in fact, infinite.”
“Wow,” Elodin said after a long pause. He leveled a serious finger at the Lenatti man. “Uresh. Your next assignment is to have sex. If you do not know how to do this, see me after class.”

The last thing I’d like to touch on is the progression of love in this novel. You can finally see the maturity in Kvothe and Denna’s love. After Tarbean, when they picnic by the river, you can feel a palpable tension in the air. The first awareness between the two of them that their relationship is special. It’s like going from middle school-high school relationships to that first true, deep love. You can feel it, others can see it. No longer are they two street urchins with a fondness for each other. Their fates are set together, in a way. Their souls call to each other. They might be annoyingly afraid to tell each other, but I think they finally feel it, subconsciously. Rothfuss made ME feel that raw emotion between them, so vicarious that it brought about nostalgia for the times I’ve experienced it. This is the end of my spoiler free review, if you couldn’t guess, it’s. 5/5 stars for me. After linking David and Lily’s pages, I’ll be posting some of my favorite theories, please scroll down if you’d like to read any of those! As we know, Rothfuss hides so much meaning in his words, I can help but pour over them for clues of the story to come.

“There are so many men, all endlessly attempting to sweep me off my feet. And there is one of you, trying just the opposite. Making sure my feet are firm beneath me, lest I fall.”


You can find my fabulous buddy readers at the following links

David (BookMeanderings at Fanfiaaddict): Blog | Twitter | IG | Goodreads

Lily: Twitter | IG | Goodreads


If you’d like to follow me elsewhere:

Me: Twitter | IG | Goodreads


Favorite theories:

•Auri being the piece of the moon that Jax/Iax kept. We do hear a bit more of this story in The Fae. Earlier, Elodin takes notice in Kvothe’s naming abilities once he sees what Kvothe has named her, and Kvothe thinks of her as his little moon Fae. I am also equally fond of the theory of her being a cracked Princess Ariel. Kvothe does try to tell the Smith’s Apprentice that he could tell him the true story of Princess Ariel, so we can probably expect to hear more about her in the next book. There’s a very interesting reddit link on that HERE. I’m also very scared that she’s the angel that Kvothe supposedly killed to get his heart’s desire. I think that would break my heart more than it being Denna, though I would SOB regardless (I don’t fall into the Denna hate group, a woman has gotta hustle to live and she IS good to Kvothe, he’s just a shy little lamb around her and doesn’t take his chances).

•Bredon as Master Ash. Dude. You cannot convince me otherwise. Bredon is Master Ash. First off, white hair. Second, why does this dude just come and insert himself into Kvothe’s life and guide him with the nobles? Why is he being so giving? Duh, he wants to play a beautiful game. I’m talking about more than Tak. What is more beautiful of a game than you having your hand in Denna’s live, beating her, while cozying up to Kvothe and making him trust you? Getting little secrets out of him. He puts such an emphasis on playing a beautiful game that I am sold on this theory. Also, the Cthaeh mentions that Denna’s patron BEATS HER WITH A WALKING STICK (ahem, Bredon uses a walking stick with a wolf’s head) and that IT IS A GAME TO HIM, to see how far he can push her. Yep. Also, the letters about Bredon being some pagan because he dances in rituals in the woods, Denna mentions dancing with her patron (which I assume is in private since nobody can know about him), and I think Bredon mentions something about learning to dance. There’s also a theory about Cinder being her patron but I am not convinced there.

•Kvothe’s loss of power is due to his “true” name somehow being changed. Elodin FREAKS when he thinks Kvothe or Fela has been changing their name, so we can assume this is very bad. I can’t see how else he’s lost the ability to do sympathy, to fight like an Adem, or any of the other things he’s learned. This is probably combined with the obvious tragedies he’s experienced before becoming Kote but there’s obviously a larger power at play.

•Kvothe might have some Amyr blood + some Lackless theories. Okay, okay, hear me out. Cthaeh promises Kvothe will eventually get its witty comment about sticking with the Maer because he will lead him to the Amyr’s door. After leaving the Fae he comes across some travelers and the son tells him a song about the Lackless, which mentions the Lackless door that is unopenable (and is similar to the song about the Lackless box in NotW) unless you have or do these 7 things (interesting number, given that the Chandrian are called the 7, but 7 and 3 are the most common numbers used in this world). Anyway, Felurian mentions that the Amyr sealed the first shaper behind stone. It’s curious that the Lackless supposedly have a stone door that they cannot open, though we haven’t heard a mention of it yet. Hence, Amyr blood may distantly run through their veins, if this sealed door is that same door. The Lackless were said to be much more powerful than they are now (which would make sense as they are all very intelligent but want to keep a low profile). This also would mean that Kvothe has Amyr blood running through his veins, if his mother is indeed Netalia Lackless (which, I THINK it’s safe to say, she is). If you aren’t aware of that theory, I think Kvothe’s father’s song about Laurian confirms it: Dark Laurian, Arliden’s wife,
Has a face like the blade of a knife
Has a voice like a pricklebrown burr
But can tally a sum like a moneylender.
My sweet Tally cannot cook.
But she keeps a tidy ledger-book
For all her faults, I do confess
It’s worth my life
To make my wife
Not tally a lot less
|(Netalia Lackless)

The Loeclos box that Meluan shows Kvothe may be the key to the door, or one of the 7 things needed to open the door. Either way, Kvothe’s training at the University makes it so he can feel some sort of power in the Yllish knot, and Meluan can barely feel it, whereas the Maer can’t at all. The Lackless/Amyr blood running through this undoubtably has something to do with them being able to sense it, and Kvothe will probably be the one to open the door. Here’s the two Lackless Rhymes. Kvothe already has the ring of wood, which could be the ring unworn, or a ring of air like Elodin and the song about his rings suggests. This box undoubtably holds another part of the puzzle. Sorry that this portion was a bunch of random thoughts but it’s still fun to try to piece stuff together!

•This is more of an observation, but I think we can take “It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man waiting to die” quite literally. Kvothe is speaking of the Chandrian, the Cthaeh, of the teachings at the University, of the teachings of the Adem. He’s not supposed to be talking about any of these things and he’s putting them all in print. He isn’t just waiting to die, he’s inviting death with relish.

Thanks for listening to a few of my theory ramblings, it’s so hard to get my thoughts straight when there’s so much to speculate.

“It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers. The harder the question, the harder we hunt. The harder we hunt, the more we learn.”

Think he’s trolling us, just a wee bit?

Now I’d love to hear your thoughts! What are your favorite Kingkiller Theories? Is Ambrose the king? Is Simmon? Who is the Angel? Is it Auri, Denna, or Fela? Why is Cinder stealing money, isn’t that a petty crime for a mythical being? Are the Amyr good or bad? Is the Chandrian’s evil fueled by a great cause? What’s behind the four plated door? How did Kvothe start the war? Who is Auri? What happens to Denna? Where is Caesura?

“Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”