A rich, engaging, morally complex historical fantasy, deeply embedded in Japanese culture.
This is the second novel in a series, but I must tell you up front that I had not read the first. I supported the kickstarter project that launched the book, and recieved the ebook as a reward.
At first, it took me a little while to sink into this book. Something about the style was unsettling. . .and it occurred to me that the book reads like a translation from the Japanese. The syntax is just a little different, the passages of poetry or other Japanese works that open each chapter often flow naturally into the style of the narrative itself, a fascinating phenomenon, and one that speaks well for Heermann’s linguistic ear. The author lived in Japan for several years.
So, on to the story. We meet young ronin Ken’ishi working as a constable in a small fishing village, defending the week, denying the child of the former prostitute whom he saved from the life, even as he enjoys the company of both mother and child.
Ken’ishi’s choices–including how he treats this family that might or might not be his–were often unsettling as well. Once, I nearly set it down again, but when I read on past the moment that rankled, I found Ken’ishi the stronger for it.
His mindset and the world he lives in are decidedly non-Western, and the reader expecting a more straightforward fantasy narrative might be surprised by some of the turns, but the book rewards the curious reader with moving relationships, visceral battle scenes, and all the marvels of Japanese mythology.
Not for the faint of heart, Sword of the Ronin balances action with more intimate drama as both reader and hero question the way forward, and move through a landscape of war and legends to just the right moment of balance before the third volume. I, for one, will be looking forward to it.