Today is my stop on the tour for Sairō’s Claw by Virginia McClain, organised by Storytellers on Tour. Thank you once again to Justine and Timy for having me along on this highly enjoyable tour! As soon as I saw the cover for this book I knew I had to read it and I greatly appreciate being sent a digital copy to read in exchange for an honest review, as part of the tour. Thank you to Justine, Timy and Virginia McClain for sending me a copy. Please be sure to check out the posts from the other bloggers taking part on the tour as well:
Sairō’s Claw by Virginia McClain
Series: Gensokai Kaigai (#1), Chronicles of Gensokai (#3)
Published: May 7, 2021
Genre: Fantasy, Action-Adventure, LGBTQ, Seafaring Adventure Fantasy, Samurai-inspired Fantasy
An action-adventure fantasy romp featuring sword lesbians, sea battles, and a grumpy wolf spirit.
Torako has done many things to protect the valley that she calls home, but she’s never looted a corpse before. So when the katana she steals off the still-cooling body of a bandit turns out to be possessed by a grumpy wolf kami, she can only assume it’s because she’s somehow angered the spirits. An impression that’s only reinforced when she returns home to find her wife abducted and her daughter in hiding. But angry spirits or no, Torako isn’t about to let bandits run off with the love of her life, even if it means taking their 3 year old on a rescue mission.
In all Kaiyo’s years as Captain of the Wind Serpent she has never once questioned her admiral’s orders. So when she receives the command to abduct a civilian scribe with the help of fifteen felons, she registers her objections, but does as she is bid. Yet, as the mission unfolds, Kaiyo finds herself questioning everything from her loyalties to her convictions.
As Torako and Kaiyo’s fates cross like dueling blades, their persistence is matched only by their fury, until they uncover a series of truths they may never be ready to accept.
Sairō’s Claw is the first of Virginia McClain’s books that I have read, and also the first fantasy I have read which was set mostly at sea. I have to say it will not be the last I read of either of those! Set in a society inspired by Japanese history and culture, I was grateful at times for the glossary at the beginning of the book. However once I got used to the Japanese terminology interspersed within the text and its unusual and intriguing style, I really loved this book, and could not put it down. The language is just as essential in helping to build this world, rich in cultural formality and ancient customs, such as the tea ceremony, as are the vibrant descriptions of the locations themselves. The worldbuilding is constantly in the background of the action of the story, but it is still very present, and the result is a vivid depiction of a world you can easily visualize without realizing it has been described to you.
The characters in this novel are detailed and nuanced, full of contradictions, with levels of believable emotion and motivation. Noone is a stereotype. I loved Kaiyo, the no-nonsense ship’s captain and daughter of Admiral Saito, who is expected by her mother to behave and dress in a way which is anathema to her authentic self. She is respectful of her parents and occasionally complies, in order to avoid the wrath of her mother, but when expected to marry in order to mend her tarnished reputation, Kaiyo is horrified. She is determined not to go along with such a plan, until persuaded by her mother’s pick for her, her first mate, Tanaka, that it could simply be an arrangement of convenience.
Kaiyo is sent by her father on a dangerous mission to kidnap a scribe and ex-spy, Raku, with the help of fifteen criminals of the worst type. She finds it a daunting task but her upbringing and respect for her father would not allow her to refuse such a task, despite her instincts telling her she should not undertake such a mission.
I also loved Torako, a living legend and mythic warrior, known as the Nightstalker in her valley, who is nonetheless a fiercely protective mother to her daughter, Itachi. The relationship between Torako and Itachi is heartwarming. She is disturbed that her daughter had to watch her kill the bandits in the forest, but would do anything to keep Itachi safe:
Itachi was a compass for Torako’s heart. Wherever she went, Torako pointed and followed.
Little did Torako know that her wife, Raku is the scribe being hunted by the bandits, so it was not only Itachi she was keeping safe with her protective actions in killing the bandits. In searching their bodies for clues as to their identities, Torako discovers a katana sword with an ornate handle which had puzzled Kaiyo earlier, on the ship:
Her thumb ran over the small amber jewels that glowed together in the afternoon sun. They were set into the face of a silver wolf, its features placid but stern, its fur looking almost real enough to move in the breeze that ruffled the trees around her. Before she could stop her hands, or even question what they were doing, she had removed the saya from the man’s belt, cleaned the blade on his trousers, sheathed it, and hung it from her own belt.
The katana contains the wolf spirit, Sairō, who has been trapped within it for a thousand years. Sairō is able to manipulate people via the sword and makes their way to Torako, whose fierce spirit is able to survive a particular rite needed to make Sairō whole again and bind her to a human. The rite enables Sairō to take her proper form of an enormous talking wolf. Meanwhile the bandits have reached the cave where Raku and Itachi are sleeping and the stakes are raised.
Torako’s relationship with the lovable rogue, Kitsu, is endearing and I enjoyed their banter. Although she has known him forever and he is the father of her child, she is never quite sure if she can trust him and he knows exactly how to ignite her fury. I looked forward to the chapters where they were on the page together.
Kaiyo is hellbent on successfully completing her mission to deliver Raku to the Admiral and Torako is equally determined to rescue her imperiled wife and wreak revenge on her captor … which of these strong-willed women will prevail? When their story arcs meet up it’s explosive to say the least!
I found the fearsome powers of the various mages in the story intriguing, some, such as the wind or water mages, are able to manipulate one of the elements, while others, blood mages, are able to manipulate blood inside a person to initiate healing. Many different Kami or spirits are also present in the story, which aid with the overall magical, mystical feel of Sairō’s Claw.
To recap, some highlights:
Sailors who can manipulate the wind to travel faster.
Healers who can manipulate water or blood inside you to initiate healing.
A protective mother’s dangerous encounter in the woods with deadly criminals.
A breakneck chase on an enormous Wolf, chasing horseback riders.
A charming smuggler with sea serpents answering his beck and call.
Sairō’s Claw is a fabulously original story full of exciting action and genuine emotion and I wolfed it down (sorry- couldn’t resist that!!). I would recommend it to anyone looking for something a little different!
Virginia McClain is an author who masqueraded as a language teacher for a decade or so. When she’s not reading or writing she can generally be found playing outside with her four legged adventure buddy and the tiny human she helped to build from scratch. She enjoys climbing to the top of tall rocks, running through deserts, mountains, and woodlands, and carrying a foldable home on her back whenever she gets a chance. She’s also fond of word games, and writing descriptions of herself that are needlessly vague.