Review: Blades’s Edge by Virginia McClain

Two friends.
Two forbidden powers.
One chance to change everything.

When Mishi is taken from her orphanage home, she fears she’ll never see her best friend Taka again. And when Taka is taken to the infamous Josankō that same day, it seems as if more than distance will keep them apart.

Suddenly alone in their fight to survive, each girl must come to terms with her true nature—Mishi as warrior, Taka as healer. Years after their separation, the girls’ journeys lead them each to uncover the horrifying secret that the Rōjū council has spent centuries killing to keep.

Now the Rōjū council wants Taka and Mishi dead and they’ll have only one chance to save their people.

How much will Mishi and Taka sacrifice in order to protect all they hold dear?

Amazon | Goodreads

My Review

I read a digital version of this book as one of my choices for #februaryshewrote which is a month long reading event organised by Ben over at Literature n Lofi.

Blade’s Edge is set in a fictional country named Gensokai which is based on medieval feudal Japan. There are many Japanese words or pseudo-Japanese words used throughout the story and I found the included glossary of terms very useful.

The narrative follows the fates of two remarkable young girls who were best friends in their orphanage from a very young age. Both have kisō – elemental energy magic. Taka possesses amazing healing powers through her water kisō, and Mishi is a talented fighter, due to her fire kisō – destined to be a Kisōshi like both her parents were. In this world women are not allowed to become Kisōshi, however, and midwives are trained to recognize kisō in girl babies and kill them. Because of this barbaric fact, both Taka and Mishi have to carefully hide their talents. Taka is sent to a school for midwives and is horrified when she discovers what is expected of her:

“How could her classmates and the women who had gone through the school before her believe that a woman with more kisō than a josanpu would be a danger to society? She found it amazing that the instructors could be so effective in their methods, that so many of the girls already took the information as just one more necessary evil in this world where women were considered inherently corrupt.”

Mishi is luckily saved from a nasty fate by a man who does not believe Kisōshi should only be male and sends her to a secret school where she acts as a servant to the male Kisōshi by day, but once they go home at the end of the day she and two other girls are trained as Kisōshi. Her aptitude means that before long she is sent to climb the nearby mountain as a test and meets a surprising new mentor at the dragon shrine she discovers at the top. The new mentor was a fantastic element of the story – but I do not want to give away spoilers here. He really pushes her to the edge of her limits.

When Taka escapes from the midwife school into the forest, she encounters Yanagi, an ancient and powerful tree spirit, who becomes her mentor. I loved this character so much. Thousands of years old, he is not sensitive to the usual ways of humans:

“Angry tree spirits are not to be trifled with,”

Yanagi also introduces her to Riyōshi the hawk who becomes her companion and protector. I always enjoy an animal companion, so this was another aspect of the story which I appreciated.

There are strong themes of bravery; of standing up for your beliefs against society; girl power in the face of adversity and found family in this book:

“Kuma-sensei once told me that the family we choose is even stronger than the family we’re given.”

There is also plenty of exciting action, including a heist and well-choreographed fight scenes:

“After pressing the assassin all the way to the end of the hall, she feinted left and let her foot slide back, as though she had lost her balance. The hishi lunged forward at the opening she had created, but the slide was a calculated move, and the opening only a lure to bring him closer. As the man stepped forward, Mishi slid her back foot out in an arc behind her that forced her body to follow it. In seconds her sword, following the arc of her body, had slid neatly across the hishi’s chest and opened him from ribs to shoulder. He collapsed, not from the sleeping draught that coated her blade, but because death had taken him.”

All of the action culminates in an audacious master plan to attempt to overthrow the long-held and outdated societal prejudices against women held by the current regime, and it turns out that Mishi and Taka’s destinies are bound together in intriguing and unexpected ways – but will they ever see each other again? There are many unexpected twists and turns which were gripping and kept me glued to the story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will read its sequel, Traitor’s Hope.

About the Author

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.

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