Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein. ★★★1/2
Daughter of the Sword is novel that blends several different genres together as it creates the story of three fated swords and the policewoman who’s path they cross.
Oshiro Mariko is the only female detective in Tokyo. She’s placed under a lieutenant who wishes to squash her attempts to transfer to narcotics. Instead, he sends her off on what he perceives to be a time wasting task: answering a report of an attempted robbery. The victim? Yamada Yasuo, a nearly blind old man who’s an expert on sword craft. He possesses an ancient blade forged by a nearly mythical sword smith, Inazuma. The thief, whom has sections following him scattered throughout the book, possesses his own Inazuma, but he wishes to gain another.
Each of the three Inazuma sword has legends and traits associated with them. To reveal these, Daughter of the Sword delves into sections of historical fiction, taking place at different times throughout Japan’s history. The resulting novel is part historical fiction, part urban fantasy, and part detective story. Overall, Daughter of the Sword is low on magic. There’s the mystical properties of the blades and a seer who comes in near the end. Besides that and a willingness to rely on destiny, there’s nothing that could be termed magic. If you’re seeking sorcerers and werewolves, look elsewhere.
I liked Mariko as a lead. She’s both smart and determined, and I feel that I could come to really love her in future books. Significantly, she does not have a love interest or a romantic subplot. Do you know how rare this is for a female lead? It feels practically unheard of. Mariko’s most difficult relationship is with her sister, a drug addict. Mariko feels responsible for her but also knows that ultimately her sister needs to make her own decision to improve. In the beginning, I had very little faith in Daughter of the Sword pulling this relationship off well. (Spoiler for the rest of the paragraph). Basically, I thought she’s be killed off and her death used to motivate Mariko to some sort of vengeance and cause all sorts of angst. While her sister is threatened as part of the plot, she’s surprisingly still alive at the end, and I was very appreciative that Daughter of the Sword took a different route with its female side characters.
Bein, a professor of Asian philosophy who did grad work in Japan, obviously did his research for Daughter of the Sword. The historical details as well as facts about modern day Japan are blended throughout the novel. However, Mariko, while Japanese, spent most of her childhood in the United States. She feels like she doesn’t wholly fit in anywhere (in her country, her job, or even her family), and her outsider status allows her to explain some things to the audience, which is fairly obviously intended to be American.
Overall, I enjoyed Daughter of the Sword. It doesn’t have the constant action of what you may expect of urban fantasy novels, and you would probably like it more if you have a taste for historical fiction. I would recommend it to people looking for a book with a female lead and no romance or an urban fantasy novel which stretches their horizons. I plan on reading the sequel.