What goes on in the world without our knowledge? How much of reality do we see? And when we notice, how much power do we have to change the course of fate and history? What is our responsibility when we learn the truth? Voice of the Sword volume one of the Sword, Mirror, and Jewel series by John Paul Catton combines modern life in Tokyo, Japan, science fiction, and traditional Japanese mythology. One moment the characters are traveling to an alternative universe, the next they are battling creatures called Tagaki, the next they are trying to drill underneath Tokyo, the next they learn when they do that they will wake a god.
We follow the journey of Reiko Bergman, a high school student recently returned from the US. After a peaceful trip to Yamaka cemetery, to check out an inscription on a gravestone for history class, goes wrong, she tries to dig to the bottom of what is happening, both supernatural and scientific in order to save her boyfriend Hideaki from possession by a dark shadow creature, a creature who she later learns is made of dark matter. She is later joined by a clone from an alternative universe, and a secret group of samurai who control Japan from the shadows. The stakes soon rise from personal to national, and perhaps even global.
Reiko is not a reluctant hero, but her adventures stem from being in the right place at the right time. The biggest insights into the characters other than Reiko come through brief description and dialogue. Her reflections on the differences between Japanese education and the American system show how she is still getting reacquainted with Japan. Her classmates are from similar situations. The various elements cause some confusion as I am new to the world that Catton has created. Reiko is likewise trying to keep track of everything she has learned which creates a connection with the character.
“Genji decided to make a contribution. “It would appear the Gotaro are also keen to obtain this forbidden technology, and are working with the Black Pavilion, and Takagi, who tracked and captured the Tengu who held one of the Kanemune swords.”
“What about my teacher? Mr. Akanuma? He’s the one who sent Hideaki and me into…” I couldn’t finish the sentence.
“Yes, Reiko,” Mr. Yanno said gently. “You or Hideaki – or both of you – were meant to be the hosts for the dark-matter creatures. Mr. Akanuma is working for Takagi in disguising this alien mercenary as an ordinary schoolboy.”
It could have been me, I thought, Mr. Akanuma didn’t care. Any teenager could be a host for the living darkness. It didn’t matter which student became infected – we were all the same to him.”
Voice of the Sword is a plot focused book, written from Reiko’s point of view. Her adventures, although they strengthen her and she learns to fight for herself and her loved ones, do not cause great personal change in the character. Catton’s writing is evenly paced with events happening throughout, climaxing in a battle for the survival of Tokyo and perhaps the greater world. The dialogue also provides munch of the background into the history of the mythology, although some of it is provided through Reiko’s interest in history.
Voice of the Sword is a great book for lovers of urban fantasy interested in a new setting. Japanese mythology is less common in the fantasy genre, creating a fresh set of elements readers will want to explore further. The story is continued in later volumes, although the novel could standalone.
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