Here we have another new author. I am not sure if we live in a golden age of fiction or if standards have gotten laxer and everyone can get published. So far I am leaning toward the latter as most of these new authors are either one-hit wonders or decidedly mediocre right out of the gates.
Fated Blades tells the stories of the blades forged by the forgotten Japanese swordsmith Inazuma. How he became forgotten is unbelievable because in the books up until at least WW2 his work was well-known and respected. It is even mentioned that he invented techniques of forging usually attributed to Muramasa and Masamune, two heralded swordsmiths only a hundred years younger than him. You would think such a legend would not pass into history unremarked. Nevertheless these are magic swords with magic properties, the finest blades ever crafted.
The plot of the first book revolves around a psycho, Fuchida, wielding an Inazuma blade said to be cursed by a scorned female lover. Thus, Beautiful Singer, the blade, drives men mad with lust for the blade. Fuchida even sleeps with it. However, one is not enough for him as he wants to sell another one to start a coke dealing operation.
Mariko, our female protagonist, gets involved when in her position as the only true female police officer in Tokyo she investigates a series of random murders. She eventually runs into Fuchida’s mentor, Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid, and owner of an Inazuma blade that Fuchida wants. Ok he has another name, Yamada, but that is his role in the story. He even teaches Mariko some swordplay along with aphorisms useful in both life and swordfighting.
Anyways, I think you can see how this plot would unfold. The problem is that it is not really that interesting. Dude wants to steal magic sword to buy drugs is not exactly lighting up the fires of my imagination. Also Fuchida initiates almost all events rather than Mariko using actual detective work to find him. Yamada as Miyagi is pretty trite and the author kills him off far too quickly to actually get that attached to him.
Where the book succeeds is in the flashback sequences that tell little vignettes about the three Inazuma blades. In one, Beautiful Singer seduces and brings down two samurai in quick succession. Strangely I found the samurai’s wife to be the most interesting part. She has a lot of power but must always be attendant to her husband’s needs. The longest details the tribulations of a semi-crippled samurai. His father bequeathed an Inazuma blade to him and this causes tensions with his brother. Finally we see Yamada when he was young in WW2 and learn that Japan losing and the Bataan Death March were all down to him not intervening at the right time.
All of them are more interesting than the main plot. I get the feeling that the author’s interest in Japanese history compels him more than the idea of telling a story in modern day Japan. For a first time author it wasn’t bad and we can hope he gets better.
Except he doesn’t.
The second book has all the same faults as the first. The storylines in the past are far and away more interesting than Mariko. They have ninjas flipping out and killing people and magic swords and crazed demon masks. The modern plot is dull and makes no sense. It revolves around some terrorist cult that sells drugs to distract the police from the bombs they are planning to detonate. Except that their distraction just leads Mariko to their terrorist plot when it is abundantly clear they could have kept the whole thing secret from the police until after the fact. I have some faith that things will be made clear in the last book, but I doubt that you can really close the gaping hole in logic the author has rent.
The other problem is just how boring Mariko is. At least in the last book she is fighting against a patriarchy that wants nothing to do with her. While the author beat us over the head with it in the first book, it defined Mariko well. Here she has a supporting partner and an enthusiastic lieutenant. In fact the final scene between the three is as overtly sappy as I haven’t seen since The Lives of Tao. But without the adversity within the police department their is really nothing else about Mariko to grab onto. Contrast this with Daigoro from one of the past storylines who is constantly grappling with bushido, morality and the absurdly evil Shichio who believes in neither. It’s just so much better.
So yeah, it wouldn’t get my recommendation over tens of other books, but if you are an avid reader you could do worse.