A review by JC Kang
Shogun meets the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy.
With over a thousand reviews on Amazon, Ryan Kirk’s Nightblade trilogy is perhaps the most popular Asian fantasy, with the exception of Will Wight’s Cradle series. I had listened to book one a couple of years ago, and while I enjoyed the characters, story, and worldbuilding, I didn’t love it enough to continue with the series. The main reason was that as a semi-fluent Japanese speaker, I cringed at the narrator’s pronunciation of Japanese names, and didn’t think I could sit through a couple dozen hours of it. I figured one day, I would get around to reading it.
Enter Emily Woo Zeller, perhaps the best-known narrator of Asian-themed stories. Her credits include R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War, M. H. Boroson’s The Girl with Ghost Eyes, and Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up. Not only does she pronounce all (well, all but one; sorry Daisuke) of the names in Nightblade Vengeance correctly, the heart she puts into the story brings the world of Nightblade to life.
Nightblade’s Vengeance is the start of a Blades of the Fallen trilogy in Kirk’s Nightblade world, a prequel series that describes some of the events alluded to in the original. While I thought the concept of Nightblades and Dayblades using The Sense was similar to Jedi and Sith using The Force in Star Wars, the prequel series fleshes the powers out more: Nightblades cast their Sense wide to evaluate surroundings and apply it to combat; Dayblades focus their Sense close in for healing. Unlike the original, where the Blades have been persecuted and scattered, the prequel story takes place when they are still respected defenders and peacekeepers of the kingdom.
The story follows three central characters, all with competing agendas, all whom are fully realized individuals who I couldn’t help but to root for. Considering one’s success meant the failure of another, I worried throughout who would succeed in their goals. Asa, a talented young Nightblade, seeks vengeance for a missing Nighblade who murdered her father. Kiyoshi, an elderly Dayblade, and confidante of the king, wishes nothing more than peace and prosperity for the nation. Minori, a Dayblade on their ruling council, believes in peace and prosperity as well, but thinks the realm would be better served if the Blades were in charge. A seminal event from twenty years before, which has diminished the Blades’ standing in the realm, sets all three’s stories in motion.
And what a story! Reminiscent of James Clavell’s Shogun, there are three powerful lords paying lip service to a ruler, all the while jockeying for power after he dies. One in particular, is playing chess while the others are playing checkers. Following how all the characters manipulate each other, all while thinking they have the upper hand, is nothing short of beautiful.
The combat scenes, while relatively few in number, are head and shoulders above the original Nightblade saga. In the former, fights felt told rather than shown; whereas in Nightblade’s Vengeance, the author details intricate fights without bogging down pace or taking away from the emotion.
Because of my sheer enjoyment of the story, Nightblade’s Vengeance earns 9.342 stars out of 10.
If you are interested in learning more about this series, check out our live interview with Ryan Kirk over on our Facebook Group!
*This review first appeared on Fantasy Faction and was reprinted here with permission of the reviewer.