The Sword and the Spirits by Robert Denton III - 7/10

The Sword and the Spirits is a novella set in the fantasy Japanese themed world of The Legend of the Five Rings, or more commonly L5R for short. If you've never heard of L5R before, it started life as a collectible card game but has recently been re-released as a 'living card game' by Fantasy Flight Games. In short, you represent one of the many clans and deploy living legends, mighty weapons and a splash of magic to defeat your enemy in battle or in the Imperial court.

The world of L5R is very very Japanese oriented, and draws most of its influences from the time of Bushido and the folk law of that time. The Sword and the Spirits is no different and is a novella following the selection of an inexperienced Phoenix clan champion, Shiba Tsukune, and her struggle to come to terms with the burden and expectations placed upon her with this new position.

It's a beautifully thematic piece of writing, merging the fictional with the real almost seamlessly and Denton manages to refer to the Japanese structures without needed to 'shout' 'look at how Japanese all this stuff is' and instead guides us around the culture he is building with each word. Even if you know nothing about L5R or actual Japanese culture before picking up this book I think most will still enjoy the story. While it is a basic coming of age story and divergence from the expected path, the specialist rules that govern the magic and mystery of this world keep it apart from similar stories that have come before it.

It does have a certain level of predictability to it, due to the nature of the story having good guys and bad guys, however, Denton manages to keep a few surprises and the ending is not as clean or easy as one might expect from this genre and this is just one of the reasons why I gave it the 7 out of 10 rating. The only reason it didn't get pushed up to an 8, is that for me the pacing was a little off. Although it is a novella, and so restricted in length, there were a few moments where characters seemed to know things with little reason for them to know so and perhaps this story would have been much better as a full novel, giving Denton the needed space to flesh out the characters and their relationships a little more.

That said, it really is an engaging read and took me less than a day to get from cover to cover! If you enjoy fantasy and stories set in an eastern culture then I would strongly recommend trying to get yourself a copy of this book.

You can buy a copy of The Sword and the Spirits from Amazon here --> The Sword and the Spirits by Robert Denton III


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