Credible Asian martial-arts fantasy by a white woman from Oklahoma. In 1988. Who'd have thought?
This is a story about stories, about legends, and the contrast between those and the real people and real events they describe. About how those stories and legends change the world and win battles just as much as physical feats do. It's about learning to write the legends, to affect the outcomes, to give the story an ending that can be lived with.
It is also a classic martial-arts story of an intense young student seeking revenge, a reluctant teacher finding rebirth and renewal through that student, and how they grow together. It's about one of the most believable young swordswomen I've ever met in fiction. It's about war and fighting and trickery and deception, and the forms of honor versus the spirit.
I have a gut feeling that a lot of tropers would really like this book, especially those familiar with anime and manga. Get past the fact that it's an Asian fantasy written by a white woman from Oklahoma; to me nothing in this book is a misstep. The fantasy country it takes place in is somewhere halfway between Japan and China in terms of inspiration; the country feels more Chinese, but the hero and heroine more Japanese to me. Doubtless the purist will find a lot to pick holes in here, but Cherryh knows her history and her warfare.
More than that, though, Shoka and Taizu are incredibly real people, likable but infuriating at the same time, and their fractious relationship is an absolute delight. The two of them are absolutely perfect for each other in their wonderfully imperfect selves, and seeing how they both grow in each other's company is captivating.
Shoka is that rare beast for Cherryh, a mature and confident middle-aged man rather than the tough women and sensitive young men who tend to be her leads. In many respects this book tackles many of the same themes as the Morgaine Cycle
, the last book of which so far was written in the same year, but with the age and experience dynamics flipped (although not the emotional one). If you liked them, I'd venture to say you'll love this one as well.
Oh, and the title will confuse the heck out of anyone with a Dungeons And Dragons
background. Ignore what you think it means.