If you haven’t yet heard of Nightblade by Ryan Kirk, then you are in for quite the treat. This book not only has over seven-hundred reviews on Amazon, with an overall rating of 4.5, but is also one of the best books I’ve read this year. This book is a thrilling combination of fantasy and historical adventure, with characters who are flawed, relatable, as well as supremely capable; and a story that draws you in from start to finish.
Nightblade follows Ryuu, starting with his life at the age of five. Struck by tragedy, Ryuu finds himself in the care of Shigeru, a man who lives by the sword and by the sense—a mystical power that allows a person to sense all living things and their connections—and is almost forgotten by the world. It turns out that Shigeru is one of the mystical nightblades, a warrior lost to the mists of a history that reviles them. He trains Ryuu in the ways of the nightblade, teaching him combat skills, mental control and the rules by which to live. Only Ryuu, being as much young boy and impressionable teen, gets into trouble.
This story also follows two other characters whose fates are intertwined with Ryuu: Mariko and Takako. Mariko is a girl who also possesses the sense; only, she is not quite so fortunate as to end up with a master like Shigeru. Instead, she is taken by the monasteries, a collection of people with the sense who do their best to control it, not use it. Mariko must remember her love of the forest in order to survive, but there are going to be many obstacles standing in her way. Takako is a young, beautiful girl who is sold to pay her father’s debts. She finds herself wrapped up in the world of politics and war when a chance meeting with Ryuu shapes the path her life will take. Ever the optimist, Takako must remember the good if she is to come to terms with her new life.
The three of them come together and must determine which way their future lies. The fate of the Kingdom could depend on it.
This book features characters who are quite intriguing. It is always interesting to see stories start with a child thrust into unfortunate or unavoidable circumstances, and watch them grow. Many of these sorts of stories can take an indefinable amount of time to show change, or the character may grow physically but doesn’t really mature. Nightblade, though, manages to create characters who grow and mature wonderfully into their roles. I enjoyed watching each of the characters grow and face the circumstances put to them. The characters felt realistic and definitely entertaining to follow. (Mariko is perhaps my favourite, but I do like Ryuu rather a lot, too. Mariko wins, though.)
As far as the writing style of this book goes, I found it very well done. The language was the expected style for books of a historical nature. That is, it used the more formal register throughout. It managed to make that both interesting and dynamic, though, all the while remaining clear and easy to follow. It is quite clear that the author does not doubt the intelligence of his readers, which is a definite plus. There were a few occasions where one character spoke much like another, but those were focused more in training situations and were few enough that it matters little.
My favourite part of this story (besides Mariko) is probably the epilogue. The epilogue set up book two perfectly, while still managing to acknowledge previous events. Ryuu was, I think, finding his stance as a full nightblade and his words displayed that clearly. There was just enough humour to make the reader breathe a little easier after the drama of the final chapters. (May I just say, oh my!) And it left the reader wanting more without the desperate need to demand answers in book two (I’m looking at you, Lee Conley. Still waiting for book two, thank you!) that can come with the more dramatic cliffhangers.
I do have one critique for this book. The description of time is a little bit wonky. The book alternates between characters about every couple of chapters. As such, time passes for each character. But it almost appears that characters age at different rates because the time mentioned in each new character section is not consistent. This problem goes away near the end of the book, as the characters meet up and start interacting with one another. However, it is a little bit confusing up until that point. If you don’t particularly care about the ageing of characters and can live with the idea that “they’ll get there when they get there” then don’t worry about this. It is a fairly minor issue and, like I said, becomes irrelevant at the end of the book.
On the whole, Nightblade is a stunning display of command of language, fleshed-out characters and a story that is highly entertaining to explore. I found it to be one of the best books I’ve read this year. I now need to go read book two, so that I can continue to follow these characters on their journey. Because, honestly, I have a feeling that Mariko is going to have some lovely snark to share.