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“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”
― Voltaire

Daughter of the Sword - Steve Bein I am somewhat at a loss for words to explain why, exactly, Daughter of the Sword was an emotional miss. The story begins with a look inside Fuchida's head as he heads out to kill someone. Fuchida is an ambitious member of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia, and has an unnatural affection for his sword. We're next dropped into a scene of a group of Tokyo's cops on a drug bust, led by Mariko, the only female detective in the unit. Raised in America, Mariko is doubly an outsider in the department, and a younger sister with a drug problem doesn't help. A character-focused sequence on the antagonist, and an action-focused sequence on the protagonist didn't allow for developing character affinity. By the time I felt myself mildly interested in Mariko, Bein drops us into Japan's distant past, 1308 C.E., into the heads of a pair of married samurai and the sword Beautiful Singer. What the time shift really seems to be doing is giving us the background on a mysterious sword first introduced during Fuchida's section. But I found myself equally interested in the role of the female samurai, Hisami, as she sought to maintain honor for her husband and their clan. When it ends, we drop back into Fuchida's head, followed by an expanded stay in Mariko's storyline. Witnessing her negotiate family relationships and struggle with her supervisor as he assigns her to a seemingly minor case is the first chance to really get a sense of her story and the modern plot conflict. An extended historical sequence follows, and while I found myself somewhat annoyed by the time shift, the story of a pair of brothers and their interactions with the sword Glorious Victory was engaging. Once it ends, it is back to modern Japan, one last time-shift, and then a climactic scene in modern Japan.Bein is clearly a competent writer, and yet there is something missing, particularly in the ability to engage the reader's emotions. Its worth noting that in the Afterword, he identifies his extensive background in philosophy. Perhaps it is trained disengagement that prevents connection, perhaps it is that he isn't sure if he wants to tell the story of the "fated blades" or of the people drawn to them--I'm not quite sure whose story I'm reading.Characterization was one of the weaker links. Mariko's character feels a little exaggerated all the way through; supposedly dedicated and driven, she misses obvious opportunities with her informer; supposedly tortured by her past, I never really got a sense of her experiences and her history, beyond her motivation to stay in Japan to honor her dead father; supposedly controlling, she loses her temper at work in various situations and forgets her aikido skills on stakeout. The multilayered interactions with her sister felt the most realistic of all of her dialogue, but were too few to carry the character through the book. Her tutor feels a little tropey with shades of Mr. Miyagi, the wise Asian teacher in disguise.Surprisingly, the historical sections felt the most engaging. Perhaps its the gestalt that doesn't work in this case: although plotted well enough to draw the timelines together through the different swords and (minor spoiler) one of the characters, it still ends up feeling disjointed in the overall storytelling--too many people, too many swords. Perhaps its the problem of maintaining writer voice through the different periods--Mariko's colloquialisms and swearing were jarring in their contrast with historical Japan.There's also a feeling of trying to be different, as if a couple of plot choices were made that were incongruent with the mysticism built for the swords and the characters. It was extremely disappointing to discover Fuchida was planning to trade the sword to an ignorant American in a drug deal. What was enjoyable was the unusual take in the urban fantasy genre, the Japanese setting, both current and historical, and the general skill with language. Its worth noting that there was--most thankfully--and absence of romance in the main character's storyline--and a consistently serious tone, both uncommon in the UF genre. I wouldn't rule out reading any other books Bein decides to write, but I'd hope he narrows down his focus a little so that his skills can shine."That was the sole logic of the triathlon, and the sole logic of police work as well: no matter how wearisome it became, the difficult life was her sole inoculation against terminal boredom."Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/daughter-of-the-sword-by-steve-bein/