A clan destroyed. A pact with a beast. A warrior will spill her own cursed blood for vengeance ...
Masako escaped the Lord Council with only her life intact, her clan shattered, and master dead in wake of disaster she wrought. It is her cursed blood that opens a gate it shouldn't, a demi-god answers.
By the power in her blood, and a promise made with it, she’s given a second chance. With it, she must unite the outer clans, move past old rivalries and worse, or face annihilation at the hands of a foreign sect of sorcerers, the Taosii Soshists, and their silent invasion.
Only, Masako was executed, she’s meant to be dead. Demonic rumours and a destructive past sow doubt in her campaign before it is begun.
Buy a copy to find out whether Masako can win back the trust of a nation.
The Blood of Outcasts by D.A.Smith is the first book in The Bane Sword Trilogy. (What I am so excited about was if you follow the author on his Twitter, a couple of days ago he said that the series looks into being longer than what he expected. And while it is called a trilogy, I really hope that this turns out to be a bigger series. Now, let’s dive into The Blood of Outcasts, shall we?
I won’t lie by telling you this is a simple read. Nope. But, I will definitely tell you that this is a complex book. It is complex because despite being the first book, it was fast-paced. And it was a game-changer for me. Almost all the books that I read, tend to have a slow start and so I was not expecting to be sucked into the wilderness right away. But I did. AND I AM SO HYPED.
I said it before it was a complex book and what I really loved is that there is no one reason why it is complex, there are a series of reasons and the whole package makes it a complex deal. Let’s start with the World-Building and Magic. I am combining the two of them. Every world, especially in the Fantasy setting have their own specialities. Something unique. What I loved in The Blood of Outcasts is that what I read was something different. I was confused for a long time. I’ll admit that. There were scenes after scenes where things kept on happening and I was like But why. But then you slowly start to understand the dynamics. You understand the magic system and it helps you find the answers. What I admire is how much effort has been put into world-building. There are things that you pick up slowly, intrinsic detail that you realise after a while. There is one scene…it’s totally without any context. Well, not exactly a scene but the words made me stop. It happened a lot but…
“You hear it don’t you? The night’s usual chatter is dead. What happens next?”
( A little more on the World-building aspect. It is Asian inspired story. Now, generally while reading Fantasy, these things don’t matter to me as such. But the reason I am mentioning this is. Despite, being Asian the names were different for me. I am not sure how to properly pronounce a couple of words but don’t let that be the reason to not finish this gem or give a low rating, because you did not know how to connect the names.)
Masako is a complex, flawed, level-headed protagonist that made this book alive. I really admire how every problem or every question has just one answer for her. It is to do whatever possible to restore the lost honour. To restore her Master’s honour. There can be people with knives on her throat and her mind would be, I need to leave this place because I have to restore the lost honour. And honestly, I admire her for that vision. For having that one target, one goal in her mind. I get it. Even if her discussions are not always the correct ones or something that I would do, I get why she does that and I honestly admire it.
People often tell me to read more Non-fiction. You will learn something. What do you learn when you read Fantasy? And I would like to show them a few sentences of The Blood of Outcasts.
“When the sword is unfamiliar, when the blade us distant, a thousand more swings you’ll know it once more. A thousand more and you’ll become it.”
Or something like this:
“But, what of those mistakes, those horrors that weren’t recorded? How do we learn from them? I ask myself all the time, but you see, history loses snothing. Those dark, earsed truths still live today, and we should do well in searching, studying for them, or they’ll crawl out of the annals and rend all we know.”
I told you it is pretty darn good. This inevitably takes us to the writing. I loved the writing, there is no doubt about it but it was a bit confusing at times, some things could be explained better. Especially where there were instances at the beginning where the names of animals joined in. It could be eased in? The writing was amazing just a bit confusing at times.! There is one thing that happened to me. I didn’t read the blurb before starting the book. And as I was reading the first chapter, till halfway, I was convinced that the protagonist was a man. And when I realised, NOPE. It was amazing. Because damn…we have chapters where you are describing a warrior’s…umm…I don’t know how to say it but…it was a Female warrior and I didn’t recognise it. No sexual remark, no focus on the body, just talks about blood everywhere. You get it, right? Maybe an oversight in my reading but whatever it enjoyed my overall enjoyment in reading.
A COUPLE OF THINGS THAT I FOUND UNIQUE (It isn’t a spoiler just explained in detail.)
The concept of the points where heaven and Earth intercept is so cool. And having people guard it so they don’t interfere with what men do? Yup, loved the concept.
The lesson with Impatience? Smith, you know you did an amazing job there, didn’t you? Especially when the guilt comes crashing with the deaths.
“I rush in, just like when Master died. The farmer tried to teach me patience, and he dies in my impatience.”
I’ve known Dan was writing for a while now, watching his updates on Twitter as he posted about meeting various writing milestones and such. It came as a complete surprise, however, when he dropped an entire novel out of nowhere at the beginning of the year! What made it even greater was the premise, a Japanese-inspired tale of revenge and his personal love letter to Rurouni Kenshin! Sold! Though I am lucky to call Dan a friend, the following review is not influenced by that and are my personal thoughts about the book. Spoiler warning, it’s great!
Emerging from the waters, the droplets drip off me and so does the pity, the sadness I feel for myself, because now it is only anger. A wildness that won’t give way until they are all gone.
Masako’s story is on the surface one of vengeance—of righting a wrong committed against herself and her family. And, it is that in spades, but it’s also so much more. I really enjoyed the layers of emotion that was explored throughout the novel. Masako is, ultimately, a good person on a righteous quest. Her entire clan was destroyed and she was left for dead because of the greed of the ruling clan, so most would agree that that is plenty of justification for her to get revenge. The problem is that after Masako was brought low by the Lord Council, she never rose out of the mud. Instead, in her quest for justice she inevitably becomes the very thing she’s out to destroy.
Smith openly states that The Blood of Outcasts is his love letter to the anime Rurouni Kenshin and I can see that this story really wears that on its sleeve. What I found surprising after reading this though, was that he turned the story of Rurouni Kenshin, the wandering samurai forever trying to atone for the mistakes of his past, on its head. Masako is far from Kenshin, further than I am from Japan itself. She’s the antithesis of Kenshin. They each devote the “second” lives they’ve been given to justice, but they differ greatly on how they go about achieving it. Kenshin strives for atonement through peace and Masako through a blood-drenched trail of broken bodies. Masako is often a character that I found difficult to like because of this, but unlikeable doesn’t always mean uninteresting and Masako was everything but! In many ways I would liken her more to Samurai Champloo’s Mugen than Kenshin.
“Have you ever wondered why the gods are gone, but the demons remain?”
I think also it’s important to mention just how refreshing it is to read a character like Masako. Though she is at times a rage monster, she also has moments of extreme vulnerability and doubt. It’s these moments where I really grew to appreciate Masako as a protagonist. Through flashbacks, we see who she was before what lead her to the events of the beginning of the book and it’s hard to say that I wouldn’t make the same choices. She is brash and cocky to a fault, which is then only amplified with the loss of her clan and everyone she loves. She’s broken and she knows it. She’s also older and because of the wounds sustained when she was left for dead, she is no longer as proficient with her katana. Literally everything, her skill with the katana, her Master and only family she had ever known, is stripped from her and she must claw her way toward avenging the dishonor against her clan. Even if I can’t agree with her methods and certainly wish she made better decisions, the fact is that Masako is written as entirely too human, with messy emotions and deep-seated anger and pain. And, I really appreciated seeing a female character given such humanizing character traits because they’re too often shallow, misogynist cardboard cutouts put in place to support male characters. Not so, here. Masako demands attention and I couldn’t have said no if I wanted.
I would, of course, be remiss for not mentioning the worldbuilding in The Blood of Outcasts. Smith has developed a cool, Japanese-inspired world that feels authentic to the kind of world you’d find in Japanese myth and folklore. Basho is feudal land ruled by the Lord Council, with all the wealth controlled by the northern clans. Wealth which, of course, comes from the resource production of the southern clans. It’s an interesting dynamic and I really enjoyed the brief exploration of politics amongst the clans. Magic is present, if not a main focus of the story, and every glimpse into it shows how deeply Smith pulled from Japanese folklore and speaks to his appreciation of it. On that note, I want to take a second to really drive home just how Japanese feeling this world is. With the inclusion of Oni, dragons, and other creatures from Japanese mythology, as well as direct inspiration from history with a world that feels like it could fit in the Edo/Meiji era of Japan, it’s clear that Smith has a deep respect for the culture and history of Japan. All this is to say that it’s not a shallow portrayal of the culture, but neither is this historical fiction, and I think Smith treads the line beautifully and the worldbuilding glows because of it.
I provoke the boil and bubble within my blood. Listen to its coarse words, its hunger. Adding wood to the fire, I try to stoke the flame. To remember the anger.
Masako is a flawed, angry, and desperate person in a dogged pursuit of redemption for her fallen clan. The depths to which she’ll sink to achieve her goal and the questionable methods she uses to get there ultimately make her a compelling, if unlikable character. With twists and turns as sharp as Masako’s katana and a blistering pace that will leave you breathless, The Blood of Outcasts is a must-read for fans of Japanese-inspired fantasy. The tale of the Dattori Clans’ downfall and Masako’s rage-filled quest to restore her Master’s honor will leave its mark on your soul, as it has mine.