About ten years ago I published my first short story, “Beautiful Singer,” about a samurai who refused to believe his katana was possessed. (It turns out he was woefully mistaken about that, and the slain geisha that inhabited his sword made short work of him.) It was only after publication that I realized I’d written a story in which an inanimate object acted as a character. I didn’t do it intentionally, but it’s an homage to Tolkien: the One Ring also has a will of its own. As soon as I saw it, I decided I’d take a crack at writing a whole novel in which swords were characters, driving the narrative every bit as much as the warriors who wielded them.
The result was Daughter of the Sword and Only a Shadow, though I’d hardly imagined at the outset that one of the “warriors” would be a Tokyo police detective. That left me in a pretty sticky spot. It was clear that Mariko, my detective, was going to have to fight with one of the swords, and there just aren’t many good reasons for a cop in the 21st century to involve herself in a samurai showdown.
How much easier my life would have been if only I’d chosen to start with something simple—a ring, say—instead of a sword. Barring that, I could have set the entire novel in medieval Japan, and indeed I thought that’s what I’d set out to do. I wanted to follow the exploits of three fated blades throughout Japanese history, and I started with stories of samurai and ninja. Then the swords crossed paths again in WWII, and I realized the only way to bind all the stories together was to have one character discover the whole truth. Thus Mariko was born, and she was a major pain in the neck.
Of all the things I could have picked, the sword might be the hardest one to put in Mariko’s hands. So why swords?
It’s a question that applies to many areas of my life, not just my book. The first martial art I got involved in was Florentine swordfighting. Since then I’ve studied kenjutsu, kendo, and iaido, none of which have the slightest applicability in street self defense, unless you happen to have a sword with you (which, one would think, is probably sufficient self defense by itself: regardless of whether or not you know how to use it, carrying a three-foot razor blade is reason enough for most muggers to choose another target).
It’s weird that anyone still teaches swordsmanship, really, and weirder still that anyone trains in it. Even by the Revolutionary War the sword had already lost most of its usefulness as a weapon, which means the sword has been more or less obsolete for the whole of US history.
And yet something keeps drawing me back. I think part of the sword’s allure is that it shaped the world for so much of human history. Your empire was as large and as stable and as powerful as your swords would allow it to be. When it fell, it usually fell to the sword, and the next power to rise rose by the sword. One could say the same of the bow, but it was the sword that lingered as a symbol of martial power. Even those commercials for the Marine Corps still have swords.
The machete attacks during the genocide in Rwanda horrified all who saw them, as did the acts of butchery during the Bataan Death March, and a big reason those attacks were so horrifying is that the sword awakens ancient fears. Bows and guns kill from afar. You can accidentally kill someone with them, and you don’t have to feel it even when you aim to kill on purpose. Not so with swords.
They’re viscerally personal weapons. A swordfight is not only the ultimate test of skill, but also one of mettle, of guts. I knew a Vietnam vet whose job in the war was to fire huge shipboard cannons. These things could propel a thousand-pound shell two or three miles inland, and he honestly couldn’t tell the difference between target practice and combat. He was the first to tell you the war never tested his courage. He’d also be the first to tell you he much preferred it that way.
The samurai would have had no taste for that. When firearms were introduced to Japanese shores, samurai debated whether or not they could use them. These were elite soldiers, the deadliest of their day, many of them more accomplished archers than swordsmen. But at least with an arrow you can tell which of the enemy you’ve shot, even in line combat. That isn’t true of musket balls. Better, many samurai said, to stay true to the old ways, so you could know you and your enemy both fought with honor.
Of course, those were the samurai who got mowed down by lines of musketeers.
But the honor code is still a noble idea, even for a guy like me, who got in swordfights throughout high school but only with 20-sided dice. I also understand the nobility of testing one’s skill. It’s what keeps me going back to the dojo after twenty years in the martial arts, even though I think it’s safe to say I can defend myself pretty well by now.
I think it’s the imagery of the sword, and its history, and the sheer no-guts-no-glory audacity it takes to fight with one, that keeps me fascinated. None of that made it any easier to find a good way to get a 21st century cop into a swordfight, but it was good enough reason for me to try to make that scene happen. I have to say I’m pretty pleased with the result. I can’t say more without giving things away, but I think you’re going to like what you find.
The Fated Blades
Daughter of the SwordThe Fated Blades 1
Roc, October 2. 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
Mariko Oshiro is not your average Tokyo cop. As the only female detective in the city’s most elite police unit, she has to fight for every ounce of respect, especially from her new boss. While she wants to track down a rumored cocaine shipment, he gives her the least promising case possible. But the case—the attempted theft of an old samurai sword—proves more dangerous than anyone on the force could have imagined.
The owner of the sword, Professor Yasuo Yamada, says it was crafted by the legendary Master Inazuma, a sword smith whose blades are rumored to have magical qualities. The man trying to steal it already owns another Inazuma—one whose deadly power eventually comes to control all who wield it. Or so says Yamada, and though he has studied swords and swordsmanship all his life, Mariko isn’t convinced.
But Mariko’s skepticism hardly matters. Her investigation has put her on a collision course with a curse centuries old and as bloodthirsty as ever. She is only the latest in a long line of warriors and soldiers to confront this power, and even the sword she learns to wield could turn against her.
Only a ShadowFated Blades eNovella
Roc, September 4, 2012
ebook, 59 pages
The author of Daughter of the Sword takes readers to feudal Japan, where men and empires rise and fall by the sword…
The Tiger on the Mountain is a legendary blade, crafted by the master sword smith Inazuma, and reputed to possess magical powers. In 1442 Japan, the sword dwells inside the impregnable fortress of Hirata Nobushige, the enemy of the Iga clan.
Venerable shinobi Jujiro has recruited the brave young ninja Tada to steal the sword and restore power to the Iga clan. If Tada is successful, he’ll go from being the clan’s orphaned ward to a legend for the ages—and he’ll be able to ask for Old Jujiro’s granddaughter’s hand in marriage. If he fails, the clan will be annihilated.
Getting inside the castle is next to impossible—getting out is inconceivable. But as Tada prepares himself for one of the boldest thefts in history, the greatest obstacle he faces may just prove to be himself…
Don’t miss Daughter of the Sword, the first Novel of the Fated Blades!
Steve divides his time between Rochester, Minnesota, and Rochester, New York, where he is a visiting professor of Asian philosophy and Asian history at SUNY-Geneseo. His other academic interests include bioethics, which led him to a brief stint as a visiting researcher at the Mayo Clinic, environmental philosophy, which led him to see polar bears in Canada and penguins in Antarctica, and philosophy and science fiction, which leads him everywhere else in the universe.
Please visit Steve at www.philosofiction.com. If you like Steve on Facebook, you can receive an autographed sampler from Ace and Roc featuring the first two chapters of Daughter of the Sword. You can also find a preview of Daughter of the Sword in the companion novella, Only a Shadow, which goes on sale tomorrow.