Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Disfavored Hero (The Tomoe Gozen Saga Book 1) by Jessica Amanda Salmonson

The Disfavored Hero
The Tomoe Gozen Saga Book 1
Jessica Amanda Salmonson
$6.15 Kindle format or free on Kindle Unlimited

While I'm pleased with the selection of graphic novels available on Kindle Unlimited, I'm less so with actual novels. I'm also on the lookout for interesting stories about non-western fantasy as it's a field ripe for exploration. I was pleased to discover The Disfavored Hero where the whole trilogy is available in the Kindle Unlimited library.

I will say though, that the publishers of the kindle book have gone the 'classic' yet cheap route on the cover. Look at the original from 1981:

That looks like it came right out of the 80s and it's glorious.

That's also something going for it. Jierl of Joiry gets a lot of credit for being one of, if not the first female heroes in the fantasy field and one of the first by a female author. But Jierl was not a great hero in her own tales. That might have been an artifact of the time but her sword skills and actual abilities always seemed to get the beat down being saved by the weird even more so than the original Conan tales.

Tomoe suffers defeat herself but her abilities are on a far superior level.

The book itself?

Less so.

It's hard to describe the writing. At first, I thought this was a translation because it moves between telling the reader what happened and actually having some dialog between characters. It's more of a style thing that didn't gel with me. Heck, may be an 80's thing. In some ways, it reminds me of old fairy tales or legends.

It's also a bit rough in places in terms of transition.

The cast of charactes is not wide. There are a handful introduced throughout the series with a few originally introduced making their way back towards the end but it's not a huge cast, no Game of Thrones. 

But the meat of the story itself?

A lot of fantasy goodness there.

Tomoe herself is almost too powerful. When she's first introduced, she's a samurai who's already been on an important mission to the mainland of fantasy China to kill a traitorous swordsmith who was making weapons for the mainland.

She kept two of those swords for herself and along with three of her friends, grew into a legend. Again, this is before the book starts. When the book gets moving though, we see Tomoe use her two Chinese longswords against an army and win. Mind you the author notes that it's not that unusual for a highly trained, heavily armored and armed individual, to be able to cut through poorly trained chattel but Tomoe takes it to a new level.

In the doing so, Tomoe is injured unto death and is only saved through dark magic that temporarily enslaves her. During that magical enslavement, she commits acts of treason under a Chinese mystic but is restored by her Samurai honor being tested. Her honor proves stronger than the binds put upon her.

Now free, she wanders as a Ronin and encounters the people of fantasy Japan, which here the author calls Naippon, a slight change of wording to indicate it's relationship with the real world. Other authors, especially Gary Gygax, would do this with Oerth, Aerth, etc...

In this tale we get to see ghouls that when hacked apart, put themselves back together again with whatever is available. We get to see ogres and oni. We get to see kappa and dragon queens. We get quasi-planes and transportation through strange dimensions. The author does a solid job of bringing the fantasy and the unusual to her version of Naippon.

The tale and test set in the first section of the book come full circle in the end when Tomoe gets to met the only one to easily beat her but did so only because of the 'unpure' style she initially was using. It's mythical in the cyclic nature it takes.

As a side note, there's also several black and white illustrations in the novel. It's a nice change of pace for the standard walls of text and I enjoy seeing how an artist interpets the scenes and characters.

I recommend the novel to anyone who's looking for something outside the standard westernized elves and dwarves. To anyone looking to run a game of Legends of the Five Rings or old school Oriental Adventurers.

The most difficult time I had with those settings when younger, was looking for inspirational material. The Tomoe Gozen Saga has it.