Monday, August 21, 2017

The Golden Naginata (The Tomoe Gozen Saga Book 2)

The Golden Naginata 
The Tomoe Gozen Saga Book 2)
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Written by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Fantasy/Samurai Genre

When Amazon had their 'prime day', I went in on the Kindle Unlimited. I've been unimpressed by the navigation tools that Amazon offers to get the most bang for your buck with that subscription service. Having said that, I did discover an old series, The Tomoe Gozen Saga, where all three books were available in the Kindle Unlimited Library.

The second book, like the first, uses a new cover. Again, I'm a fan of the old school cover:

The writing is better than the first volume, but Jessica still does a lot of telling instead of showing, or telling and then showing. For example think, "Tomoe had a bad dream" and then the explanation of the bad dream itself. Tomoe continues to be a powerhouse with few rivals. She travels not only in the mortal world but into the depths of Hell itself. Her fighting skills and stances on various subjects are often brought directly into conflict with her samurai training.

The book includes numerous illustrations which are handy if you're unfamiliar with the genre or the topic. These are small black and white images that occur at certain points in the text.

Tomoe is not a fan of marriage. Even though for many, marriage isn't something done for love, Tomoe has more concern with it affecting her ability to enter the battlefield. She resists so much that her relationship with her family becomes strained and it's not until someone else points out the dishonor she's bringing herself and the family that she relents into marriage.

Like the previous book, indeed, like many older books, this is a collection of linked short stories that taken together tells Tomoe's tale. Her search for the Golden Naginata itself is to help her in Hell. She needs a weapon of this heavenly quality to ensure her ability to fight against those who dwell in Hell. The author doesn't just give Tomoe an automatic win either.She has to quest to get it, can only use it for so long, and has to battle a heavenly 'good' creature, a Ki-Rin, in order to claim it. Along the way, she has other adventures and encounters including running into a younger version of herself.

This sets up an interesting dissonance. Tomoe is willing to forgo much in order to continue her adventuring but she is reluctant to engage in a duel with her younger counterpart because Tomoe is reminded of herself. In some ways, it dishonors herself as Tomoe would not have tolerated such a behavior.

Another interesting theme is that despite her swordskill, Tomoe is not very sociable and indeed, even when her sword skills are unmatched, she often winds up failing at things.

My favorite of the adventurers is Tomoe meeting several other 'rogue' adventurers like herself through a hungry ghost that seeks to avenge the death of his family. This ghost is able to reach out to Tomoe and the others because of the sword she yields. The others all also yield blades by this smith. It's a nice change of pace in how the characters meet and why they meet.

In terms of opposition, Tomoe encounters enough mortal enemies to make her the rival of any warlord, but she also battles in Hell against oni, she even meets Emma and his kinder side which tries to help the children trapped in Hell. Jessica also throws some different lore into the mix as Tomoe angers the Namazu or Giant Catfish under Jessica's version of Japan.

Few figures get a 'clean' pass. We have people worshipping deities, people following Buddism, people following Shinto, people having little to no actual religion. It's all mixed in together in a strange mesh as all of them have a hand in the reality that Tomoe finds herself living in.

Another one of my favorite bits? Tomoe fighting a Tengu. It's not that the Tengu is such a frightening match for Tomoe, but rather the humor the author uses. Tomoe clips the Tengu's wings and it falls into a  vat of blue dye and the Tengu remains blue throughout the rest of the tale. The Tengu seeks to have its young nephews play pranks and test Tomoe's patience, but Tomoe manages to convince the youngsters to instead torment their uncle since the older Tengu can't fly after them to punish them. Children being children, they are delighted with the idea.

Jessica avoids the use of 'good' and 'evil' as signposts for Tomoe and her culture. Instead, we have traits like pride, ambition, and hope. Ambition, especially in this era and time, are high on the list and Tomoe rises and falls based not only on her own abilities but with those she's allied with so that the greater events surrounding her pitch her about like a cork on the open sea. 

Despite having the Golden Naginata, Tomoe's final fate in the book is downcast and things are looking grim. Hopefully, the Thousand Shrine Warrior brings Tomoe back to a place where her swordskills shine enough that her dour personality can take a backseat again.

If you're a fan of fantasy elements in your Samurai, The Golden Naginata, despite some uneven writing and a change of cover, is a great place to start. If you're a Kindle Unlimited member, it's even free to read.