Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Thousand Shrine Warrior: Book Three of the Tomoe Gozen Saga

Thousand Shrine Warrior
Book Three of the Tomoe Gozen Saga
Written by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Free on Kindle Unlimited

Thousand Shrine Warrior struck me as the best of the series. And for once, I'm not that thrilled with the old cover either!

Unlike previous volumes, this one is one told from start to end with no need for joining short stories. The book continues to use black and white illustrations to highlight parts of the story.

Tomoe Gozen has forsaken Bushido but remains a deadly swordmaster. Her skills continue to bring her into conflict with the world about her, but she approaches it with different eyes now.

Tomoe still wields her unique blade, identified by the craftsmanship, the sword of Okio, a renown master of weapon forging. A weapon so powerful and augmented, that it can affect those of the other world, those demons, and undead that stalks the fantasy land of Naipon.

This time around though, she wanders the land as a nun, a member of the Thousand Shrine sect. This allows her to go to any shrine and seek food and shelter from the elements. While she does not know all of the prayers, she is a master of her flute and it brings ease to the dying and wonder to the living. This suits her perfectly and makes her a wanderer in all but name.

On her travels, she runs into a young girl running away from drunken samurai in a small province. She quickly dispatches the drunkards but is then drawn further into the intrigues of the area. This brings her to the White Beast Shrine, where she drops off a near albino snake and meets the shrines master.

She learns of the strangeness going on and is thrust fully into the strangeness. She learns that the lord her is a near slave to Kuro the Darkness. When Tomoe uses her former status to gain an audience, she learns that Kuro is actually an ancestor or hers, but she later learns that Kuro is not only an undead ancestor, a cursed spirit but also possessed by a demon.

Things aren't what they always seem though, and Tomoe has to fight her way through various alliances, find old friends, meet new enemies, and ponder what her place is in a society that is not drenched in war and has little need for full armies of samurai.

Jessica Amanda Salmonson brings us a Tomoe whose enjoying her freedom, her ability to wander the land. Tomoe is getting old though, and the author brings something into play rarely done to a swordmaster, arthritis in the hands!

Thankfully when she's at White Beast Shrine, she meets the shrine keeper Bundori who knows how to create a salve that works like say, Tiger Balm or another ointment to ease the pain of sore knuckles. At this shrine, the strangest thing is the animals, most of which are shapeshifters who when Tomoe isn't around, take human form. They are described like elves of old being almost too beautiful to be contained in human form.

The nice thing about this element is that it gives the author more characters and provides some different opinions on what needs to be done about Kuro the Darkness. Things don't always work out as one would wish however and the disharmony caused by the disputes eventually convinces Bundori that he needs to continue his travels.

While Bundori's actions were not great in terms of what he could do, he does provide background elements that showcase that the shrine is more than just a place for nuns and travelers to rest. It must be maintained. It must remain free of blood and viscera. It is a place of power for him and one that Bundori feels he can hold against Kuro if things take a turn for the worse.

While the magic in the Tomoe series and the world of Naippon has been minimal, it's there in the background and elements of it sometimes poke out.

Among the samurai fallen on hard times, is Kuro's retainer, Ittosai Kumasaku, a man who fought for a general who fell. A man without a lord. Not willing to take on the role of monk though, he hires himself out to those who will take him for his value. Kuro doesn't do such and instead puts Ittosai to mundane drudge work that is ill befitting a samurai. He does it without fail although complaints are heard.

Jessica weaves an interesting world. Elementals falling in love with devils, divine children falling in love with mortals, ancestorial worship versus the evil things that the ancestors do in the modern world... all these things come to a head.

And I feel like one of those old commercials, "But wait, there's more!" In her past live as a samurai, Tomoe was a famed figure. An old general 'collects' such wives but as a nun, Tomoe is not going to relinquish her freedom easily and the general sends three of his mightiest warrior wives after Tomoe. These battles happen between Tomoe's other quest and make for a nice variety in the action and sequence of the story.

Tomoe Gozen ends up better than it started off as a series. Tomoe is a strong warrior but one with scars. She's fated to meet an old animal comrade who continues to fail in his life's karma and so, continues to come back in lesser and lesser forms, but perhaps with hope for the future. Her own destiny is cursed until she finds actual love, either in this life or the next, and she is wandering in a country where the need for warriors is winding down but is not over yet.

Who knows, with all of the other comebacks we've seen, perhaps there is hope for a Tomoe Gozen return? If Charles Saunders could bring Imaro out after decades and bring more volumes to that saga, anything is possible.