The sword in Fuchida Shuzo's bed was the oldest known of her kind, and he loved listening to her song.

Mariko Oshiro is the only female detective in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (TMPD), and also the only woman working the highly competitive narcotics division. Being the only woman in the job – and a senior Sergeant Detective, at that – comes with its healthy dose of crap, as Mariko finds herself embroiled in a two-bit sting on a minor pusher. The operation proves unexpectedly fruitful, however, when Mariko is able to strongarm the dealer into becoming a Confidential Informant – and he reveals that a yakuza player is planning a major move to start distributing cocaine in Tokyo.[1] Unfortunately for Mariko, her misogynistic new boss will stop at nothing to get Mariko removed from narcotics, and takes her off the cocaine bust. Instead, her new assignment leads Mariko to the blind, elderly Professor Yasuo Yamada, and a string of failed burglary attempts on the ancient samurai sword in his possession.

Yamada’s sword is no ordinary blade – it is one of the last remaining swords crafted by Master Inazuma, each possessing a deep history and legendary powers – and Mariko’s involvement in the case is no random coincidence. It is fate that brings Mariko to Yamada’s side, and pits her against a truly formidable foe – one who already wields a cursed Inazuma blade, and who will stop at nothing to possess Yamada’s sword.

A police procedural with a twist of richly detailed historical fantasy, Daughter of the Sword is the engaging – if slightly overlong – debut novel from Steve Bein. Easily the most impressive thing about this book – the first in a planned series – is its meticulous and respectful treatment of both contemporary and historical Japan. Bein, a professor of Asian philosophy and history, has clearly done his research – everything from the very different policies of Tokyo police (e.g., the prevalence of stun guns used in lieu of firearms) to the samurai of feudal Japan and their social hierarchies are carefully detailed throughout Daughter of the Sword.[2]

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My only personal quibble with Bein’s representation of Japan is that it still feels very much like an outsider looking in (which is to be expected as Bein is not Japanese). That said, this inherent outsider feel to the narrative is a potential problem that Bein neatly sidesteps via his protagonist, as Mariko is a Japanese born woman, but one that has also spent part of her childhood growing up in the United States. Mariko is an outsider in so many ways - with her own family, as her mother so often chooses Mariko’s drug addicted younger sister’s side in so many situations; in her job, where she is the only female detective in the TMPD; with other people who perceive of Mariko as abrasive and not “womanly” enough. This, plus the fact that Mariko is naturally curmudgeonly, makes her an intensely interesting and layered character, and is almost convincing with Bein’s frequent asides that compare American and Japanese culture.[3]

The only significant drawbacks to Daughter of the Sword concern the nature of its structure and its surprising lack of emotional resonance. While the overall story is fantastic and well-plotted, it’s frustrating to have the main storyline involving Mariko and her investigation interrupted with lengthy historical backstory involving less fortunate other characters and the fated blades of Inazuma. While these interstitials are actually fascinating and well-written, the distraction (for chapters at a time) from the heart of the novel is jarring and exacerbates the larger issue with the book – the lack of emotional connection or investment in the characters. Even though Daughter of the Sword is a very interesting book and a competently written book, there’s something ... missing. That extra oomph, that secret sauce, which would bring Mariko and her cohorts to life; that emotional bond that makes you want to root wholeheartedly for a protagonist against the odds stacked against her.

In all, I highly enjoyed this book and will certainly stick around for more of Bein’s work, especially in the Fated Blades universe, in hopes that this extra special emotional connection will be forged in future installments.

In Book Smugglerish, a solid 7 out of 10.

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can find also find them at Twitter.

[1] Unlike in the United States, harder drugs like cocaine are rare and not readily available. Instead, methamphetamines are far more commonplace, according to Bein.

[2] Bein also includes an extensive Author’s Note following the text, detailing his research and caveats, where he also differentiates fact from fiction.

[3] Almost. Not quite. It still feels kinda like Bein, as an American who has lived in Japan, is interjecting the narrative with his own observations, which never quite feel wholly authentic to Mariko’s character.