Book Reviews · Fantasy

Review: Sairō’s Claw by Virginia McClain

Torako has done many things to protect the valley that she calls home, but she’s never looted a corpse before. So when the katana she steals off the still-cooling body of a bandit turns out to be possessed by a grumpy wolf kami, she can only assume it’s because she’s somehow angered the spirits. An impression that’s only reinforced when she returns home to find her wife abducted and her daughter in hiding. But angry spirits or no, Torako isn’t about to let bandits run off with the love of her life, even if it means taking their 3 year old on a rescue mission.
In all Kaiyo’s years as Captain of the Wind Serpent she has never once questioned her admiral’s orders. So when she receives the command to abduct a civilian scribe with the help of fifteen felons, she registers her objections, but does as she is bid. Yet, as the mission unfolds, Kaiyo finds herself questioning everything from her loyalties to her convictions. As Torako and Kaiyo’s fates cross like dueling blades, their persistence is matched only by their fury, until they uncover a series of truths they may never be ready to accept.

Thank you so much to the author for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sairō’s Claw is unlike any other book I’ve read before. Firstly, it’s based on Japanese culture, and I had never read or watched anything with that influence before, so I was fascinated. It took me a while to get used to the Japanese-influenced vocabulary that is so easily interspersed within the narrative, and which has a few more unfamiliar words than most second-world fantasy stories might, but the author very helpfully provided a glossary and it didn’t take me too long to become familiar with everything, in any case. This book is also the third in the Chronicles of Gensokai series, and can be read as a standalone but is set in the same world as the others so there is some overlap. I haven’t read books one and two yet, but after this I definitely will.

The story is told through various points of view:

  • Kaiyo, the captain of the Wind Serpent, who is set to inherit her father’s role as Admiral, if only she can avoid the influence of her mother, who is trying to maintain her social standing. She is sent on a mission by her father to kidnap a scribe who has found dangerous information.
  • Raku, a scribe who lives in a remote valley with her warrior wife and their three-year-old daughter (or three-cycles-old, as this world keeps track of years). She is doing research on ancient scrolls and discovers a great secret that would impact the entire nation, leading to her kidnapping.
  • Torako, Raku’s warrior wife, who patrols the valley they live in to keep themselves and other small, unprotected villages safe.
  • Itachi – Raku and Torako’s daughter. She has very strong powers for being only three, and she is being trained by her grandmother and a tree spirit to use them before her mother gets kidnapped and she goes along the journey to rescue her.

As well as these point of view characters, there are a few other prominent ones:

  • Tanaka, Kaiyo’s second in command, who is a powerful healer and (small spoiler) is chosen by Kaiyo’s mother to be her husband to stifle talk of the two of them having an inappropriate relationship.
  • Sairō, a great wolf spirit trapped for many years inside of a blue katana, and freed by Torako bringing the weapon close to Sairō’s sacred place. After that, they are free to roam, but are still tied to the bearer of the sword. They are very grumpy, but incredibly loving and very quickly become a part of Torako’s little family.
  • Lyt, one of the prisoners taken by Kaiyo to kidnap Raku. Xe is a gender non-conforming person with blood magic powers, and is definitely an intriguing character, with a mysterious amount of knowledge.
  • Kitsu, one of Torako’s old lovers, he is a charming smuggler who helps her track down her kidnapped wife.

McClain’s character work is brilliant. Every voice is distinct, and even when I was still trying to keep all the names straight in my head (always a fun part of reading a new fantasy) I was very quickly able to tell who was speaking just by their tone and choice of words. It’s sometimes hard to create these clear distinctions when writing multiple characters, but this was certainly not an issue in Sairō’s Claw. I also liked all of the characters, and was rooting for each of them in different ways. It’s quite interesting what McClain has done here by giving both sides of the conflict a perspective, and especially because she focuses on Kaiyo’s narrative in the first half of the story, she is sympathetic to the reader before she commits some questionable acts when attacking and taking Raku from her home.

‘She ran her fingers over the hilts of the throwing knives in her bracers for a moment to help ease the growing tension in her shoulders. She had to time this just right, or they would all die. Simple really. Succeed or perish. How many of her days came down to that very choice.’

I really enjoyed her chapters, and especially loved her relationship with Tanaka, her second and then her husband as arranged by her parents. Friends-to-lovers with the twist of arranged marriage wasn’t something I realised I needed as badly as I did when I read this. Superbly executed!

And then you’ve got the more developed and solid relationship between Raku and Torako, and their love for their daughter. Even though the two women are not in many scenes together for this book, it is clear how much they care about each other, and I found that part was written realistically without it becoming too repetitive, which can sometimes happen. I also absolutely love the dynamic of tiny, seemingly-defenceless scribe woman married to a tall, muscly warrior with such a reputation that she gets called Night Stalker. Quality content! It was also so cool to see the dynamics between mothers and daughter, especially during the parts of the story in which Torako is rushing in anger towards the people who kidnapped her wife, but still has to make sure her young child is taken care of. There is no convenient way to leave Itachi out of the quest, and so her mother works around it, as real mothers do in real life situations.

‘She felt her chest ache as she watched Raku tuck Itachi’s still-slumbering form into a thin blanket atop a futon on the other side of the cave, and she wondered how was it possible for her heart to exist almost entirely outside of her own body.’

-Torako

The world of Gensokai is also brilliant, and I’m very keen to know more about it. Sairō’s Claw is set after the country has changed rulers, going from an oppressive ruling faction to a more open Council and I’ll be reading Blade’s Edge (book one) very soon to find out more. But overall it just felt so real, I kept forgetting I was reading a made-up story in a made-up world and felt like I was really there.

There are many other things I could talk about, but then this review might become a little long, so I’ll just say this has quickly become a new favourite read of mine, and I eagerly await the next book, because I will be thinking about that cliffhanger ending for months! I definitely recommend all fantasy lovers give this series a go, because Sairō’s Claw is beautifully written, incredibly engaging, with characters you’ll want to follow through anything and fast-paced action scenes. Also, there’s a giant wolf spirit, so what else do you really need?

Book Info

Published: 11th May 2021 (digital release) Self-Published by Virginia McClain
Genre: fantasy
Pages: 348
Series: Chronicles of Gensokai, book three
Narration style: third person past tense, multiple narrators
Format read: eARC
Copy owned: not physically, but will be ordering a paperback soon
Trigger Warnings: violence, blood

Quotes are from an uncorrected proof and may not reflect the final work.

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