Meeting Mystical Japan: The Warrior’s Soul by James Calbraith

Meeting Mystical Japan: The Warrior’s Soul by James CalbraithThe Warrior's Soul by James Calbraith
Series: The Year of the Dragon #2

Published by Flying Squid on August 1st 2012
Also by this author: The Shadow of Black Wings, The Islands in the Mist, The Rising Tide, The Chrysanthemum Seal, The Withering Flame, The Shattering Waves, The Last Dragon King
Also in this series: The Shadow of Black Wings, The Islands in the Mist, The Rising Tide, The Chrysanthemum Seal, The Withering Flame, The Shattering Waves, The Last Dragon King
Genres: Fantasy
Format: ebook
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An ancient empire stands on the brink of a civil war.
Their quest may push it over the edge.

It is the Seventeenth Year of Queen Victoria's enlightened rule. The Qin Rebellion spreads dangerously close to the old capital and only the remainder of the Second Regiment of Royal Marines stands between the rebel army and the vital trade port of Huating.

In Yamato, after a mysterious ritual fusing Bran's soul with that of an ancient warrior, he, the wizardess Sato and the shrine apprentice Nagomi flee Kiyo, pursued by the Yamato authorities - and by the associates of a shadowy figure in Crimson Robe. Their quest - to find Bran's captured dragon and discover the whereabouts of Sato's abducted father.

A detailed and fast-paced historical fantasy based around the turbulent opening of Japan to the West in the middle of the 19th century, "The Warrior's Soul" is the second volume in "The Year of the Dragon" saga.

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Last month I started the ride through Yamato with the review of James Calbraith’s The Shadow of Black Wings. This week I’ll treat you to the sequel, The Warrior’s Soul. There will be spoilers to the first book and minor spoilers for this one. You’ll still be able to enjoy reading The Warrior’s Soul after reading this review.

At the start of the second book in the Year of the Dragon series, our protagonists Bran and Sato are fugitives. They have to leave Kiyo, Sato’s home town, as soon as possible, but how do you disguise an obvious foreigner? The High Priestess of the Suwa Shrine performs an ancient ritual to give Bran the appearance of a local by inviting the spirit of a two hundred year old warrior, Shigemasa, to inhabit him. Then the two outlaws leave Kiyo with Nagomi, Sato’s friend and the samurai Tokojiro, who serves as the interpreter between Bran and his comrades.

The story continues for the three young adults. All of them have lost the people closest to them and only have each other. This book gives us a closer look at what that does to these individuals. Bran is desperate to find his dragon Emrys before he goes feral. Sato knows her kidnapped father is still alive and wants to find him. While Nagomi doesn’t have a personal quest aside from accompanying her friend, she’s also the first to feel the loneliness of being away from her family.

Bran has a different struggle. He experiences the opposite of loneliness, since he now shares his body with another spirit. Slowly he feels the memories of the spirit seep into his daily life. Bran is confused by the sudden memories and knowledge, weird dreams, and mannerisms he adopted from the spirit. He hopes that, in the end, he won’t lose himself entirely to the spirit’s influence.

I think the interaction between Bran and Shigemasa is interesting. There is an obvious power struggle, but they are both aware that in this situation both need each other. One is young and inexperienced, and the other is a renowned samurai who has seen more death than Bran ever will. The spirit still has the values he had when he was alive and grows to respect Bran after he wins a tough battle. Shigemasa hasn’t turned into a vengeful spirit that wants to use the boy for his own purposes. However, that doesn’t mean there is no hostility between the two as there are definitely moments when one would rather be without the other.

Sato, even if she’s disguised as a servant, has taken up the role of leader, even if it’s not mentioned explicitly. She knows the way and where she wants to go to save her father from the Crimson Robe, a samurai with red, glowing eyes who uses forbidden magic. She uses her father’s contacts to gather information on his whereabouts and the current situation of their enemy closing in.

On their journey south they find out exactly who their allies are. They will experience betrayal, friendly facades with hidden agendas, and curious creatures. With two who are trained to use sword and magic, the group can hold its own in a fight despite their lack of experience with actual combat. It’s good to see that they don’t miraculously become strong enough to beat more powerful foes. You still have a feeling they’re kids who are in way over their heads and that fleeing might be the only option that allows them to live.

The interaction between them feels real, none of it out of character, ultimately that’s what I like most about the book. Each character has its own motivation and values and acts accordingly. The three youngsters also each have their own spiritual journey they have to follow, and through it you’ll be shown pieces of ancient Japan with the magic of Yamato. You’ll be introduced to the magic, tradition, and faith recognisable from the old Japanese fairy tales. Everyone interested in the history of Japan would enjoy these elements coming to life in a thrilling story.

The Warrior’s Soul is an excellent sequel to The Shadow of Black Wings that focuses on the development of the characters. James Calbraith has an excellent set of tools in his writer’s kit and he knows how to use them.

About James Calbraith

James Calbraith is a Poland-born British writer, foodie and traveler.

Growing up in communist Poland on a diet of powdered milk, Lord of the Rings and soviet science-fiction, he had his first story published at the ripe age of eight. After years of bouncing around Polish universities, he moved to London in 2007 and started writing in English.

His debut historical fantasy novel, The Shadow of Black Wings, has reached Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semi-finals in 2012. “The Year of the Dragon” saga sold over 30,000 copies worldwide.

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