The Sword of Kuromori

The Sword of Kuromori was first published in 2014 and is Jason Rohan’s debut novel. It is a fantasy story set in Japan, focusing on a teenager who discovers that he is destined to save America from a great disaster. The novel forms the first part of the Sword of Kuromori series and is followed by The Shield of Kuromori (2015) and The Stone of Kuromori (2017).

Kenny Blackwood is on his way to stay with his father in Japan for the holidays, but hasn’t even set foot on Japanese soil when strange things begin to happen. When he blows on a wooden whistle – an odd gift from his eccentric grandfather – a strange creature appears on the plane that only he seems to be able to see. Things get weirder when he is immediately stopped at customs and arrested, but subsequently rescued by a motorbike riding ninja.

Unbeknownst to Kenny, he has become tangled in events that his grandfather set in motion years before. At a time when American soldiers had stolen many priceless antiquities from the Japanese people, his grandfather, known as Kuromori, was responsible for hiding one of the most valuable of all – a magical sword created by the Goddess Amaterasu. Now, the sword is the only thing that can stop a terrible monster from laying waste to America. The only problem is, no one knows where Kuromori hid it.

With the help of Kiyomi – a girl who has devoted her life to training in both the martial and mystical arts – Kenny sets off on an adventure across Japan, fighting monstrous yōkai and learning how to use powers that he never knew he had. He soon learns that he has inherited his grandfather’s title and all the baggage that comes with it. Unfortunately, this includes a prophecy that indicates that one of his loved ones could soon die…

The Sword of Kuromori provides a fast-paced and exciting debut to the series. It will certainly appeal to fans of the likes of Percy Jackson or Alex Rider in that it presents the story of a teenage boy who suddenly discovers that there is more to the world than he could have imagined – and is forced to do all that he can to protect it. However, I should probably note that it is quite violent in places. While it never really feels inappropriate for younger readers (even the scarier monsters can be quite funny), you should probably have a flip through it yourself first if you’re thinking of gifting it to a particularly squeamish reader.

The plot of The Sword of Kuromori is very fast to find its feet and the action is rather relentless. It’s one of those very visual stories that would certainly adapt well for the big screen. Because of this, it is certainly a novel that I would recommend for a reluctant reader. It’s very bright and exciting, and neatly captures the action feel of a shounen anime like One Piece or Naruto.

The story also gives an interesting taste of what a first visit to Japan is like for a foreigner (or gaijin) who is unfamiliar with its unique culture. I have personally been fascinated by Japan since I first learned about kasa-obake (worth a google) because it is so wonderfully different to England. While Kenny’s inability to grasp its nuances (or even use the correct words) is frustrating at first, it allows Rohan to illustrate just how strange the country can seem to someone who knows nothing about it.

The blend of technology and tradition is what really forms the backbone of this story. Futuristic technology, such as a magnet-powered motorbike, is complemented by a pantheon of weird and wonderful yōkai. The monsters in the story are sure to delight young readers as the range from familiar creatures like vampires to the cucumber-loving kappa and disgusting akaname. However, it should probably be noted that Rohan does occasionally take artistic liberties with these entities. If you’re curious to learn more about them, I’d suggested possibly doing a bit of background reading.

Throughout the story, Rohan uses a lot of Japanese words and phrases which are all helpfully summarised in a glossary at the back of the book. While this does require a bit of flipping backwards and forwards, it also makes the story feel more authentic and unexpectedly educational. It also touches upon a bit of Japanese history, particularly bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the effect that this had on the economy. Although it does oversimplify this due to its target audience, this does get across the horror of this period and sets the backdrop for what is ultimately a revenge story.

Despite the rather breathless pace of the novel at times, I was also very pleased to find that it ended well. Rohan leaves plenty of time for resolution, allowing Kenny’s final fight battle to feel suitably immense. This nicely wraps up this phase of his story while, at the same time, leaving a few ominous loose threads that could easily form the basis of the next instalment.

My only real issue with the story was its characters. While Kenny is a bit of an idiot, he did grow on me as the story progressed. He had his flaws in his lingering resentment towards his father and inability to grasp social niceties, but at the same time he proved to be very brave and have a strong moral compass. However, he also completely embodied the “prophesised hero” trope.

Kenny travels to a strange new country and manages to learn its mystical arts and play out his destiny within a week. In doing so, he manages to achieve feats that the native people and yōkai are unable to achieve through hundreds of years of study. While there are reasons for this within the story, they just felt a bit too convenient and unsatisfying. Kenny basically has the ability to command almost unlimited power because that’s what the plot needs for him to do. The biggest issue for me was that this really steals Kiyomi’s thunder.

Kiyomi deserved to be the chosen one. She was intelligent, respectful and had devoted her life to learning how to battle the yōkai. While she is completely kick-ass during the first half of the story, she loses her edge as soon as Kenny no longer needs protecting. In the final act, the Goddess Inari even tells Kiyomi that she’s just really there for moral support. As a fan of strong female characters, I would really have loved for Kiyomi to have more significance to the story – perhaps even some inclusion within the prophecy. Ultimately, it felt as though she was side-lined so that Kenny could save the day.

While the story did contain some other colourful characters, including Kenny’s wise teacher Genkuro, I was disappointed that the villain appears so little in the story. While he had some strong motivation for his absurdly over-the-top revenge scheme, he only actually appeared in the novel a handful of times. Because of this, I found it difficult to either empathise or feel threatened by him. While the yōkai that he commanded were memorable, he was not.

Anyhow, I think that’s about all that I have to say. The Sword of Kuromori was a creative and action-packed story that featured some wonderful monsters and clearly showed the author’s love of Japan. While I did have some issues with the characters, I still really enjoyed the book and think that it will really appeal to young and reluctant readers. I will certainly be continuing with this series and am very curious to see what adventures Kenny and Kiyomi will have next.

The Sword of Kuromori can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Sobeks 2018 – Part 2 | Arkham Reviews
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  3. Trackback: The Shield of Kuromori | Arkham Reviews

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