The Stone of Kuromori

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

The Sword of Kuromori | The Shield of Kuromori

The Stone of Kuromori was written by Jason Rohan and first published in 2016. It is the final part of The Sword of Kuromori trilogy and follows Kenny Blackwood’s continuing adventures as he tries to locate a trinity of magical objects. The novel follows on directly from where The Sword of Kuromori (2014) and The Shield of Kuromori (2015) left off. Due to this, I would strongly recommend reading them in sequence if you want to fully appreciate them.

Although Kenny managed to buy some more time for Kiyomi, her humanity still hangs in the balance. If he can’t locate the missing stone within four days, Susanoo-wo will claim her soul and transform her into a savage oni. The problem is that the stone has been lost for centuries. It is believed that it can be found in Dragon King’s Palace. Trouble is that the Palace lies deep beneath the ocean and the Dragon King is reluctant to part with his treasures.

Yet this may not be the worst of Kenny’s problems. Susanoo-wo cannot be trusted and has had a long time to plan his revenge against the gods that imprisoned him. It’s not long before Kenny realises that, in his desperation to save his friend, he has played directly into the god’s hands. His short-sightedness has not only gifted Susanoo-wo with a terrible power but also made it possible for him to permanently open the gates to Yomi – the realm of the dead.

Kenny knows that he can’t allow all of Earth to become Susanoo-wo’s hellish domain, yet victory seems to be futile. His allies are few in number and Susanoo-wo commands a legion of yōkai and oni. If Kenny is to save the day, it is going to take all of his magic and cunning. Will he be able to defeat the storm god, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice?

If you’ve read my previous reviews of this series, you may remember that I do have a particular soft-spot for it. The earlier instalments were very fast-paced and their cinematic style would certainly appeal to both reluctant readers and fans of anime. Unfortunately, I did think that The Stone of Kuromori was the weakest novel to date. That isn’t to say that it’s a bad book by any means. It just didn’t quite grip me in the way that the previous two did.

A large part of this is due to the fact that The Stone of Kuromori’s fresh sense of urgency meant that a lot less time could be spent on the world-building. Both The Sword of Kuromori and The Shield of Kuromori took the time to discuss a little bit of Japanese history and explore some aspects of its modern culture that may seem strange to the West. Sadly, there was far less of this to be found this time around.

While the early chapters did allow for some small diversions, such as Kenny’s brief encounter with the Red Cape and the trip to the Dragon King’s Palace, a majority of the novel is simply spent gearing Kenny up for the explosive finale. This gave the novel a very different feel to the earlier instalments, in which Kenny travelled Japan and encountered all manner of different yōkai.

However, the story did still have a little educational value. While it still takes some liberties with Japanese mythology (especially Susanoo’s story), the novel is still filled with Japanese words and phrases. As with previous instalments, it also had an extensive glossary to help the reader to keep tabs of everything. The glossary includes every Japanese word used in the story, including brief descriptions of the different yōkai, which makes it easy for the reader to remind themselves of the difference between a mukade and a mujina.

The plot, while very exciting, sometimes felt a little exhausting in places. The action rarely let up, particularly as the novel passed its halfway mark, making it feel as though Kenny and Kiyomi were jumping from one encounter to the next. While the result made the novel feel a little more focused than The Shield of Kuromori, it did mean that a lot of time was spend on the climatic open warfare against Susanoo-wo. This epic battle had higher stakes that even the first book’s showdown with Namazu, but did not possess the same degree of emotional impact. The hordes of nameless yōkai that are struck down just don’t carry the same weight as Kiyomi’s death in the first book.

I was also disappointed by Kenny and Susanoo-wo’s final battle. After a lot of build-up, this inevitable finale was actually over very quickly. Once this had passed, the novel was also quick to tie up its loose ends, leaving no real time to grieve the characters who were lost or indicate what the future would hold for Kenny and Kiyomi. This was a real shame, as it left the novel on a bit of an unfinished note that denied the protagonists their closure.

In terms of characterisation, The Stone of Kuromori really had the same strengths and weaknesses as the previous yinstalments. Kenny is still likeable enough, if a little dim. Even though he has been full immersed in Japanese culture, he still has failed to learn how to read any Japanese and constantly mispronounces names. I still take issue to the fact that he comes across as being a bit of a White Saviour, and this novel seems to take this a step further. As the Kuromori, Kenny has powers that no Japanese character can equal and commands an army of trained warriors by the end of the story. While his mistakes have caused almost every problem in this series, this almost seemed to have been destined as Inari seemed to expect that Susanoo-wo’s escape would happen.

While Kiyomi does get a lot more to do in The Stone of Kuromori, and is often allowed to get thing killing blow in a fight, it still feels as though she plays second fiddle to Kenny. As a fan of strong female characters, this was of a particular disappointment to me. Kiyomi is the one who is truly deserving of being a chosen one. She has, after all, trained her entire life for this and yet seems to be treated as though she is Kenny’s cheerleader.

One of the best characters in the novel was the villain. Although Susanoo-wo was not present for most of the story, he is an imposing presence and his power is frequently felt. His goal to escape Yomi is very clearly thought out and his motivation for doing so – revenge against those that imprisoned him – is pretty solid. Yet, although Susanoo-wo was a cunning enemy, it was a tad disappointing that his defeat largely came at the hands of Kenny’s brute force.

Anyhow, I’ve probably rambled on for long enough. All in all, my feelings regarding The Stone of Kuromori were a bit conflicted. While it was very exciting ending to the series, I didn’t think it was quite as fun as the previous two instalments. Still, I do think that this series will appeal to young readers and I certainly enjoyed learning more about Japanese mythology. I would definitely read more of Rohan’s novels in the future.

The Stone of Kuromori can be purchased as an eBook from Amazon.co.uk

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