Today is my stop on the blog tour for ‘Sairo’s Claw’ by Virginia McClain organised by Storytellers on Tour. This is the third book in the Chronicles of Gensokai, but can read as a standalone (although I will definitely be picking up the rest of the series) and it is also a contestant in SPFBO 7.
I hope that you will check out the book and the authors, and enjoy the rest of the tour with the schedule in the banner below or (HERE).
*Disclaimer: ‘I was given a copy this book in exchange for an honest review, all views are my own.’*
An action-adventure fantasy romp featuring sword lesbians, sea battles, and a grumpy wolf spirit.
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.
To all the warrior moms,
may you embrace love as well as fury,
ferocity as well as calm,
and joy in all the little things.
You know that you’re in for a great book when the dedication has you nodding and smiling. Sairō’s Claw is a book that had been on my radar for a while, particularly because it was mentioned with reference to warrior mums, sword lesbians, which immediately caught my attention and so I leapt at the chance to read it for the tour and I was not disappointed. Sairō’s Claw in general is an eye-catching book – the cover is striking, I love the combination of colours and the striking image, and I loved the little details throughout like the kunai for the breaks in the text, and the embellishments on the POV names. There’s also a map – which we all know I’m a sucker for. However, what stood out for me was the glossary at the front. I’ve lost track of how many books I’ve read, trying to work out meanings only to discover the glossary at the end (I really should learn to look before I start… but just having it at the start was great).
Another thing that called to me about Sairō’s Claw – and all the Gensokai books (which have been on my TBR for far too long) is that they are Japanese-inspired. I don’t talk about it much on the blog, but I love anything related to Japan, so to read a book that is a love letter to that without falling into the stereotypes trap, was absolutely fantastic. The world-building for Sairō’s Claw was beautifully balanced throughout, immersive without detracting or distracting from the character-centred storyline. It builds on the Japanese-inspiration through the terminology – hence the glossary – although that is used sparingly and to great effect, to the culture and mannerisms, while also taking its own unique approach to create a richly imagined, multi-layered world which was the perfect setting for this story. A similar balance was struck with the magic system, which using energy manipulation (‘kisō’) of the elements – which is not a new concept, but here McClain has paired with it with kami, to create something different and memorable that again builds into that Japanese inspiration (I adored the magic system, especially because of the relation of Kami which is always something I love to see depicted).
However, where Sairō’s Claw really shines, and what lies at the very heart of this book is its characters. In McClain’s characters we see the same nuance and care from the world-building, but dialled up to eleven – and that is not just with the main protagonists, but across the board of secondary characters as well. Each and every character in this book, from the wonderfully grumpy titular wolf spirit, to the antagonist (who I’m not even sure you can really call an antagonist in the classic sense, because she is so much more, and her character and arc place her far more squarely as a protagonist despite standing against the other two), to the crew members are so well-realised and compelling, that it is impossible to imagine this world or book without them.
This is a story that is the sum of all its parts, but each part (character) is a whole.
I’m not even sure that I could choose a favourite, especially amongst our three main protagonists – Toroko, Raku and Kaiyo, as I loved them all for different reasons, although if forced I might lean towards the latter. Kaiyo – our antagonist/protagonist – was a wonderfully complex character, caught between duty and expectation, and trying to remain true to herself in the face of familial demands. I love that she doesn’t fall easily into the classic role of antagonist and that her role as Captain of the Wind Serpent and heir to her father, is not questioned. There is no expectation that her gender would limit her in any way. And really that is the tone for this world and book as a whole. The ‘representation’ is just part of the fabric of the world, which is just how it should be. There is no question about our female leads being in command, or trailblazing. There is no second thought about the wonderful relationship between Raku and Toroko, it’s their love, and their sense of family that stands out – not that they are lesbians (although ‘sword lesbians’ is always a term that makes me grin).
“Yes, I’m married to a brilliant scribe.” For a moment, Torako struggled to come up with words that could accurately convey Raku. “She’s fierce, brilliant, and much better with people than I am.”
And the way that non-binary characters and their pronouns are just accepted as a part of the characters in question, and the world is a whole, is something that I need to see more of.
This is how it should be, and there need to be more books like this.
This also bleeds through into one of the things that stood out for me most, and that was returning to the dedication and to what I’d heard about in regards to this book – and that was ‘warrior mums’. It is such a common feature of media that motherhood and warriorhood (is that even a word) are held as separate traits that can’t possibly cross paths. How, often is the mother killed? Or, loses all that part of herself to become a warrior? As though it was as simple as flicking a switch. There is none of that in Sairō’s Claw – and as with the rest of the representation – it’s unremarked upon, and yet it is sadly remarkable and certainly one of my favourite parts of this book.
Toroko is a mother.
She is also a warrior.
She is both at all times.
Itachi was a sweetheart, and so integral to Toroko and Rakus’ story and characters. It would be impossible to imagine them (or this story) without them, and thanks to the author we don’t have to, because McClain demonstrates in the same elegant, understated way as the rest of the representation is given to us – that mothers can be warriors, and warriors can be mothers.
She hoped that pointing out the presence of the small child on her back might keep Uso from some of the less savory topics that a smuggler might choose to raise, but she didn’t hold out much hope. She hadn’t met very many of Kitsu’s crew over the cycles, but the ones she had met had seemed to have a competition going to see which of them could upset her with bawdy or bloody tales. They had all been disappointed. Torako was not at all put off by such things, but that didn’t mean that she wanted Itachi to listen to them.
Give me more women heading into battle with their children at their side. Give me more warriors whose moral compass is their children. Sairō’s Claw is proof that not only does this work, but it also makes for fantastic, multi-faceted characters and an adventure that has completely different stakes and a heart that feels so much more believable.
Sairō’s Claw was such a refreshing read for so many reasons, and there was so much to love about this book. Firstly, it is perfect if you are looking for a wonderful adventure packed with action and magic, with a touch of whimsy and lightheartedness, without shying away from some more serious/darker elements. It’s also the book for anyone who wants a book that celebrates diversity without sticking it up on a podium, and who loves characters that live and breathe and jump off the page to drag you along on their adventure. I had so much fun with this book, and I just loved the characters, and I almost didn’t want it to end – although the ending was brilliant – and I’m glad that I still have the rest of the Gensokai books to dive into because I have not had my fill yet.
About the Author:
Virginia McClain is an author who masqueraded as a language teacher for a decade or so. When she’s not reading or writing she can generally be found playing outside with her four legged adventure buddy and the tiny human she helped to build from scratch. She enjoys climbing to the top of tall rocks, running through deserts, mountains, and woodlands, and carrying a foldable home on her back whenever she gets a chance. She’s also fond of word games, and writing descriptions of herself that are needlessly vague.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.