I have to admit, the idea of a female cop inheriting a “cursed” sword certainly had me expecting a Witchblade derivative, and I was very pleasantly surprised (not that I don’t like Witchblade, I adore it, but that is exactly why a pale copy would be disappointing).
While there’s a broad surface similarity, and there are flashbacks to the previous owners of the swords throughout history, that’s about the only similarity. The flashbacks here serve to illustrate not only the swords history, but Japan’s, and the cultural mores that suffuse even modern Japan, and therefore the characters. In any case, the paranormal elements are well handled. There’s certainly plenty of room to read this as a book about obsession, and faith, even if it’s faith in a superstitious curse. And there’s equally as much room to read this as a book about destiny, prescience and cursed blades that have minds and spirits of their own. I like that the choice is up to the reader.
The culture is well drawn too, treated respectfully, but not through rose coloured glasses. The samurai in the flashbacks in this book are noble honorable warriors, but they are also brutal and life is relatively cheap in their world. Particularly the life of a woman (oh Himiko, we barely knew you). Modern Japan is perhaps shown a little less kindly than most readers (well the otaku kind) will be used to, particularly the gender politics. And those flashbacks, there’s some truly masterful foreshadowing, subtle enough that it didn’t hit me in the face until the very last chapter. As for the plot, it’s really solid, it makes complete sense (well, ok, slightly possibly paranormal sense), even the one big question I had for most of the book was explained with a logical reason Why did the dealer not just pay cash for the drugs? Which I’ve seen other people ask too, so I guess they missed the answer: He wasn’t high enough in the hierarchy to move that much cash without being noticed, so he found a supplier willing to take a trade that he could keep “off the books”.
I’d have no hesitation recommending this, and perhaps even to non-genre readers who are looking to branch out into fantasy - the core of the story is a good old fashioned detective story, wrapped up in all the drama and history that is Japan.