What happens when a company renowned for its tabletop and card games decides to publish novellas based on one of those card games and releases the hardcovers with bonus promo cards? My husband gets suckered into buying them, that’s what.
I have played Legend of the Five Rings (the new version, not the old version). It’s okay, but I like Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn better and I think they’re similar enough that owning both is redundant. My husband disagrees, and *coughsplutter* dollars later we have a vast array of L5R cluttering our house. (Apparently spreading the cards out all over the place is vital to the deck building process.) At the tail end of his card-buying frenzy (please, God, let it be the tail end), he discovered the existence of new L5R novellas featuring the various clans you can play as, and here we are.
The Sword and the Spirits is a decent story and the cover art is pretty, and that’s the best praise I can give it. Either the author assumed anyone reading it would have read the short stories and other supplemental material included with the game and clan decks and expansions (a fair assumption as he’s writing for a very niche market), or he isn’t very good at introductions and exposition. The quality of writing is about what you’d expect from someone used to writing backstory and flavor text for game manuals and cards. It’s serviceable, but also full of awkward phrasing and questionable word choice and jarring transitions. There are a whole lot of instances of random details being inserted for no discernable reason. An attempt at evoking ambiance? Or inflating the word count past short story length? Whatever the reason, there’s a bunch of stuff like this where the prose suddenly verges on purple to no good effect:
Tadaka’s eyes fell to the back of the room, where his candle revealed an altar with a lidless lacquered box. His prayer beads were like a windswept porch swing.
Suffice it to say, whatever editing process this book went through was inadequate. Novels and manuals are different beasts, and if Fantasy Flight used their in-house editors for this project, it would explain a lot.
If you’re a fan of the game and you’re not a picky, pedantic lit-snob like me, you might like this book. If you just think the game is okay-ish and you talked yourself into reading this book because you’re not sure your husband ever will and you can’t stand the thought of him paying all that money just for a few promo cards, have another conversation with yourself. Try to talk yourself out of it, if you can. And if you’ve never heard of the game and this book somehow caught your eye, walk on by. There must be far better Japanese-inspired fantasies out there.