The Nightblade Trilogy  |  Ryan Kirk  |  Fiction, Fantasy  |  2016

Book One: Nightblade
Book Two: World’s Edge
Book Three: The Wind and the Void

Perpetual ambivalence

When I first started the Nightblade Trilogy, I absolutely hated it, and if I were one of those people who quit books halfway through, I would have done so immediately.  Even as I begrudging passed the midway point of book one, I was convinced that there’d be no saving grace and that once I had finished, I’d never have to give this series another thought.

However, in the days following my completion of the first book, I found myself unable to stop thinking about the events of the story thus far, and subsequently realised I was genuinely curious about what happened next.  I didn’t so much care about the characters or felt the need to finish what I started, but I was drawn to the world Kirk had created and the promise of an epically intertwined story of adventure, heroism, and magic.

So I continued with book two (which was thankfully better than the first), and then the final segment of the trilogy, which successfully wrapped everything up, with a somewhat happy epilogue.  However, I finished the series with mixed feelings, unsure about whether I actually liked the books or not; and even though it’s been a few months since completion, I still feel that way.

Quick overview

In essence, the Nightblade Trilogy is about how a 1,000-year-old, divided kingdom becomes whole through the unification of the land (which was once ruled separately) and the people (who were segregated into different groups for various reasons).  At the crux of this story is Ryuu, whose actions bring about this change, as well as a few others whose journeys are fatefully intertwined (Moriko, Akira, Nameless, etc.).

Some of the people in this universe have an innate ‘sixth sense’ (creatively dubbed the sense) which lets the person ‘see’ and use the energies of living things, including their own.  This power manifests itself in different ways depending on the person and how trained they are.  The people who use this gift for fighting are called nightblades (hence, the series title), or hunters (this is specific to a certain group of people); whereas those who use this power to heal are called dayblades.  There are also monks, who although have been identified with having the sense, are inadequately trained in using it, as well as partially-trained or untrained others, who don’t yet have a title.

The books progress linearly through time, and altogether span about 15 years.  The chapters switch perspectives frequently between the main characters, secondary characters, and random others that give the reader a ‘god’s eye’ view of events and insight into character motives.

Thoughts (contains spoilers)

1. Inconsistent characters…

As the primary protagonist, Ryuu is expected to grow and change throughout the trials of his journey, but for me, this wasn’t executed very well at all throughout the trilogy.  We first meet Ryuu as a young child and he’s portrayed as an innocent, naïve boy with a very strong moral code.  However, as he continues down the path of magic and dangerous battles and whatnot, Ryuu’s personality is spliced between being a conflicted and tortured soul, an easy-going jokester, a stoic and observant fighter, and occasionally a wise sage full of advice beyond his years.

A few other characters varied too much with their personalities as well, such as Takako.  One minute she’s a level headed young woman, the next she thinks she can run away from her problems which eventually gets her tortured and killed.  Perhaps Kirk was trying to make sure that his characters weren’t one dimensional or develop them as the story progressed, but it just didn’t work well.  Which segues into my next point…

2. …that are difficult to relate to

Usually when I read fiction I tend to put myself in the shoes of the main character(s) which makes the story more ‘real’ to me.  Unfortunately, I was unable to do that with the characters in these books because they were so difficult to relate to!  Character inconsistencies aside, the main protagonists were unlikeable and, at times, downright annoying.

In fact, during the final battle in the third book, I discovered I didn’t really care if Ryuu and his companions lived or died.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they did survive because I’m a sucker for happy endings, but had they perished I wouldn’t have been that distraught.

Moriko, another lead protagonist, was probably the least relatable character of them all.  I got the fact that she’s a strong female lead, but all she cared about was escaping to a faraway place so she could lead a calm, peaceful life.  I found Moriko unbearably self-centred, and also quite boring.

3. Graphic & explicit content

This point is just an observation and probably more relevant to me than others as I don’t have a stomach for gruesome content.

Right from the very beginning we experience the twist of fate that leads Ryuu on his path of destiny.  Unfortunately this twist includes five-year-old Ryuu watching his father get murdered by a group of bandits, followed by witnessing his mother get raped and then also murdered by the same group.

This sort of start made a horrible first impression which ultimately gave me reservations on fully committing to the series.  It put me on my toes for quite a while and then, just as I was lulled into a false sense of security, the conclusion of the first book brought another round of horrific content.

I won’t get into specifics, but basically Ryuu falls in love with Takako, a young girl who’s been sold into prostitution, but because of his pursuit of her, she ends of getting tortured and raped and dies shortly afterward.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’m female and probably more sensitive to sexual torture, but Kirk’s detailed description really made me quite sick.

4. Ineffective writing style and lacking story-telling skills

Although I thought the underlying story was good (more on that below), I don’t think Kirk’s writing style / story-telling skills were good enough to do it justice.  The tale is written simply, but even so there were a lot of grammatical errors throughout the books, which I found distracting.

There was also something off about the writing that didn’t connect to me as a reader.  It didn’t draw me in or make my imagination go wild; it was as if Kirk simply listed the facts instead of telling a story.  There is so much potential in the plot, but the writing fell short of expectations.

5. Final redemption: a good underlying plot 

Despite all the things I didn’t like (which after writing this post seems like quite a bit), I have to admit that the underlying story was creative, imaginative, and solid.  Although the tale is a bit cliché in that there is a prodigy hero who must defeat his enemies in order to bring peace to the land, Kirk’s retake is curious and captivating.

The 15-year history of events and character actions/backgrounds spin an intriguing web of detail that connects well.  The organisation of events was meticulously thought-out and executed with a good pace.

Is it for you?

Ultimately, I like stories that make me think, and the Nightblade Trilogy was able to do that.  I enjoyed the surprises and unpredictability, the whole idea and logic behind ‘the sense’, and the varied geographic landscape that Kirk puppeteered his characters across.  I am glad that I decided to complete the series even after the reservations I held due to the first book.

HOWEVER, I will not be reading this trilogy again.  There are too many conflicting aspects that ultimately place the series into an undistinguishable limbo between like and dislike.  I’m still not sure if I’d recommend the Nightblade Trilogy to others or not, so for those who are considering starting the books, you have been cautioned.