Book of the Week: Disciple of the Wind by Steve Bein (+ Author Interview)

This week I’m featuring the newest book from my friend Steve Bein, the third in his Fated Blades series!

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From the cover:
When Tokyo falls victim to a deadly terrorist attack, Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro knows who is responsible, even if she doesn’t have proof. She urges her commanding officers to arrest the perpetrator—an insane zealot who was just released from police custody. When her pleas fall on deaf ears, she loses her temper and then her badge, as well as her best chance of fighting back.

Left on her own, and armed with only her cunning and her famed Inazuma blade, Mariko must work outside the system to stop a terrorist mastermind. But going rogue draws the attention of an underground syndicate known as the Wind. For centuries, they have controlled Japanese politics from the shadows, using mystical relics to achieve their nefarious ends—relics like Mariko’s own sword and the iron demon mask whose evil curse is bound to the blade. Now the Wind is set on acquiring Mariko.

Mariko is left with a perilous choice: Join an illicit insurgency to thwart a deadly villain, or remain true to the law. Either way, she cannot escape her sword’s curse. As sure as the blade will bring her to victory, it also promises to destroy her….

 

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Sounds great, huh?

Well, I thought I’d talk to Steve about his work here to celebrate it’s release.

 

1) So Steve, Disciple of the Wind is the third novel in your Fated Blades series (I should note here for readers that there are two novellas as well), all of which are set in Japan.  Can you tell us a bit about why you chose that setting?

I’m a Japanophile, plain and simple. I was in grade school when the ninja craze really swept the US. Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sho Kosugi, all of them captivated me. By junior high my tastes matured a little and I got into Akira Kurosawa, then James Clavell. In college I found martial arts, which got me reading Miyamoto Musashi, which eventually led me to a whole shelf of books on bushidō.

Around thirteen or fourteen I read my first book on Zen Buddhism, and it really spoke to me. (I’m not a practicing Buddhist, but Zen made more sense to me—and still does, really—than any other philosophical tradition I know.) It wasn’t until college that I started studying Japanese philosophy in earnest, and as I progressed there, I also I got deeper into martial arts. Those two created a kind of virtuous circle, each one encouraging the study of the other. From there I went off to grad school, specializing in Japanese philosophy. Then came a couple of years living in Nagoya and Tokyo, where I was suffused in the culture in a way none of my academic studies could ever duplicate. So today it’s fair to say that Japan is in my blood. I’ve never lost my fascination with it.

2) And you chose as your main character a Narcotics Detective. That’s a pretty specific niche!  How or why did you choose to go that route?

I had a couple of choices with Mariko. The Fated Blades books are multi-layered, with the modern day police thriller serving both as the primary storyline and the lens through which we get to look back at episodes in Japanese history. All the historical pieces follow the exploits of the Inazuma blades, the deadliest swords ever forged. Whoever the contemporary character was going to be, she had to have good reason to investigate the past, or else she couldn’t fulfill her purpose as a lens.

The first and most obvious choice was a historian, but I wanted to write a more exciting protagonist than some professor sitting in a study reading books. (The historian ultimately did make it into the book: he’s Mariko’s sensei when she takes up swordfighting.) The next obvious choice was a journalist, but again, I wanted a more exciting book than that. Settling on a police detective wasn’t easy, because she didn’t have any natural connection to the past, but at last I figured out what now seems inevitable: the crimes she investigates would revolve around the mysterious Inazuma blades.

As for her Narcotics assignment, that actually didn’t come until the very last draft of Daughter of the Sword. My editor observed that Mariko’s relationship with her sister Saori hadn’t been fleshed out yet. At the same time, I wanted to tease out the already-existing themes of obsession and addiction. One of the Inazuma blades has an effect on its wielder quite similar to—well, let’s be blunt: it’s an homage to—the One Ring. Gollum is an addict, as are the characters who take up this sword. Making Saori an addict afforded me another opportunity to bring out that theme in the book, and it complicated the relationship between the Oshiro sisters. Once Saori became an addict, Mariko suddenly had her mission in life: she knows she can’t make her sister sober up—only Saori can do that—so instead she dedicates herself to bringing down the people who sell the poison that ruined her sister’s life.

3) How do you feel your main character (Mariko) has changed in the process of these stories?

At the beginning of her career she wasn’t as confident as she needed to be. Throughout the three books she’s her own harshest critic, but in Daughter of the Sword she sees herself as too small, too weak, too easily pushed aside to be an effective cop. In Japan law enforcement is still very much a male-dominated profession, so every day is another attack on Mariko’s self-esteem. She has to outperform everyone just to be seen as an equal.

As the books progress, her martial training doesn’t just make her more effective in a fight; she’s also more confident, more self-assured. By the time we get to Disciple of the Wind, Mariko is officially a Certified Ass-Kicker. We get to see her take on a skilled knife-fighter with nothing other than an arm cast. But there’s a downside too. Right from the start she had trouble minding her tongue, and the more confident she comes, the easier it becomes for her to shoot her mouth off. That tends to get her in a lot of trouble.

4) Your novels feature entwined stories, one concerning Mariko and her present day trials, but others feature characters in Japan’s past. This had to take a ton of research, especially since they weren’t all in the same period.  What’s your favorite of those past eras, and is it possible that we might see you focusing on one of them in the future?

The Warring States period (1467-1603) is an era of constant turmoil. The emperor doesn’t even rate as a figurehead, and the rule of law is utterly shattered, replaced by 100 years of civil war. Then, in just forty years, Japan transforms from a rabble of feuding fiefdoms to a unified empire. It’s a fascinating time, and with the lone exception of World War II, I think more books have been written on the Warring States period than any other era of Japanese history.

I do have several characters living in this period. In Daughter of the Sword it’s Daigoro Okuma, a fledgling samurai who returns throughout the series. In Year of the Demon it’s Kaida, a young pearl diver who reappears in my new novella, Streaming Dawn. They’re my favorites to write, in large part because the research is so much fun. The truth is, I’m just as enamored with samurai and ninja stories today as I was when I first discovered them in the fourth grade. I could write a hundred books in this period and never get bored.

5) Since this is your third Fated Blades novel, I wondered whether there will be more. What can we expect from you next?

When my agent asked that question, I said what I really want more than anything else right now is to write a simple book. One era, one storyline, one set of characters. So that’s what I’m going to do, but this one is going to test me in entirely new ways. It’s hard SF, but the POV characters don’t understand enough science to know that. To them it looks like steampunk with a healthy dose of magic stirred in. Think Firefly meets Robinson Crusoe. It’s a story of space-faring people who have lost their way, forgetting so much that now they can’t get back into space. But trouble from space can still get to them, which they discover in the worst way possible.

6) And where can we find you in person this summer?  Will you be appearing at any cons or readings?

A bunch, actually. I’ll be speaking on the “Reinventing the Hero(ine)” panel at C2E2, also known as Chicago Comic Con (April 24-26). I’m on a couple of panels at Comicpalooza in Houston (May 22-25), moderating one (“Writing Tips and Tricks: How to Create Believable Worlds”) and speaking on another (“Multiculturalism in Science Fiction and Fantasy”). I’m also on at least three panels at ArmadilloCon in Austin (July 24-26, no topics announced yet). I’ll post all the details and updates—and, when the time comes, pictures—on Facebook and Twitter.

Steve Bein (pronounced “Bine”) is a philosopher, photographer, traveler, translator, martial artist, and award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’sInterzoneWriters of the Future , and in international translation. His first novel, Daughter of the Sword , was met with critical acclaim, and his second novel, Year of the Demon, was named one of the top five fantasy novels of 2013 by Library Journal . Steve’s newest book, Disciple of the Wind is in stores now, and his new novella, Streaming Dawn , is available now for your e-reader. You can find his work at Powell’s , Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Audible.

Steve teaches philosophy at Texas State University. He lives in Austin with his partner Michele and their Black Lab, Kane. On the web he lives at http://www.philosofiction.com.

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