I didn’t exactly meet Mariko Oshiro. Better to say she forced herself on me.
I never intended to write a book about her, but Mariko tends to get what she wants. She’s the only woman in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department to have earned the rank of Detective Sergeant, and that means she’s exceptionally talented, exceptionally ambitious, and exceptionally stubborn. Her commanding officer doesn’t mind having women in his police force, but he thinks they ought to be pushing paper and making coffee, not contending for a top spot in the Narcotics Division. The only way Mariko can get by is to be the best there is at what she does.
She also has to work hard for me as a writer. Daughter of the Sword is really four stories in one. It traces the history of the greatest swords ever forged, all of which are said to have supernatural forces hammered into their steel. One of these blades is used in a homicide in Mariko’s Tokyo—i.e. the Tokyo of the modern day—but this is just the most recent incident in a series of murders stretching back nearly a thousand years. Three of the four storylines in Daughter of the Sword are historical, revealing the history of this sword and two others in the 1300s, the 1500s, and WWII. I wrote those three stories first. Then I needed someone to tie all of them together.
It was a tall order. To unite the historical pieces, I needed a character who was in position to investigate the homicide case and look into the history of the Fated Blades. An intrepid historian could do the job, but I’ve always been skeptical of the academic-turned-adventurer. (I’m an academic myself, and I’ve never known a single colleague to leave the safety of the ivory tower to go investigate a crime.) A journalist could do the job too, but I wanted a more exciting book than a reporter working the police beat could give me.
Then Mariko came along. As a female cop under a misogynist lieutenant, she gets stuck with the least promising cases—in this instance, not the homicide case mentioned earlier but the attempted theft of different samurai sword. The blade’s owner, Dr. Yasuo Yamada, is a retired history professor with black belts in every sword style that Japanese martial arts have to offer. He tells her his weapon is possessed, and though Mariko doesn’t believe in that sort of thing, she’s a detective, and that means she’s willing to go where the evidence leads her, even if that makes her revise her opinion about the existence of magic.
So there she was: a strong woman who was curious enough to get to the bottom of a mysterious sword murder, tenacious enough to stick with it even when magical elements threaten to crumble her understanding of the world, and fearless enough to see it through even when the Japanese mafia gets involved. From there it was a question of getting to know her better. As a writer, you just have to ask yourself why the character is the way she is, and then allow the answers to develop organically, flowing out of what’s authentic for the character.
In Mariko’s case, she’s bright enough to recognize that as a female cop in a predominantly male profession, she’ll be an outsider for her entire career. Why is she willing to put up with that? And why compete for the Narcotics job when there are easier assignments? When she meets Dr. Yamada, is she going to start studying swordsmanship with him? Why? What does she do on the weekends? Did she play sports in high school? What kind of music is on her iPod? As a writer I think you have to know these details about your character, even if they never make it into the novel. (For Mariko, it turns out they did matter. Once I discovered she’s a triathlete, I came to understand why she’s so stubborn, and why she’s willing to put up with self-inflicted misery so long as it leads to self-betterment.)
Initially her role in the novel was simply to tie all the storylines together, but she ended up doing more than that: she commandeered the whole book, making this a police thriller instead of a pastiche of historical fantasy. I suppose I should resent her for stealing my book and making it her own, but I can’t. I like her too much. I hope you will too.
Daughter of the Sword
Bein’s gripping debut is a meticulously researched, highly detailed blend of urban and historical fantasy set in modern Tokyo. Det. Sgt. Mariko Oshiro is fighting an uphill battle against sexism and tradition in the narcotics division of the Tokyo police. Her antagonistic boss assigns her to a mundane case involving the attempted theft of a sword, but it gets a lot less boring when Mariko winds up on the trail of a ruthless killer. As she learns the hidden history behind a trio of ancient magical swords, she discovers that she may be destined to wield one of them. Alternating segments switch between Mariko’s present-day adventures and other owners of the swords throughout history. Bein’s scrupulous attention to verisimilitude helps bring all the settings to life, respectfully showcasing Japan’s distinctive cultures and attitudes.
Steve Bein is philosopher, photographer, traveler, translator, climber, diver, and award-winning author of fantasy and science fiction. His short stories and novellas have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Interzone, Writers 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, comes out on October 1st. You can read more about Steve’s work at www.philosofiction.com, and like Steve at facebook/philosofiction. You can find all of his books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.