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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Origin Curse by Sarah Kate Ishii is a fantasy novel and the first book in the Dynasty Codes series, revolving around a young noblewoman warrior named Yoshiko. Ishii's world is founded on the legacy of a country to the East called Hizen, which has remained unscathed from the vice and violence that has scourged the West. Yoshiko's family has the unique fortune of ruling over the secluded Hie, led by women since antiquity with powerful abilities that heighten their physical military prowess but do so at great expense; a curse has the power to turn them into something far more dangerous than great human warriors. Yoshiko only begins to understand what this means when the peace of her land and the destruction of her family follow a bloody betrayal. A fire in Yoshiko's belly burns when the simple freedom of life in Hie is replaced by the bondage of the West, and whether or not Yoshiko's fiery truth is better or worse than the alternative fate of Hizen has yet to be determined.
Origin Curse went in a direction that I was not expecting at all. Maybe I did not fully grasp what I probably should have from the book blurb, or perhaps I was so overcome by the beauty of author Sarah Kate Ishii's cover that I did not care. But thank goodness I picked it up because this book is a genuine treat. First things first, as a woman from an East Asian family with a South Asian daughter, it is refreshing to find a novel with a strong Asian female protagonist. Better still, Yoshiko is a warrior who isn't bowled over or saved by love, except for the love and care she has for her family, her people, her land, her country, and their survival. Yoshiko is both the blessing and the curse, quite literally, and while those who walk, ride, fight, and sometimes die beside her are important parts of the journey, Yoshiko is the story. There are moments of complete and utter sadness, one in particular that happens in a near instant with a twist that sears at the heart. One would expect a coming-of-age fantasy to be written for a readership not quite as—shall we say mature?—in age, but the adult themes in Origin Curse are as strong as the writing. And the writing is very strong. Overall, this is an incredible novel and the start of what is sure to be a spectacular series.