Origin Curse

Dynasty Codes

Fiction - Fantasy - Epic
508 Pages
Reviewed on 03/08/2023
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

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.

K.C. Finn

Origin Curse is an epic action adventure fantasy and is the first book in the Dynasty Codes series by Sarah Kate Ishii. It is best suited to an adult reading audience owing to some scenes of violence. In this atmospheric and emotionally charged story, we find ourselves in a world where the delicate balance of the Dynasty Codes is about to be disrupted. When the noble Yoshiko is forced to flee her castle home, she recruits the runaway foreigner Gora to help her stay safe during her quest for peace and balance. But deep within Yoshiko lurks a hidden and devastating power that she may not be able to get under her full control.

Sarah Kate Ishii presents an original and highly conceptual fantasy where the magical qualities of the lead character are used to ask poignant questions about controlling our emotions, whether we truly seek peace or justice, and whether those two things can come about in harmony with one another. Yoshiko is a fantastic central figure for this as she is ripped from her noble life and forced to start rethinking everyone around her. The atmosphere is suitably tense for this psychological trial, and her central relationship with Gora is heartfelt and slow-burning as their mutual trust builds and the scars of their difficult pasts begin to heal. Overall, I do not hesitate to recommend Origin Curse, and I’m excited to see where the rest of this atmospheric and fascinating fantasy series takes us.

Rabia Tanveer

Origin Curse is the first book in the Dynasty Codes series by Sarah Kate Ishii. An epic fantasy with an equally epic protagonist, the story follows Yoshiko as she tries to get her life back in order and keep her new powers under check. Yoshiko has responsibilities as the daughter of the daimyō of Hié, and one of them is to control her firepower. However, when her family is betrayed, Yoshiko and her mother have to run away to save their lives. The council wants them dead, and they will do whatever it takes to hunt them both down. Help comes in the most unconventional package: Gora. A foreigner who is also very talented, Gora is ready to help Yoshiko get back home and help her people before it is too late. In the meantime, she has to hone her skills and get her firepower under control before it is too late.

The story is fantastic, Sarah Kate Ishii's descriptions are vivid, and everything feels real. The background building is phenomenal, the universe creation is on-point, and the character development is off-the-charts. You can feel the heat from Yoshiko’s power and her frustration as she struggles to control it. Origin Curse has political tension and constant action, and the mythology and folklore aspects are well-researched and adapted to the story. Yoshiko’s journey and character development grow her into a reliable person on a journey from a lost, terrified girl to a strong, determined warrior. The relationship she shares with Gora is fascinating as they push each other, keep things light when the tension is rising, and make sure you get a grand old time at every moment in the tale. I hope the sequel to the story comes out soon.

Stephanie Chapman

Sarah Kate Ishii’s Origin Curse recounts the fight to be rulers of Hie. The daimyo, or ruler, Asumi, is forced to take her daughter, Yoshiko, into hiding. After the murder of Yoshiko’s father, Asumi leads her daughter into a secret underground cavern. Yoshiko trains with Asumi and learns how to move about the town without being noticed. Yoshiko learns that her enhanced abilities in vision, hearing, and speed come at a cost. Asumi shows her the scales that appear from using her abilities. Asumi and Yoshiko discover the townspeople have started to disappear mysteriously. One evening, Asumi does not return to the cavern. Yoshiko finds her mother’s body and seeks help from the hunter who has red hair. Gora agrees to listen to Yoshiko’s request. Can Yoshiko trust Gora to help her regain the throne?

The unusual plot enhances Sarah Kate Ishii's ability to develop suspense. The intensity of her mother's teaching swiftly overcomes Yoshiko's naivety. The vivid details of Yoshiko’s surroundings were effective in immersing me in the story. I found myself listening out for possible danger and wandering blindly in the dark tunnels with Yoshiko. Gora’s dark past, which landed him in Hie, unfolds as he attempts to work with Yoshiko. He didn’t have special abilities but his experience becomes valuable to their survival. The colorful cast of supporting characters portrays a culture of unity. I liked the glossary at the end of the book, which helped with understanding the feudal wars that shaped the period of the story. I recommend The Origin Curse to readers who enjoy fantasy stories focusing on Asian culture with characters who face betrayal and conspiracy.

Asher Syed

Origin Curse is the impressive inauguration of a new fantasy series by Sarah Kate Ishii called Dynasty Codes. The island nation of Hizen has generations of respective peace disrupted. Hie, a region of Hizen where the youthful main character Yoshiko is from, is abruptly destabilized by deceptive members of the council that first kill Yoshiko's father and those loyal and/or close to the royal family, and then overthrow her warrior mother, the matriarchal leader of Hie. Yoshiko has been training to sharpen and control a trait passed down through generations of her family that are latent until coming of age and because of Yoshiko's relative youth, she isn't fully aware of its potential or danger. The people of Hie and other regions are torn apart by interior collaborators and machinations from the West and Yoshiko, with a collective cast of allies, fights back. The might of Yoshiko's power is realized.

Sarah Kate Ishii takes fantasy to new heights with a mix of contemporary themes and traditional social values. The setting and East Asian influences are completely devoid of even a hint of samurai and Asian warrior tropes and it is character authenticity and actions that outside the fantasy realm reflect our lived experiences, making what Sarah Kate Ishii brings to the table in Origin Curse and the Dynasty Codes so important. As an Eastern immigrant to the West, I had to learn a new language myself as an almost-adult teenager and when Yoshiko is unable to understand the language of her foes and is surrounded by a culture and way of life that is foreign to her, and when Yoshiko says, “Our people aren’t your belongings," I felt it in my bones. Ishii's writing holds the restrained fluidity of a skilled writer and the panache of a gifted storyteller. The prose sing, the tension is palpable, and I eagerly await book two! Very highly recommended.