Hi Booklings! And welcome to my post in this Blog Tour!
Thank you so much to Karina @ Afire Pages and M.L. Wang for including me in this blog tour and for providing the review copy!
Check out all the other wonderful blogs (lot’s of other cool guest posts, quizzes and creative posts!) and Karina’s post for a giveaway!
Title: The Sword of Kaigen
Author: M.L. Wang
Publisher: M.L. Wang
Publishing Date: Februrary 19, 2019
Genre: High Fantasy
Age range: Adult
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A mother struggling to repress her violent past,
A son struggling to grasp his violent future,
A father blind to the danger that threatens them all.
When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?
High on a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’
Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.
Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.
Buckle up becasue this is gonna be a long post. But definitely stay for the end becasue M.L. Wang’s guest post is incredibly interesting!! You’ll want to read it!
Before we get into the propaganda, thank you so much to El for being part of The Sword of Kaigen Blog Tour and having me on for a guest post!
World-building Between the Lines: a close-reading of the propaganda in The Sword of Kaigen
The first piece of propaganda in any book from the Dunaverse is the map in the front. Most maps of the parallel Earth, Duna, look like this one, from the front of Theonite: Orbit (the second book in my Theonite Series):
Created by people from the country of Yamma, this map reflects what its makers consider to be the natural order of the world: Africa on top of Europe and the parallel West African nation of Yamma in the center, with everything else revolving around it.
The map in The Sword of Kaigen presents a slightly different view:
While everyone on Planet Duna agrees that South is up and North is down, this Kaigenese map slices Yamma and the whole continent of Kelendugu in half in order to place the ocean and the Kaigenese Empire and the adjacent ocean in the center.
In The Sword of Kaigen, we are introduced to most of the countries on this map through a lecture by a history teacher, Hibiki Sensei, in the backwater province of Shirojima, Kaigen. This is also our first showcase of propaganda in motion. From ancient Rome to modern America, propaganda follows a specific formula. In comparing Roman and West African Mande histories in college, I broke the model into four steps. Here, for the sake of simplicity, I’ve reduced it to three:
1 – The Myth: spinning and trimming history to fit a specific worldview and set of ‘truths’
2 – The Connection: placing the audience into a specific role within the narrative of the myth
3 – The Call to Action: using your audience’s role in the narrative to instruct and control
Below, I’ve broken Hibiki Sensei’s history lesson from The Sword of Kaigen into these three steps. I’m not going to pretend that it fits perfectly, since I wrote it off the cuff, not to model, but I hope that it provides a look at one way to write propaganda into a fictional world.
Part 1: The Myth
The myth is the product of the teller adjusting a series of historical facts to fit the biases and agendas that will subsequently create the connection and the call to action. In each segment of Hibiki’s lecture, we’ll do a truth check, in which we compare his version of events to what really happened. Once we know what he fiddled, we’ll look at his biases and overarching agenda in making those changes.
“There were a number of factors that led to the Great War, or what the Yammankalu call the Keleba. Ke-le-ba.” Hibiki Sensei wrote the Yammaninke letters out on the board and Mamoru sank his teeth into the knuckles of his left fist, hoping the pain might keep him awake. “First, there was the tension between the colonial powers, Yamma and Sizwe, which were in constant competition with each other for the resources of Baxaria. Next, there was the tension created by the Baxarian colonies rejecting Yammanka and Sizwean rule. Last, of course, there was the tension between our own great empire and the extremist rebels in the west who would one day betray their emperor to establish the Ranganese Union.”
Truth Check: This broad outline of events is true, though some of the language used is clearly subjective.
The Biases: Hibiki’s use of the words ‘extremist’ and ‘betray’ when describing the Ranganese, contrasted with ‘our own great empire’ demonstrate his steep anti-Ranganese, pro-Kaigenese bias.
The Agenda: The opening agenda here is boilerplate nationalism. “Our own empire is great. Those who oppose it, from without or within, are no good.”
“Now, there are several background dates you will need to know in regard to the Keleba. The first one is 5153.” …“This is the year of the first Abirian rebellion, when a group of violent extremists calling themselves the Longhouse Confederacy developed enough of a following to mount armed resistance against the Yammanka Empire. Abiria, despite being plagued by inter-tribal violence and not having a stable government of its own, wanted independence from Yamma. Of course, these disorganized rebels were quickly subdued by Yamma’s superior forces.”
… “With their inferior genes, the Abirians’ defeat was inevitable. The Yammankalu are pure-blooded tajakalu, born and bred to wield the power they possess, whereas the Abirians who opposed them were of mixed blood, the product of intermarriage between the Abirian Natives, Yammankalu, Kaigenese immigrants, and most damaging of all, white slaves. This kind of impurity dilutes the divine energies that give theonites their power. Mixed theonites such as the Abirians could never hope to stand unaided against a pure-blooded tajaka army.
The Truth: The Abirians did not lose due to mixed bloodlines. They lost due to a lack of resources and their leaders’ inexperience coordinating that number of troops against a Yammanka army with centuries of military experience behind them. It is demonstrably false within the Theonite universe that mixed theonites are less powerful than ‘pure-blooded’ ones. The powers they inherit are often unpredictable but, on average, no less potent than anyone else’s.
The Biases: Hibiki is operating on the presupposition that mixed-blood weakens lines, which is a commonly held ‘truth’ in the ethnocentric country of Kaigen. Since there are few mixed theonites in Kaigen, he likely doesn’t even know this is a lie.
The Agenda: Since the Kaigenese Emperor attributes his right to rule to an undiluted line of divine rulers, he does not benefit from any suggestion that theonites from ‘lesser’ backgrounds could match his power. Out of an obviously rational fear of peasant uprising, the Emperor will only ever endorse narratives that support his own divine right to power. If he convinces the populace that revolutions by people of ‘lower breeding’ are doomed to failure, he can discourage such rebellions before they get off the ground.
“Now, I want to give you several dates relating to the Yammanka-Sizwean competition over their colonial territories.” [Our hero zones out here and doodles]
“This brings us to the dates leading up to the Keleba itself,” Hibiki Sensei said, and Mamoru tried to refocus on the lecture.
“5286, the year that the Carythian Union formed and resisted Yammanka rule.” Hibiki Sensei wrote the year up on the board.
“5287,” he wrote the next date as Mamoru scrambled to catch up with his notes. “In this year, the Sizwean colony of Malusia staged a major uprising that shook Sizwe’s control of the entire region. At the same time, there was a rash of peasant uprisings in the western part of the Kaigenese Empire. These were quickly put down by our own Imperial army, but they foreshadowed bigger rebellions to come…
“5288. Under the influence of corrupt politicians, a collection of cities, led by Ranga, rose against the Kaigenese Empire. This rebellion was put down the same year and its leaders publicly executed for treason.
The Truth: The Ranganese rebellion did not originate with ‘corrupt politicians’ but with disenfranchised laborers. None of its leaders were career politicians or even landowners.
The Biases: Again, Hibiki’s anti-Ranganese bias is showing.
The Agenda: The Emperor would never want any Kaigenese to know that the Ranganese revolutions began with peasants who felt exploited since his power still rests on the exploitation of the peasants who remain under his control.
“5289, the year that Yamma defeated Sizwe for control of Malusia and pressed to take Sizwe’s other colonies, escalating the long-standing tensions between the two Kelenduguka superpowers.
“5290. Kaigen’s western provinces rose up in rebellion once again. Using propaganda and false promises, the Thulanist rebels managed to trick the uneducated peasants of Ranga into following them in greater numbers than ever before. At the same time, the Longhouse Confederacy of Abiria staged a reprisal of its bid for independence in 5153, under the same flag.
Truth check: The description of 5289 is true; Yamma and Sizwe were highly competitive with one another over colonies. The 5290 description is more skewed; in reality, the current Ranganese government has taken great pains to fulfill the promises made to every party involved in the revolution. It would be hard to argue that anyone was ‘tricked’ into revolution. Abiria did make another break for independence the same year, but the lie here is in omission. Hibiki neglects to mention that the Longhouse Revolution was more successful than Abiria’s earlier attempts to gain independence.
The Biases & Agenda: Again, Hibiki was raised anti-Ranganese and will attribute all of their actions to malice and moral bankruptcy. He deliberately avoids discussing the Longhouse Confederacy because its military success undermines his earlier claim that mixed-blood theonites are doomed to failure and inferiority. It also makes Kaigen’s Yammanka allies look incompetent.
“At the tail end of that year, on the twenty-eighth of Kribakalo, Ranganese terrorists attacked a graduation ceremony at Daybreak Academy in Carytha, killing principal Oyede Biida, along with several Yammanka and Kaigenese students. It was following this malicious and cowardly attack that Yamma agreed to support our great empire in its fight against the Ranganese rebels.
Truth check: Oyede Biida was not killed by Ranganese fonyakalu. While the perpetrators were never identified, investigators determined that it would be impossible for fonyakalu to produce the lightning that killed Biida and his students.
The Agenda: More than anything else, this is a piece of Yammanka propaganda that later made its way to Kaigenese propaganda. Yamma had, as it still does, a stable and lucrative trade relationship with the Kaigenese Empire, meaning that they really didn’t want that Yamma-friendly government overthrown by Ranganese revolutionaries. However, per their agreement with a previous Kaigenese emperor, they couldn’t intervene in Kaigenese affairs unless Ranganese rebels aggressed against Yammanka citizens in an act of war. Under pressure to aid the Kaigenese Empire against the Ranganese, the Yammankalu spun the Daybreak Academy attack into such an act of war, despite this being a gross misrepresentation of what experts believed to be a freak accident.
“5291. Early in this year, the Yammankalu allied with us, bringing foreign troops onto Kaigenese soil for the first time. In response to their involvement, Sizwe aligned itself both with our own rebel enemies and with the Abirian rebels fighting against Yamma for their independence. This led to open war between Yamma and Sizwe. Abtya aligned with Yamma.
“5292. This year marked the only time in Duna’s history that all the major theonite powers—Kaigen, Yamma, Abtya, and Sizwe—were at war. It was in this year that the Ranganese fonyakalu launched their attack on Shirojima and were soundly defeated.
Truth check: The 5291 description checks out. 5292 was indeed the first and only time that all Duna’s theonite superpowers were at war but again, the Ranganese were not ‘soundly defeated.’ They were repelled at the cost of many Kaigenese and Yammanka lives.
The Bias & Agenda: This is another attempt by the Kaigenese government to project divine strength. Hibiki’s choice to focus on Shirojima is obviously because he is a jaseli of Shirojima, addressing the sons of the area’s warrior houses, which brings us to…
Part 2: The Connection
This is where the storyteller links the myth he has constructed to his audience. Now that they are on board with his version of events, he places the listeners directly into the story, assigning them a role to play.
“In the end, victory in war always comes down to bloodlines,” Hibiki Sensei said, turning to face his class with a dramatic flourish. “We here on the Sword of Kaigen are blessed to have some of the best and purest jijaka bloodlines in the world. Matsuda,” he said, pointing at Mamoru, “Yukino,” he indicated Yuuta, and then went on to point to the other great houses represented in the classroom, “Ameno, Ginkawa, Ikeno, Katakouri, all of you belong to a chain of great fighters stretching back to mythic times.
“Since the dawn of Kaigen, this peninsula has held its enemies back without fail. This is why we are called the Sword of Kaigen. And again, during the Keleba, the Matsudas, the Yukinos, and the other powerful jijakalu of the Kusanagi Peninsula beat back their enemies in resounding victory.”
The Truth: As explained above, not a resounding victory. Not without fail. Spotty at best.
The Agenda: The goal here is not only to build up Kaigen’s past glory but to place the students themselves within the same tradition. If they identify with the bravery, nationalism, and supposed invincibility of the warriors who defended the peninsula in the past, they will feel more comfortable following in their footsteps.
“For this is the Sword of Kaigen; to charge it is to die. When the Ranganese armada reached the Kusanagi Peninsula, the warriors of the Matsuda, Yukino, Ameno, Ikeno, and Ginkawa houses, along with all their vassal fighters formed a line along the beach. At the first news of Ranganese ships, our capital sent a request to Yamma for aid. But by the time the Yammanka forces reached our peninsula, the jijaka soldiers here—your own grandfathers and great-grandfathers—had already laid waste to the Ranganese invaders.
“Yammanka pilots tell of flying the length of the peninsula to find the beaches awash in red, like the edge of the blade that has tasted victory. Prepared for battle, the men of Yamma flew lower, only to discover that the battle was done. The bodies in the sea wore Ranganese uniforms. The red staining the sand was the impure blood of fonyakalu. For the warriors of Kusanagi had fought with such fury that there were hardly any Kaigenese casualties.”
Mamoru heard Kwang let out an unmistakable huff of laughter. Hibiki Sensei heard it too.
The Truth: What Kwang knows and nobody else does is that almost none of this is true. The Yammankalu were instrumental in driving the Ranganese from Kusanagi and there were heavy casualties on both sides. The phrasing ‘men of Yamma’ is also misleading, as most Yammanka pilots at the time were women.
The Bias: Since Kaigen is a patriarchal society in which women do not fight or serve in the military, Hibiki casts all the Yammanka fighters as men without thinking. It also wouldn’t serve his students’ egos to suggest that they or their forefathers needed the help of women to fight their battles, so he has no reason to bring it up.
The Agenda: This section uses the previously established ‘truth’ about the superiority of pure bloodlines to give the boys confidence in their own power. If they don’t fear failure, they will be more likely to go to battle (and to their deaths) for the empire. The goal of this speech is to create willing meat shields against the Ranganese, should the emperor need them.
This brings us to the call to action…
Part 3: The Call to Action
“Is our history funny to you, Kwang-san?”
“No, Sensei. I’m sorry.”
Hibiki Sensei gave Kwang a last cold look before turning back to the class to continue, this time in Dialect. “This is your past. This is your heritage. You are here at this school because you are the descendants of the greatest fighters Duna has ever seen. The best blood in the world flows through your veins. If you learn well, listen well, and work hard, the Sword of Kaigen will survive, bright and sharp, to be passed down to your sons, and their sons after them.”
Having built up the heroes of Kaigen and established the boys’ connection to them, he now gives them instructions: “This is what you must do to be part of that tradition. Now that I have shown you the importance of our history, this is your place in it.” In the moment, Hibiki Sensei’s call to action doesn’t seem particularly complex or insidious: learn well, listen well, and work hard—albeit with an implied side of “question nothing”— but propagandistic myths don’t spring out of the ether. They are constructed to harness human energy for a specific purpose. In this case, the myth is designed to raise a generation of enthusiastic martyrs, who live without questioning and would sacrifice without questioning.
And if I can give you a call to action at the end of this very long post:
When you look at any account of history, it’s important to ask yourself not only “What is true and untrue about this version of events?” but also “why is it untruthful in this way? What does this story try to harness?” Your anger? Your sympathy? Your time? Your sense of self-worth? “And for what purpose? What does the teller gain from this myth?” Because chances are, the myth-maker wants your energy for something. It’s worth asking what.
Thank you so much M.L. Wang for this incredible guest post. It was so interesting to read!
Get The Sword of Kaigen on Amazon:
M. L. Wang was born in Wisconsin in 1992, decided she wanted to be an author at the age of nine, and never grew up. She got her Bachelor of Arts in history in 2015 and currently works at a martial arts school in her home city of Madison.
When she isn’t building worlds on the page, she builds them in her aquarium full of small, smart fish that love to explore castles and don’t make noise during writing time.