Title: Kaji Warriors: Shifting Strength
Author: Kelly A. Nix
Genre: Science Fiction / Action & Adventure
The first installment in what promises to be a complex and intriguing series, Kaji Warriors: Shifting Strength introduces readers to the world of the Kaji, a species that is defined by honor and courage through a rich, gladiatorial tradition. Atae is a young woman whose version of high school involves learning to be a warrior, and her scenes are juxtaposed with those of her father, a royal advisor who is tasked with finding a spaceship that somehow made its way past the planetary defenses.
The story is told in third person present tense, which fits the action-driven nature of the Kaji culture and Atae’s own “in the moment” perspective. Ample details are provided to help readers picture the settings, from the gladiatorial arenas that Atae and her packmates fight in to the elegant palace where she and the young prince exchange verbal jabs and insults. Unlike fantasy stories where the main character is naturally a good fighter, Atae has a journey of discovery and training to complete, and the author has given her very believable flaws while gifting her with good friends and great advantages along the way.
The first part of the book involves processing quite a bit of information, as readers are exposed to Atae’s classmates, the mystery about her birth, her mother, and her father’s mission all at the same time. This is compounded by the names of the characters, six of whom start with the letter “S,” on top of the typical difficulties in orienting oneself in a unique fantasy culture with multiple alien species and characteristics.
The story could be improved by helping make this introduction a bit smoother, perhaps by waiting to explain more about Atae’s heritage until a later book, as that aspect remains a bit of a mystery. While the scenes with her father offer a more complete look at the world, they also can be distracting, hinting at chunks of information Atae doesn’t possess and offering a puzzle that this book doesn’t solve.
Once familiarity with the story and characters is achieved and the book shifts its focus to Atae’s struggles to hide her new skills from her father, who she knows will want to pull her from the competition so she can properly train first, the difficulties with exposition disappear and the pacing really finds itself, letting the tale flow in a relationally rich manner.
The story offers readers a vibrant world full of political machinations, detailed adventure sequences, and varied characters, each with their own specialties and personalities.
Nix utilizes the concept of shape-shifting and a “beast within” consistently, and the story nicely fits the Young Adult genre, offering a touch of romance alongside a classic tale of coming of age and discovering yourself. Perfect for readers who enjoy books where characters have to prove themselves and pass certain tests to achieve their goals, like in Hunger Games or Divergent, or who are drawn to tales of court politics and pack dynamics, this story will appeal to fantasy fans who are looking to get swept away in a new series.
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