Books: I Surrendered My Sword

March 18, 2023 · 1 comment

By Shelley Pallis.

He was the greatest swordsman in the world. He advanced through every stage, mastered every trick, and learned every technique. He reached the highest possible levels of achievement, able to defeat elite soldiers without a sword, since he was just as handy with a bit of wood. He achieved a Zen nirvana of swordliness, and just to prove to himself, he went out and killed the greatest dragon of all, the dragon of dragons, a creature so powerful that it was essentially a god.

And that’s where we come in, as our hero looks ruefully at the severed head of the greatest dragon that ever lived, and sheepishly listens to its dying words, as its mind slowly fades and its telepathy wanes. The dragon, it turns out, is pretty copacetic about being slain, and offers to grant him a wish.

And that’s when our hero realises – he’s finished swordsmanship. There is literally nothing left for him to learn, nothing for him to achieve. He cannot get any better than he already is. So, he wishes for something that was denied to him all his life. From the age of six, when he tested high in sword aptitude, he was destined for a life as a warrior. Now he wants to give all that up, and live his life again… as a wizard.

Shin Kouduki’s I Surrendered My Sword for a New Life as a Mage takes the reader through the long, long, long process of Soma, our hero, as he stumbles through the training for becoming a magic-user. Waking up as his six-year-old self, ready to live his life again, he still retains the abilities of a super-human swordsman, some of which are oddly repurposable in basic magic. Kodouki has some nice ideas about the way that using magic might tax a human being, but unfortunately frames his entire story in the box-ticky, gamified manner of too many light novels, regularly stopping his narrative to assemble spells in some sort of folder-tree like he is accessing them in Windows.

There are some intriguing stabs at addressing the frustration of an adult, super-competent man suddenly trapped in a child’s body, particularly regarding the expectations and behaviour of his tutors and family, but even when the story gets going (there’s a kidnapping, and a threatened demon invasion, etc etc.), his characters are so bland and uninspiring, and his world so sparsely delineated that it often felt like I was trying to make sense of The Lord of the Rings through its reflection on a dented kettle.

His afterword does Kouduki no favours, unsurprisingly revealing that he started out on the notorious fanfic and self-publishing website Shosetsuka ni Naro (“Let’s Become Authors”) before his work was snapped up by a magazine. More unexpectedly, he reveals that he is not some teenager with no experience of human beings or, well, describing things, but a psychology graduate. He admits that he hasn’t really put his psychology degree to use, but instead lurched into a new career, thereby suggesting that the entire plot of I Surrendered My Sword is some sort of allegory of his own life.

Well, a bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean you have finished psychology, and the most thick-eared of martial arts turns in their upper levels to philosophies of outreach, goodwill and justice. Thinking that killing the biggest enemy was the pinnacle of achievement was something of a callow move on the part of his protagonist, although there are hints in Kouduki’s narrative that he knows this, and that he has a sardonic approach to some of the set-ups of fantasy.

One of his characters discovers not only that her father is the Dark Lord, but that “Dark Lord” is a mere job description, attained through a ballot of fellow evil-doers, and that he was neither the Dark Lord when he fathered her, nor anything but a mere Dark Minion until a few years earlier. There are similar pops at a hapless village on the borderlands, which turns out to have been established solely as cannon fodder to warn the authorities in the event of an invasion. But surely even people who have read nothing but other light novels have seen all of this before?

I Surrendered My Sword for a New Life as a Mage is available from J-Novel Club.


  • Avatar for Alan Lim

    Alan Lim

    March 19, 2023 3:43 pm

    wondering if this might have an anime adaptation?


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