Review – The Eternal Knot (Legend of the Five Rings Fiction)

The Eternal Knot, by Marie Brennan, is the most recent Legend of the Five Rings novella from Fantasy Flight Games (since I finally got around to writing this before Trail of Shadows is released). In keeping with the formatting for this series, the book is hardbound with an appropriate and gorgeous cover illustration. There are the usual glossy, full-cover pages at the back for setting material (primarily for use in Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying), and it came with promo cards for the L5R living card game.

The Eternal Knot is an exploration of the tattooed monks of the Togashi and one of the new members of that order, Togashi Kazue. Unlike the other named families of the great samurai clans of Rokugan, members of the Togashi (part of the Dragon Clan) are not born or adopted, but rather join the order of tattooed monks, leaving lives and names from other families and even other clans behind. The Eternal Knot begins when Kazue receives her mystical tattoos. Each member of the Togashi must determine the function of their tattoos. For some, who receive common tattoos, this is not difficult. But Kazue receives unusual tattoos, and her efforts to determine their abilities force her to consider her role in the Togashi and the meaning of enlightenment. Through this internal consideration, and the actions of mentor Togashi Mitsu, Brennan explores the history and nature of the Togashi, and their tattoos (the reader who wishes to spoil the book can simply skip to the setting material in the back). Like most of the other FFG L5R novellas, The Eternal Knot is as much an exposition of a part of the world as it is a freestanding story, and the end of the novella is not the end of the stories of these characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Eternal Knot. Brennan weaves the setting exploration into the story of the characters naturally, avoiding a sense of endless exposition. New concepts are smoothly introduced, presenting the distinctiveness of Rokugan and the Togashi without burying the reader under jargon. As a long-time Dragon Clan player (a time span now measured in decades), getting an exploration like this of such an integral part of the setting and clan was a real treat. But I think that Legend of the Five Rings will enjoy The Eternal Knot regardless of clan affiliation.

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