Kumasagi: Destin Review

Review: Kumasagi: Destin by Leslee Sheu

Kumasagi: Destin is a romantic fantasy featuring a semi-aquatic society in a vibrant world, compelling characters, and forbidden love. This book launches a fascinating series of mystical mysteries and a perilous bond.

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Kumasagi: Destin. I encourage you to check it out!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)

This review contains minor spoilers.

Kumasagi: Destin Publisher Description:

The Kumasagi, who is in training to comfort and guide the souls of the dead, forms an accidental bond with Asta, a woman born from a sacred lake…

Najat has spent years as a senior-ranked diver, harvesting destins as they are born from pods in a sacred lake. Soon he must give up diving in order to fulfill his duties as the Kumasagi, the younger of two powerful mystics who comfort and guide the souls of the dead.

When his brother Jayan returns from exploring the uninhabited lands, Najat falls ill with a mysterious virus. An unexpected chain of events places him in the path of an errant destin—a woman newly born, yet fully grown. The destin instinctively seeks a Holy Amala, the one who can awaken her cognition and help her find her name.

When the destin finds Najat instead, they must both survive a mind-bending confrontation, which leaves them with a deep mystical bond held secret even from each other.

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Relatable Characters

The characters of Destin are pleasantly well-written and sympathetic. Asta, the young woman, is quiet, artistic, and nurturing—virtues that have been sadly lacking in mainstream female characters. She is left unwhole by her mystical interaction with Najat as a newborn destin, which certainly contributes to the struggle she has communicating with others and her uncertainty. But she is not merely a wallflower. She is territorial about her artwork, and acts decisively in a crisis. It is easy to see what Naja finds attractive about her—beyond their spiritual connection, of course.

Najat is similarly likable. He is reserved, generous, and kind. His self-control and dedication to his job despite the attraction he feels for Asta gives a thematic sense of responsibility to the story. Of course, he is also physically attractive. His athleticism gives him a sensual edge (especially when, as a diver, he frequently strips his outer clothes), but the carnal aspect is not overly indulged, allowing his personal qualities priority.

Forbidden Romance

With such well-established characters, their attraction make sense, and the reader wishes to root for them. Unfortunately, their connection has a tragic air; they are star-crossed lovers. Asta is married off to Najat’s brother, who is self-absorbed and does not understand her. Najat is the Kumasagi and has important duties related to his mystical position that preclude any clandestine bond.

But the reader is clued in to the nature of their relationship right away, for the story begins, “The love of his life was in childbirth, and the child was not his.” The prologue takes place many years after the rest of the book, and ends with Asta’s death. We are aware of how their story ends!

This works narratively rather well. The typical questions for a romance remain: how will they meet? What course will their relationship take? Will they give in to temptation? That we know they do not end up together gives an refreshing twist to reader speculations.

Imaginative Fantasy World

The strongest impulsion for Destin is its unique and vibrant fantasy setting. The story explores the semi-aquatic society as much as it tells the tale of the main characters, especially as the mystical elements of their world are closely tied to the events of the story.

The physical world, from the alien-colored trees to the webbed hands of the people, is chalk-full of interesting details that imbue the setting with a sense of explorability. The network of cities along the waterway, their cultural landmarks, and their political workings provide a sense of a larger structure within the world and additional points of intrigue.

The spiritual world is all but inseparable from the physical. The Skyfish which gives life to the destins and to which the dead return frequently flies overhead and is visible to most of the main characters. But the exact nature of the connection between mystics, the Amalas, and the central romantic couple is revealed slowly. This puts the reader in a position of reading on to discover how the world works as much as what will happen to the characters.

Spirituality

The spiritual elements of Destin take inspiration from Buddhism and particularly cultural customs from India and Asia. However the religion is based on the interdimensional creatures that are part of giving the people life, and Sheu asserts that it is a made-up spirituality to go with the fantasy world. She succeeds in this; the mystical feels like part of the setting, is treated genuinely (rather than nihilistically), and produces no sense of pretense.

Christian readers may find the reincarnation element of the life-cycle unfulfilling, especially as the soul must abandon its memories along with all connection with its previous life in order to find peace. Najat’s job to comfort and guide the souls of the dead gives the reader a sense that the spiritual world hinges on emotions, and not necessarily virtues such as justice or forgiveness. It is unclear if values or practices undertaken in life have any lasting impact on the self whatsoever.

This is odd since relationships are clearly important. It is the flawed bond between Najat and Asta that drives the story. It begins with an innocent drive for connection innate within the newborn destin woman. Najat attempts to guide the soul of a recently deceased boy, and that soul, too, clings to him. The connections between people, between individuals and their spiritual mentors, and between them and their deities are held in high regard, but in death they are stripped of all but one—reuniting with the Skyfish in blissful, oblivious union.

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Kumasagi: Destin is a compelling romantic fantasy, with enjoyable characters and plenty of thought-provoking ideas. I look forward to seeing where the Kumasagi saga takes Najat and Asta next!

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2 Replies to “Kumasagi: Destin Review”

  1. This is just a guess based on one or two conversations with Leslee, but I think there will be more reveals about the details of the afterlife stuff in later books.

    1. The mystical elements certainly do get more attention as the books continue! I’ve read all four currently available, and I had a dm conversation with Leslee about the spiritual elements, too. She has built a really thought-provoking world!

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