Sword and Flower is the 2017 debut novella of Rawle Nyanzi a young, up and coming author in the Pulp Revolution movement. Firstly, the author and I follow each other on Twitter and communicate with each other. There is absolutely a level of favorable personal bias going into this review and you should be aware of it.
The novella is short, and a brisk read, though I did find the language clunky at times which lessened my enjoyment in places.
What's more important here are the ideas going on, because this story embraces weirdness in a way that you don't see often. (well, not often at the moment, if the Pulp Rev has anything to say about it).
There are two main characters: Mahershalalhasbaz “Mash” Martson, a young Puritan soldier defending his village from demons in The Lesser Heaven (Purgatory, basically) and Chiyo Aragaki, a ki-wielding Japanese pop idol who goes by the stage name Dimity Red. She ends up in purgatory too, and a genuinely unlikely alliance between the two forms based on their need for survival.
Its got romance. Its got action (sometimes quite bloody). Its got an even-handed treatment of religious Puritans who value hard work, honesty and loyalty, but also fear and hate magic as an anathema to God, even when its used by good people to help and heal them. You like them and dislike them at the same time, which is refreshing, since the general fictitious portrayal of them is as witch-burning villains. Here they're just people. Trying to fend of demons in purgatory, but still people.
Anime tropes and storytelling techniques are very clear influences on the story, down to the cover by Spanish artist KuKuruYo. Dimity is a school girl outfit away from channeling Sailor Moon. One of the fights involves her and a giant firing energy beams at each other. In between action sequences it goes into slice-of-life sections where characters interact with each other and build relationships.
While the quality of the wordsmithing could use improvement, I'm still going to recommend Sword and Flower because in taking a bunch of magical girl anime and videogame storytelling elements and mashing them (heh) into what could have been a Young Solomon Kane story ends up making something very different, and very new entirely.
What it lacks in technical polish, it more than makes up for in enthusiasm and a desire to push genre boundaries. Nyanze's one to watch in coming years.