My thanks to NetGalley and HQ for a review copy of this book.
Shadow of the Fox is a Japanese-inspired fantasy–adventure, and the first of a trilogy by author Julie Kagawa. This is the first of her books that I’ve read. In the book we meet Yumeko, a half yokai (magical beings who can shapeshift and assume human shape) who is sixteen and has been brought up at the Silent Winds Temple where most of the monks try to teach her to ignore her kitsune or fox-self, which includes the magic she can perform and act human. When the temple is attacked by a demon creature (an oni, Yaburama) and his minions, she finds out about a prophecy that it is she who would protect the part of the dragon scroll that the temple has had in its safe-keeping for many years. She is to carry the scroll to the other temple, Steel Feather, where another part of it is hidden but she doesn’t know where that temple is. Just as she is escaping from the temple, she meets, Kage Tatsumi. Just slightly older than her, he belongs to the shadow clan and is a ruthless assassin of creatures of all kind, and does only as his clan requires him to do, no questions, no feelings. Tatsumi has been sent by his clan head to recover the scroll. Naturally Yumeko can’t tell him she is the bearer but manages to secure his help to escort her to find the location of the Steel Feather Temple (where Tatsumi too hopes to recover the missing scroll and complete his mission). Like Yumeko, Tatsumi also has a secret, as bearer of the powerful sword Kamigoroshi (one that can do away with any kind of creature), he is also a vessel for a demon Hakaimono, who he keeps under control by not allowing himself to feel any emotion. And so begins their adventure. On the way to the capital city, Kin Heigen Toshi, where they hope to find out where the Steel Feather Temple is, they are attacked by all variety of creatures, demons and monsters and have a powerful blood mage on their trail. There’s also a “side-quest” or two, and they are joined by a ronin, Okame, and a noble Taiyo Daisuke, who become part of their motley group.
This book was so much fun, I really loved it. The book managed to have a light-hearted adventure feel and tone despite all the monsters and bloodshed. In fact, much of it had a humorous undertone which was very good fun. I also enjoyed the folklore elements (some of these, Yokai included, I’d come across in the one other Japanese-inspired fantasy I’d read, Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean, and so was familiar with–find my review here)—the different types of creatures one encounters, even the horrid ones.
Both the main characters Yumeko and Tatsumi are very likeable. Alternate chapters are in fact told from each of their perspectives (in first person), and one thing that stood out in this which I thought Kagawa had done really well is how Yumeko’s naivety and inexperience stands out in the Tatsumi chapters (from the eyes of another) while in her chapters, one doesn’t see this. (The author is also building up a romance but only the base has been laid so far). I also very much liked Okame and Daisuke. There are also a few chapters told in third person from the perspective of a young girl Suki, who comes to the imperial palace as maid to Lady Satomi, and whose story ends up taking some rather interesting turns as we go on. The only (very slight) complaint that I had was that in some (though only a few) instances, the dialogue felt a little modern coming from the time and setting in which the characters lived but it didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the book.
As far as the plot elements are concerned, there’s nothing really out of the ordinary as such, a prophecy, a quest, monsters, a journey, but the way it is done makes it very enjoyable and great fun. The ending was quite a surprise, had a couple of turns/twists(?) I didn’t see coming and made me wish I had the sequel right there in front of me to pick up and continue, but alas that couldn’t happen. I can’t wait for it to come out so I can continue with them on their journey! Five stars!
Have you read this one so far? How did you like it? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!