Book Review: Shadow of the Fox

Synopsis from Goodreads: One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos. Now, for whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, a new wish will be granted. A new age is about to dawn.

Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll.

There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost. Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.

With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself. 

This YA/Fantasy book by Julie Kagawa is the first in a trilogy set in an alternative feudal Japan, bringing to life Japanese history and folklore. Yumeko has been raised in an austere monastery, aware that she is half-human and half-kitsune (a trickster fox spirit). When the monastery is attacked by a horde of demons, she is the sole survivor and tasked with escaping with a piece of a sacred scroll, to take it to another monastery who also guard a piece of the scroll. Along the way, she picks up an unlikely group of protectors: Tatsumi, a deadly assassin with a demon-possessed sword and some dark secrets; Okame, a samurai fallen from status and now a mercenary for hire; and Daisuke, a noble with uncanny sword skills and fighting abilities.

I’ve read other books by Julie Kagawa and enjoyed her “Iron” series quite a bit, with its marriage of today’s reality and the fae. This book is similar in that the world as we know it is intertwined with stories and legends that are brought to life, this time set in feudal Japan. I appreciated that the author created a new but somehow familiar world, using a non-European based cultural and story-telling system. However, this one really felt like an introductory book to me and less like a fully-fleshed version. (Yes, it is part of a trilogy but other than one very sudden resolution of a problem that had haunted the group through the story, NOTHING was tied up. This was obviously the first installment in a larger story arc and left a lot of things unresolved, unspoken, and undone, which drives me crazy. At least give us something to close up a few loose ends and lead us into the next book!)

The book’s pace was also slow for me. As with many epic fantasy-type books, gathering the cast of characters together and setting them off on their journey takes some time but I did feel like this one could have had some editing (although I’m not sure it would have been long enough for a standalone book and maybe it should have been combined with the next one in the series, and just make it a duology). The characters are all nicely drawn individuals but there were also some sections that got repetitive for me and IMHO could have been trimmed back. I was really confused by the first chapter (which also has a fair amount of violence in it right off the bat) and why it was included – the characters in that chapter become understandible further on in the book but the transition from chapter 1 to chapter 2 was jarring for me.

Overall rating of 3.5/5 stars. Entertaining world-building and characters; could have used some editing and maybe incorporated/morphed together with book 2? I think I would recommend this author’s Iron series over this one, so just an average rating for this one.

This was also on my 20 Books of Summer Challenge read, and I’ll be doing an update/summary of my progress on that challenge at the end of the week as we meander towards September.

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