Review: Shadow of the Fox

Title: Shadow of the Fox
Author: Julie Kagawa
Genres: Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Pages: 409
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Review Copy: eARC received from publisher
Availability: Available for purchase now

Summary: 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.

Review: (Content warning for graphic violence/gore and rape threats.)

There is so much to enjoy about Shadow of the Fox that I’m not quite sure where to begin. One of my favorite fantasy tropes/plot setups is the hero(ine) embarking on a grand quest and picking up a ragtag group of companions along the way, so the moment that I realized that’s what this book would be, I was delighted. Quest stories have a number of strengths, such as exploring wildly different settings or allowing in-depth looks at the menacing side of the world building, which author Julie Kagawa definitely took advantage of.

The world of Iwagoto is overflowing with demons and kami and yokai and witches and ghosts, controlled by an imperial family and powerful clans, and filled with cursed villages and mysterious swordsmen who challenge travelers to duels. Due to Yumeko’s sheltered upbringing at the temple, the reader gets to experience this wider, dangerous world with her for the first time. And it is a very dangerous world—Kagawa did a great job of making the many fight scenes in this book unique and interesting, and I especially appreciated that Yumeko contributed to them despite her lack of training. She may be naïve about social norms, but she is clever and compassionate and determined to help whenever things get dangerous. (And help she does! Often crucially.)

It makes her a sharp contrast to Tatsumi, the other narrator of the book, who has been raised to view himself as a weapon, a tool, and who has to tightly control his emotions lest the demon he’s carrying overtake him or his handlers think he’s too great a liability and put him down. Tatsumi’s emotional arc is, understandably, glacially slow, but it is still fun to watch unfold, especially as he starts to realize what’s happening to him.

While Yumeko, Tatsumi, and their other companions are interesting, I was left a little disappointed in the villains. The villains are excellent at being menacing and horrifying, but they were otherwise uniformly flat to me. They served as great obstacles and gruesome set pieces, but their antics started to get repetitive toward the end, and I wished they had been more interesting. Then again, considering this is a trilogy, the first book villains were obviously not designed to make it to the end and probably were meant to show off how awful demons and blood magic are. To that end, they succeeded.

Recommendation: Get it soon. If you want a fun take on Japanese folklore and mythology, Shadow of the Fox will be a great addition to your bookself. The quest elements in this first book are well done, and the two narrators are a contrasting but complementary pair. This first book left me excited to read the rest of the trilogy, so that’s definitely a success.

Interview with NY Times bestselling author Julie Kagawa on her new YA fantasy SHADOW OF THE FOX! at Ink Feather Podcast