Shadow of the Fox was my first Julie Kagawa book, and it did not disappoint.
With a blurb full of things like DRAGONS, and SCROLLS and MISCHIEF, where could it go wrong, really?!? This diverse read takes place in a beautiful Japanese setting which is utterly immersive, beautiful and unique.
Thank you to HQ young adult for giving me the opportunity to review a copy!
A single wish will spark a new dawn.
Every millennium, one age ends and another age dawns…and whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers holds the power to call the great Kami Dragon from the sea and ask for any one wish. The time is near and the missing pieces of the scroll will be sought throughout the land of Iwagoto.
The holder of the first piece is a humble, unknown peasant girl with a dangerous secret. Demons have burned the temple Yumeko was raised in to the ground, killing everyone within, including the master who trained her to both use and hide her kitsune powers. Yumeko escapes with the temple’s greatest treasure – one part of the ancient scroll. Fate thrusts her into the path of a mysterious samurai, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan. Yumeko knows he seeks what she has and is under orders to kill anything and anyone who stands between him and the scroll.
I would call Shadow of the Fox, predominately a YA adventure novel with a wonderful Japanese setting. It’s full of palaces, temples, Samurai, and mythical creatures from folklore such as kitsune, ghosts and evil demons. We follow Yumeko, a half human half kitsune (fox), prone to mischief who has spent her sheltered life living in a temple with monks until it is ransacked, and she is forced to set off on a quest to deliver a sacred scroll that holds the future of their world in the balance. Mid-flight, Yumeko bumps into Kage Tatsumi, a moody demon slayer that is after the scroll for very different reasons. Despite their opposing goals, they end up working together, keeping secrets from each other in order to reach their goals.
Kagawa doesn’t pull any punches with this novel, you’re thrown in the deep end with the Japanese culture and terminology, and I absolutely loved that! I did regularly have to check back to the glossary to remember what things meant, and for that reason, it took me a while to find my flow with this novel, but once it clicked I had so much fun! I loved learning new words and discovering things I’d never heard of before such as sake (an alcoholic drink) and obi (a fabulous style of sash many of the characters wear), and it made me wish that I had a better capacity for learning languages! I would say, despite some graphic bloody scenes, that Shadow of the Fox reads slightly more towards the middle-grade YA scale to me, but that didn’t stop me from really enjoying it!
The best part of this novel by far was the mythology. I loved learning about all the different creatures from Japanese folklore, from minor and major demons, tree spirts, gaki, evil spiders and centipedes – you name it, this book has it! I also really loved how each chapter was almost a self-contained fairytale in itself, where the characters would encounter a new form of evil and have to defeat it!
I felt the pacing of this novel was quite slow, but I found myself enjoying it more and more as it went along and I became emotionally invested. The novel mainly follows Yumeko and Kage Tatsumi traveling; I think some readers will absolutely love this and others will find it frustrating because they will have to read all the way to the end before they consider the story to have ‘really started’, however, this book is all about the journey, the people, and the action-packed adventures along the way. Shadow of the Fox actually kind of reminded me of a Japanese style Wizard of Oz because as Yumeko journeyed, she kept picking up new colourful and quirky characters!
However, I felt kind of conflicted about the main characters in Shadow of the Fox. They weren’t bad at all, I just felt… sort of removed from them? I guess they just left me yearning for more. Yumeko with her fox ears and tail only noticeable in reflective surfaces is a toffee filled, gooey and super sweet individual. She’s very naive having seen little of the outside world, and despite being chased by demons, she is instantly trusting of strangers and goes around telling everyone to believe in good, humanity, and rainbows. Although she’s a kitsune, she hides this fact from her fellow travelers for the majority of the book, so we don’t really get to see her using her cool trickster and foxfire powers much, which I was a little disappointed about.
In comparison, Kage Tatsumi is like a sturdy, uninspiring, and unassuming bland apple, with a hard exterior that even when you bite into it, isn’t much of a taste sensation. Despite Kage being a supposedly bad-ass demon slayer and all round killing machine, he’s not very scary or awe-inspiring. Kage also owns a demon sword that will leave him exposed to possession if he gives in to human emotions (EEP), so in that respect, he HAS to be an emotionless stone, but I just found him quite uninteresting? As the book progresses, Yumeko stars to chip away at his apple-ey skin to reveal a softer centre which was quite a satisfying character arc: Yumeko learns to kick butt and Kage learns to care.
Put these two characters together on a quest and what have you got? A super sickly sweet friendship/romance that is the equivalent to a gooey toffee apple! Some readers will love it and gauge themselves on the sugar, others will be repelled by a slight taste. I know this is kind of a bad analogy, BUT IT’S WHAT INSTANTLY CAME INTO MY MIND. I was mostly in the latter camp, to be honest, although I started to shift somewhat by the end of the book. Overall, these characters stopped just shy of the complexity I normally look for, and that prevented me from being able to rate the book higher.
So overall, Shadow of the Fox was an action-packed and entertaining YA adventure story which feels so much more unique due to its Japanese setting and folklore elements. Although the characters lacked complexity for me, I think I’ll still be picking up book 2 because I feel like Julie has set things up so well for these characters to develop further. Also, THAT ENDING. YIKES. I need to see how these characters get out of the pickle I left them in!!
Overall Impression: 3.5/5
Writing Style 3/5
Character Development 3/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes!