One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.
Now he has broken free.
Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has one task: to take her piece of the ancient and powerful scroll to the Steel Feather temple in order to prevent the summoning of the Harbinger of Change, the great Kami Dragon who will grant one wish to whomever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. But she has a new enemy now. The demon Hakaimono, who for centuries was trapped in a cursed sword, has escaped and possessed the boy she thought would protect her, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan.
Hakaimono has done the unthinkable and joined forces with the Master of Demons in order to break the curse of the sword and set himself free. To overthrow the empire and cover the land in darkness, they need one thing: the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. As the paths of Yumeko and the possessed Tatsumi cross once again, the entire empire will be thrown into chaos.
Genre(s): Own Voices YA Fantasy
Series: The Shadow of the Fox Trilogy
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Release Date: June 18, 2019
Obtained: I received this as an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Representation: East Asian (Japanese specifically) representation, Own Voices fantasy, LGBTQ+ Rep
Content Warnings: Depression, Child abuse, violence, gore, animal death, loss of loved ones, suicidal thoughts
I cannot explain to you how excited I was when I received my approval for Soul of the Sword via Netgalley! Shadow of the Fox was one of the very first ARCs I’ve ever received as a blogger and I was absolutely obsessed with it when I finally got around to reading it. You can read all of my fangirling thoughts about it here, but just know that I loved it and was so excited to get approved for this sequel!
I’m not going to lie, this book was better than the first one. I had a really hard time putting it down to sleep & work. Yumeko’s internally struggles with using her powers for the greater good while having to navigate the more intricate dealings of the upper class, delaying her trip to the Silent Winds Temple and thus saving Tatsumi. I was a little frustrated with how the side characters kind of took on a more trope-y role instead of standing out as their own individualistic roles like in Shadow of the Fox, but the focus was supposed to be exclusively on Yumeko and Hakaimono which made that stylistic choice made sense. We see more commentary regarding class, gender, and sexuality than we did in the first book which I really appreciated. I really enjoyed this and recommend the series to fans of Fairy Tale, Inuyasha, Samurai Champloo, as well as Hayao Miyazaki fans.
Characters, Atmosphere, World Building, & Plot
In Shadow of the Fox, readers spent a lot of time switching between Yumeko and Tatsumi’s PoV and really getting to know the side characters through their eyes. It felt like we saw more growth from Tatsumi’s side while Yumeko more or less stayed her happy-go-lucky self. With Tatsumi hidden for much of this novel within Hakaimono, Yumeko is forced to be the strong one and while she’s still optimistic, Yumeko has a slight hardness to her that I really appreciated. Having grown up in the temple and having been told her whole lift that her kitsune magic is terrible, Yumeko was left very under-developed until her excursion out into the world. There’s a scene in the Kage compound where she says;
“For the first time ever, I was extremely aware of my station, an insignificant peasant in borrowed robes..”
Even though Yumeko has met people of higher rank than her, she’s never really noticed the difference between her and everyone else and it just broke my heart at how inadequate she felt which sets up some of her self-depreciation and doubts later on in the novel.
I was really frustrated by the way the side characters were portrayed in Soul of the Sword. Like, there was still the humor and snark that I loved in the first book, but it honestly felt like Julie Kagawa wasn’t entirely sure how to write Okame & Daisuke without Tatsumi’s PoV. Okame’s constant referring to himself as a “pathetic ronin dog” multiple times per chapter was driving me up a wall. I think it may have been to constantly reinforce the difference in station between him and Daisuke for both himself and the readers but there are better ways to do that.
The world building was well done, especially since the map was limited to 3-4 locations as compared to the large amount in the first book. But Kagawa did make a stylistic choice in having Yumeko and the others focus more on their conversations rather than exploring the area and describing the scenery. I thought this really emphasized the stress they were under since even slightly air-headed Yumeko was too busy to pay attention to the surroundings on the page.
Discussions of Class, Sexism, and Power
Okay, let’s have some chats about the number of topics regarding intersectionality that appeared in this novel. Because, like Jessie & Kelly of JK It’s Magic say; “One cannot simply talk about fantasy without also talking about representations of race, class, and gender.”
Let’s start with Yumeko and the idea of power & responsibility. As we all know, thanks to Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, great power comes with great responsibility. Yumeko may not be the strongest kitsune in existence. But with the power of kitsune=tsuki and the fact that she does hold a fragment of the scroll, she is the ONLY one who can save Tatsumi. I think, in their own backward way, the monks were trying to teach Yumeko to be responsible with her abilities. As we see later on in the book, illusions can cause mass destruction which parallels our society when we spread the “American dream” which has caused so much damage over the years.
We have some LGBTQ+ rep when Yumeko stumbles into Daisuke / Okame’s dreamscape. I love how Yumeko doesn’t make it a big deal other than realizing that she’s watching a very private moment that she really shouldn’t be. But Okame of all people is the one making it a HUGE deal. He is constantly forcing the class differences between him and Daisuke down everyone’s throat. And like, it’s not even a matter of the fact that they’re two men in love, it’s literally just that Daisuke is a samurai of a prominent family while Okame is a ronin (which I still need that back story).
Tatsumi’s upbringing and Lord Iseda’s sexism toward women come from similar veins of traits being associated with femininity are weak and less than the traits of masculinity. Poor Tatsumi (gendered male) has to murder his pet because to show love and kindness is to be weak. While Lord Iseda has some really shitty attitudes toward Reika & Yumeko as priestesses, but especially his hatred toward Lady Hanshou proves that he cannot stand the idea of a female being greater than he.
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