Book Review- Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
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. (via Goodreads)
I was really excited about this book when I first heard about it. I have been working on writing my own Japanese inspired series so when I saw this series I knew I had to read it.
Knowing that Julie Kagawa is of Japanese descent, I was really excited to see her bringing in that cultural background to her writing. I knew that the books were going to be well written and I am always glad to see more POC representation in YA fiction.
Not only that but finally a YA novel that focuses on one Asian country instead of doing a mish mash of several different ones. Asian cultures are so varied and different, I’m glad we’re finally starting to see more individual countries represented in the market.
The Research on Japanese Culture and Legendary Creatures such as Kitsune
I thought that Julie Kagawa did a great job researching for this book. As someone who has also done a lot of cultural and literary research for a Japanese series, a lot of the legendary characters and culture was spot on with what I’ve learned.
That being said, it was especially exciting to see another author write about a kitsune main character as my protagonist is also half-kitsune.
While there is no one way to write kitsunes, I thought that most of Kagawa’s interpretation lined up with what I’ve read in traditional Japanese kitsune stories.
What I thought was interested was what she included and what she didn’t include. Of course, I have no idea what she used for her research, but there are some elements I’ve found that she didn’t touch on.
Firstly, according to some research, kitsunes are seperated into two catagories. Nogitsunes and Myobu (there are several other names are them) are dark vs light kitsunes. Nogitsune are fox spirits that are evil while Myobu are known as celestial foxes who have aligned themselves with the kami or more in particular, Inari.
Kagawa did mention the possibility of nogitsunes in the story, that Yumeko could decide to embrace her fox side and turn into one. But the celestial foxes weren’t mentioned at all. And I’m curious as to why not, especially since Yumeko is from a temple.
Secondly, Yumeko displays fox traits in person. Although she is half-kitsune, she apparently looks like a regular girl but who also has fox ears and a tail.
While not uncommon traits to display, I’ve only seen this in traditional stories where a fox is dressing up as a human or when a fox is possessing a human.
All the mentions of half-foxes don’t display fox characteristics, although the children of such a union are typically gifted with magical abilities and ones such as super strength.
Kitsune powers and abilities:
Seduction (mind control)
Kitsune’s ball (a small round stone that apparently holds a portion of kitsune’s abilities)
*Powers that Yumeko displayed
What was interesting is that Yumeko kept up an illusion about 90% of the story where the rest of the main characters couldn’t see her fox traits. To them, she was a typical human girl. It isn’t mentioned how Yumeko keeps up this spell constantly or if it drains her in any way at all.
I think it would have been interesting for that to be touched upon, even briefly. Or have the main characters actually guess she was a fox instead of attributing her powers to other things.
Kitsune aside, I thought that the other Japanese creatures, yokai, kami, and other ghosts were well written and researched. I liked that she incorporated well known traditional monsters such as the giant centipede, but didn’t give mention to other popular creatures like the kappa.
I think that her choice of monsters was well thought out because I assume most Japanese readers would have a basic knowledge of these creatures while the majority would be new to Western readers.
I’ll be interested to see what new yokai come into play in the rest of the books.
Dual Point of View or Bust
One of the main things that bugged me about this book was the dual point of view. While I have nothing against using dual points of view, I think they need to be taken with caution.
Shadow of the Fox is written mostly from a first person point of view for both Kage and Yumeko. I found it to be incredibly confusing, even when I figured out that it alternated every other chapter.
There were no markers for the switch, so especially the second chapter past the intro was very hard for me to read.
I think it would have been less confusing if they had designed the chapters so each correlating chapter had a specific design or even if they included their names in the chapter titles. Or even if they had written their names in the first sentence or two.
This was frustrating to me as a reader because I constantly had to go back and reread chapters to figure out who was speaking in what chapter.
Not only that, but then there would be side chapters from other characters written in third person. It was easy to understand those chapters even if the characters were very minor, but I was confused as to why she didn’t stick to first person throughout or third.
I think the writing would have been much stronger if they had all been written from the third POV. While I love first person and I think it lends stories a lot of intimacy, I think that it also loses out on a lot of other details.
I swear I liked this book beyond the research and topic.
But as someone who also writes a lot of fiction that needs explanations to the reader, I find there are ways to write explanations in without hurting the story.
At time, Kagawa succeeded in explaining concepts and ideas and other times she fell flat.
To me there are several ways of weaving in an explanation:
Footnotes and sidebars
Write the native language translation and then follow up with the Foreign Language you’re using
Don’t use Foreign Language unless you absolutely have to
Include a dictionary
One of the worst spots this occurred in was at the part where the protagonist ventures into the world. At the moment of crucial action, Kagawa chose to write in a sudden explanation of an object and it was very jarring.
I was taken out of the middle of the action for a few moments and it was so surprising. I already knew what the object was, but even then, I hadn’t been expecting an explanation however brief.
The writing style rubbed me the wrong way
Julie Kagawa is a talented writer, but there was something else about the way this story was written that didn’t quite jive with me. At times I felt there were a few contradictions between what the characters knew.
For example, Yumeko seemed too sheltered at times and other times she knew a decent amount. But I do think that Kagawa wrote her pov in a very naive voice, and that was successful in getting that across.
Of course the story includes a prophecy that our protagonist is a part of. But what I thought was interesting is that this was brought up once in the beginning of the action and then…never mentioned again…
Granted, the main quest was brought up a lot and I imagine that this prophecy will play a role later on in the next couple of books, but I thought it was strange that Yumeko never pondered it again. Or her birth origins.
The Main Characters
Overall, I enjoyed the other main characters in the book. Their traveling companions were interesting and agreeable.
I thought they added a good layer to the story and gave the protagonists a chance to let other qualities out that might not have otherwise.
As supporting cast members, they succeeded.
But the parts that included the villains and other mysterious characters…I was a little thrown and confused.
I thought the main villain was certainly a good enemy, but I was a bit confused as to her motives until the end. And there is another character or characters who basically have no explanation to them what so ever.
Granted I know it’s to stir up anticipation and excitement, but I hate having characters who basically only exist for that sole purpose in one book. If they’re going to play a role, I think you need to give the readers a bit more background or SOMETHING.
I certainly want to know who they are and why they’re around, but as a reader I’m more confused than anything at the moment about it.
I enjoyed the book and might possibly read it again. But overall I had mixed feelings about it and based on that, I would have to give the book 3 stars. I liked it, but I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. I’m going to read the next book though and probably the third book as well.