Rating: 5/5 stars
This is the first book that I read in 2019, which allowed me to start the year off with a bang. It wasn’t originally going to be the first book I read this year but I’m glad I changed my mind. It’s always nice to start a reading year off with a really good book.
While this book has a slow start, it’s worth well worth waiting for things to pick up. The plot is tantalizing and once the action started, I found myself unable to put the book down. The characters are engaging and so full of life that they practically jump off the page. Thankfully, the demons weren’t able to do just that or I wouldn’t have been able to finish the book. (I’m sorry, that was a really bad joke.) In all seriousness, Kagawa does an amazing job at making the oni feel real. The horror of their arrival in the world was real, as was the sense of dread they brought forth. There was a lot of depth to the plot and I can’t wait to see where Kagawa goes from here.
The book is broken up into four parts, which I found immensely useful. They help the story progress in the most intriguing way, bringing forward the plot from a secondary angle and then switching back to the main storyline.
The main plot revolves around the idea that every 1000 years the dragon will arise and grant a wish to the person who reads the dragon scroll. Historically, bad people have gotten their hands on the scroll and have made bad things happen. As a way to prevent that from happening, the scroll was broken up into 3 parts and hidden away.
Yumeko, one of our main characters, has been challenged with protecting her temple’s portion of the scroll and locating the second part of the scroll from the Steel Feather temple. As this is a hidden temple, Yumeko needs to travel to the capital to speak with the head monk as he knows the location of this second temple.
Our second main character, Tatsumi, is also after the pieces of the scroll but for a different reason. On a mission from the head of his clan – the Shadow Clan – he has been sent to recover the piece of scroll that Yumeko is protecting without knowing what it is he’s truly looking for. To make matters worse, Tatsumi is known as the demon slayer as he carries around Kamigoroshi, a sword that holds the demon Hakaimono within it. Tatsumi needs to keep his emotions in check so that the demon does not possess him.
Tatsumi and Yumeko meet up shortly after Yumeko is sent on her mission and they end up making a tentative alliance to travel the country together. Tatsumi is unaware that the piece of scroll he is looking for is with Yumeko as she knows that to tell him she has what he’s looking for would mean instant death. Instead, she lets him know that the scroll has been sent to the Steel Feather temple and if he protects her, she’ll help show him the way.
One of the characters that Yumeko and Tatsumi meet along their journey was Okame, a Ronin that doesn’t start out too friendly with them. While it is not explained in this book, I can’t help but wonder what happened to Okame. Why did he lose his status of samurai? Was it something he did, or was it something he saw and refused to be a part of that caused him dishonour?
While I know the wait could be worse, I find myself being unwilling to wait for the next one. I have high expectations for the rest of the trilogy.
Overall, this book was well written. I have already suggested my best friend read it as the story is amazing. If you are looking for a dark fantasy read, I’d highly suggest picking this book up. This is not my first Julie Kagawa book, but it is my favourite by far.
As stated previously, the book had a sort of slow start. However, I fully believe that the buildup at the start was well worth the wait. Creating the world in such a detailed way greatly help make imagining the scenes easier. Showing how Yumeko and Tatsumi lived before they met each other allows the reader to see just how much progress they make as individuals throughout the series. It also helps explains Yumeko’s naive nature and Tatsumi’s unwillingness to trust anyone.
While I did not foresee how Suki would progress the story with her death, I expected her to play an important role. I will admit that I expected her to become a vengeful spirit rather than remain the sweet girl she was, but I’m glad that I was wrong about it. Suki remaining true to her sweetness was refreshing and offered a perspective unlike the others we are offered in this book. Using Suki’s point of view to show the goings on of Lady Satomi’s nefarious plot was brilliant. It showed more depth to the writing and Suki’s character than making her a vengeful spirit would have.
The monks at the Silent Winds temple and their final battle was the point of the book where I felt things began to pick up. Everyone had been introduced and their character was beginning to show through. I will admit I fully expected at least one of the monks to survive the slaughter but it makes sense for plot progression to only have Yumeko survive. This was a pivotal moment for Yumeko, and while hard for her to handle, it showed that she was more than just the trickster fox that some of the temple monks, like Denga, believed her to be. While I would love to be able to make a cat turn into a teapot – or a leaf in a flask look like a frog – I’m glad I don’t have Yumeko’s powers so I do not have to face the prosecution she so constantly faces.
Kitsune remain one of my favourite mythological creatures of all mythos, and they are definitely my favourite beings from Japanese mythology. Yumeko does well in suppressing her kitsune desires, even though I know it is hard for her. I found her world views interesting when compared against those of full kitsune, such as Tanuki. It showed that Yumeko remained pure and innocent, even though she could be a touch mischievous. When Yumeko was finally able to unleash her kitsune powers during the final fight, I couldn’t help but smile. Sure she used them sparingly throughout the book, like making Okame believe that there was a frog in his sake or make the royals believe there was a rabbit in their garden, but it was refreshing to see her go full-out for the first time in her life. I can only imagine how freeing something like that would feel. I’m sure that Yumeko will continue to use her powers for good throughout the rest of the series, maybe even using them to help Tatsumi fight Hakaimono’s possession.
Okame, a Ronin (a dishonoured samurai) that Yumeko and Tatsumi met on the road, is the embodiment of sarcasm. While he starts off as a mini boss, once defeated he joins Yumeko and Tatsumi on their quest, much to Tamaki’s chagrin. Yumeko’s naive nature is perfect for Okame as it allows him to teach this blank slate what sarcasm is. While she doesn’t understand sarcasm before they meet, Okame slowly shows her the joys of it. As a person who loves sarcasm, seeing Yumeko’s “growth” with it was very entertaining. While he is no longer a samurai, Okame does his best to protect Yumeko from the horrors of the world. He tries to protect her innocent soul even though the Ronin are supposed to be without honour, showing that Okame might not be a samurai but he still stands up for what he believes in.
My favourite character would have to Tatsumi as he struggled so hard to control the demon inside his sword, Hakaimono, before the demon could control him. It is my belief that later on in the series Tatsumi will regain his control over his body thanks to his love of Yumeko, even though neither of them have realized that they love the other. By the end of the story Hakaimono has taken control of Tatsumi’s body and Tatsumi feels betrayed by Yumeko, but I believe that Yumeko will be able to regain Tatsumi’s trust and prove that she never meant to hurt him with her deceptions. I found it touching that his jealousy over other guys thinking Yumeko was cute and his desire to protect her was what weakened his resolve time and time again. While I am not happy that Tatsumi was overtaken at the end, it was something that needed to happen for plot development. I truly believe that it is negative emotions such as anger, hate, and jealousy that allow Hakaimono to take control and emotions such as trust and love with be able to overcome the possession. Yumeko only needs to regain Tatsumi’s trust and then their love for each other will persevere.
Kagawa did a wonderful job writing the mini boss fights. Many writers don’t focus as much on these fights as they do the final battle, but Kagawa is not one of these people. For example, the monk’s curse could have been a very simple battle. Instead, Kagawa used the gaki as a way to make Yumeko and Tatsumi use their heads to figure out how to defeat the thing. Not only that, but Kagawa made sure that the battle had a reason for occurring and a background to what was going on. Making the monk feel like an actual being allowed the reader to understand the motivations behind the monk’s decision to curse the town.
Another example of Kagawa’s ability to bring to life fight scenes would be her use of Mistress Kazekira and her Kamaitachi. And did the little devils find a warm place in my heart! The first time Mistress Kazekira shows herself, Yumeko relies on a helpful stranger to help her escape. I figured that Mistress Kazekira would show her face again in the series, but I didn’t think that it would be so soon or be such an epic battle. But when she returned and Yumeko finally discovered how to defeat her – while simultaneously helping free a bear’s corrupted spirit and righting the balance of a forest in the process – Kagawa’s writing lent to an amazing mental image. I felt bad for the little Kamaitachi and am glad that they were able to get their revenge.
The final fight with Yaburama was very well written. Bringing together so many elements of the story – the characters from the capital’s temple (Reika, Chu, Master Jiro, and Ko); Suki; the main crew (Yumeko, Tatsumi, and Okame); Lady Satomi and the oni she commanded; along with the different storylines that tied them together – led to an epic battle scene. The blood magic that Satomi used to force Yaburama and his minions to stay in the destroyed castle had to have been truly disgusting as when Tatsumi stepped through the portal with Kamigoroshi even Hakaimono was silent. Having the “good” side separated was a great tactical move for the evil side as it allowed the oni and Satomi to use their companions against them. While I’m sad that Tatsumi gave into the possession, I’m glad it meant he was able to survive the fight with Yaburama.
Finally, I can’t help but be curious as to who Seigetsu is and what his role in the series will ultimately be. I liked him instantly when he showed up to help Yumeko with Mistress Kazekira the first time. I should think it’s obvious that this first encounter was not a coincidence the way he led Mistress Kazekira to believe. When he came back at the end of the story and killed Lady Satomi, my curiosity about him peaked. It was great to see that the little yokai that spoke to Tatsumi in the forest was actually Seigetsu’s underling. Will Seigetsu help Yumeko further along in her quest? Or will he end up causing trouble for her and her crew as they try to save Tatsumi’s soul?