Shadow of the Fox: An exciting tale of magic, revenge, and friendship

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Shadow of the Fox by Julie KagawaShadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa YA fantasy book reviewsShadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Shadow of the Fox (2018) is the first of Julie Kagawa’s books that I’ve read, but based on how much I enjoyed reading it, this certainly won’t be the last. Readers don’t have to know anything about feudal-era Japanese culture, language, folklore, and customs that influenced the SHADOW OF THE FOX series, nor do they have to be ardent fans of manga/anime to appreciate what this first volume offers, but having even a little background in either will greatly enrich their reading experience.

Thousands of years ago, an audacious (and, I would argue, quite stupid) young lord got it into his head that he deserved to become a kami — an immortal god — by way of the Tama no Fushi, a jewel borne by the Great Dragon living beneath the seas surrounding the lands of Iwagoto. The Great Dragon took exception to this and punished the lord by nearly killing him and his retainers, at which point the lord repented and offered up a thousand prayers for forgiveness and mercy. The Dragon then offered the lord the choice between the granting of one single wish or the opportunity to retain his mortal soul. Appropriately chastened, the lord asked to return home with his soul intact, and was allowed to do so.

Ever since then, once every millennium, the Great Dragon allows himself to be summoned by a mortal who reads each of those thousand prayers from a sacred scroll in the hopes of their own wish being granted — though, if the Dragon finds them wanting, their soul is then forfeited forever. After a wish-spawned tragedy in the past, it was decided that the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers was too dangerous to just be left lying around, and it was divided into three pieces which were then hidden throughout Iwagoto. But now the thousand-year anniversary approaches, and various factions have begun searching for the pieces in order to assemble and use them to summon the Great Dragon for their own purposes.

Yumeko is a half-kitsune (fox spirit) girl who has spent the entirety of her sixteen years living amongst the monks at the Temple of the Silent Winds. Her monstrous heritage and ability to use fox magic often cause friction between herself and the monks, though her sweet disposition only ever results in her using magic in ways that extend no farther than practical jokes. One fateful day, the temple is attacked by a demon army in thrall to a powerful, cunning woman who wants the piece of the scroll kept safe by the monks. Yumeko barely escapes with her life and the scroll and runs headlong into Tatsumi, a seventeen-year-old boy traveling under the guise of a Kage-clan samurai in order to mask his true identity as the Kage clan’s demonslayer. Tatsumi has his own secrets, including a demonic sword and the particulars of his mission, charged to him by his daimyo, Lady Hanshou: gather the fragments of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, killing anyone or anything that stands in his way.

Julie Kagawa

Yumeko needs Tatsumi’s help in order to travel safely to the Silent Winds Temple, where another piece of the scroll is hidden, but if he knows she carries a piece of the scroll or learns of her half-kitsune nature, he’s guaranteed to kill her on sight. Tatsumi needs Yumeko’s familiarity with temples and monks to get into the Silent Winds Temple, since the head monk there won’t give up the scroll fragment to just anyone. Along the way, they encounter blood magic, demons, ghosts both wayward and vengeful, ronin, and members of the imperial court … and the first stirrings of true friendship either has ever experienced.

Shadow of the Fox is packed with action and travel sequences, and I was impressed by how well Kagawa incorporated Japanese legends, myths, and kaidan (ghost stories) into the text. It’s a well-written YA novel, detailed without becoming bogged down, and I was surprised by how swiftly the plot moved along even though so much of a series’ first novel generally is devoted to introducing readers to characters and world-building. Kagawa’s writing is wonderfully descriptive and evocative of the feudal-era Japan so often featured in or heavily influencing manga and anime; think Inuyasha without the time-travel plot device, and you’re on the right path. Yokai (demons/spirits) like tanuki, kitsune, kodama, hitodama, and even kami are everywhere in Iwagoto, either hiding in plain sight among humans or keeping to themselves among the natural world, and the differences between Yumeko’s and Tatsumi’s reactions to those spirits — and to humans — is one of the best ways in which their differing characters and backgrounds are explored.

Yumeko and Tatsumi’s journey is episodic in nature as they travel through Iwagoto, providing each of them opportunities to display their aptitude (or lack thereof) with diplomacy or swordplay. The secrets they must hide from one another, compounded with their growing reliance on one another, complicate the narrative in a delightful way. Both characters use first-person narration, sometimes overlapping events slightly to provide different perspective, and their voices tend to read similarly at first, so it was a little difficult early on to figure out who was speaking until I realized that they trade chapters. After that, I was fine. Kagawa provides quick, but thorough explanations of terms or concepts that might be confusing to readers, and does a great job of incorporating those explanations into dialogue and the overall narrative structure.

Shadow of the Fox is fresh, exciting, and a lot of fun to read. I’ll absolutely be adding it to my personal library, and I’m already looking forward to the next SHADOW OF THE FOX volume, Soul of the Sword, currently scheduled for a June 2019 release.

Published October 2, 2018 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. New from the New York Times bestselling author of The Talon Saga and The Iron Fey. Fans of Sarah J. Maas, Julie C. Dao, Marie Lu, Cassandra Clare and more bestselling YA fantasy will be captivated by book one of this enchanting new series.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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2 comments

  1. Marion Deeds /

    This sounds magical and wonderful.

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