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The Shadow of the Fox Trilogy by Julie Kagawa (book review)

GENRE: YA Fantasy
LENGTH: 1,234 (across 3 books)
 
PLOT
Yumeko and Tatsumi are charged with delivering the Dragon Scroll to a lost temple. The scroll has the power to summon a god capable of granting any mortal’s wish – be it for good or evil.
 
CHARACTERS
The two main characters in the series are Yumeko, a kitsune (a trickster fox with paranormal abilities) and Tatsumi, a samurai in possession of a sword inhabited by a powerful demon (Hakaimono). Alongside these two are three other prominent characters; Okame the ronin (a samurai without a master), Daisuke, a member of the noble family, and Reika, a shrine maiden.
I’ll briefly discuss the protagonists’ companions first.
Okame is the first one we are introduced to and he is a skilled archer and the one who brings the most lightness and humor to the group. Daisuke is a skilled swordsman and, despite being a noble, he is very humble. I’d describe Reika as the mother of the group; she’s the responsible one who keeps them on track. Of the trio Okame is the most lovable (he’s kind of like a big teddy bear) while Reika is the one I feel most readers will struggle to connect with (though I did eventually grow fond of her as well). This is very far from a cozy fantasy series, but one thing it has in common with the cozy fantasies that I adore is the found family trope. The first book is really focused on gathering these characters together, but the second book is where they really start to feel like a cohesive unit.
Yumeko and Tatsumi are the perfect example of opposites attract and both grow a lot throughout the series. Yumeko is quite naïve but she gains confidence and comes into her power while never losing that benevolence. She’s such a wholesome character. Tatsumi, meanwhile, has been trained to repress all his emotions in order to not be possessed by the demon inhabiting his sword. It’s his gradual letting down of his guard with Yumeko that really tugs at the heartstrings and is what gives the first book its magic. They have become one of my top fantasy duos to date.
There is one more important character, but I don’t want to spoil anything about their ultimate role in the story. All I will say is they were the most fascinating character to me. They’re written so it’s hard to tell what their true intentions are. Are they good, evil, or neutral? They kept me guessing!
 
WRITING
The series is told through multiple perspectives. In order not to spoil any plot things, I will only say that the primary narrators are Yumeko and Tatsumi. In the first book, there is no character name at the start of each chapter and that led to some confusion, but this was thankfully remedied in books two and three. One thing that I found super helpful was at the back of the books there is a glossary that gives brief descriptions. It's useful to reference if, like me, you’re unfamiliar with Japanese culture and mythology.
This series is overflowing with Japanese folklore. The series introduces the reader to a plethora of different yokai, ghosts, and demons. If you’re like me and you enjoy learning about other culture’s mythology then you will be FED with this trilogy. After completing this trilogy, I want to dive deeper into exploring Japanese folklore! A few of the yokai, such as the kitsune, I’d heard of prior to reading the series, but even those I claimed no deep knowledge of. In particular, the second and third books expand upon Yumeko’s magic (it’s not really much in the first book) and it was so cool getting to see her progression and her testing the limits of what she is capable of. All this to say, this is a folklore fan’s dream series.
I had mixed feelings on the writing and plot outside of the mythology, however. The first book is a strong introduction to the characters and world building. The second book is pretty standard for a middle book in a trilogy – it progresses the story but it’s middle (hah!) of the road in terms of entertainment value compared to the first and last books. The third book was VERY heavy on the action. It left me feeling like I never had a chance to catch my breath or fully process what was happening – and a lot was happening. I was quite upset with some of the decisions made by the author in the final book when it comes to characters’ fates. I don’t even know how to describe my feelings on them. It’s not necessarily disappointment but maybe frustration?
Two critiques I have of Kagawa’s writing is that she tends to tell instead of show and to be repetitive as well. When introducing new yokai or demons she has a tendency to have the point of view character give us a mini lesson on what they are. As I said, I ate up these tidbits, but at the same time it was unnatural to have the plot pause for them to teach us, the readers. In terms of receptiveness, what I mean by that is she will tell us something related to a character or the plot and then a few pages later have a character repeat the information as though we’re hearing it for the first time. That’s something I would have expected an editor to point out to the author as unnecessary. I want to make it clear that neither of these made my reading experiences less enjoyable, but they’re things I think Kagawa can and should improve upon in future works of hers.
 
FINAL THOUGHTS
I wish that I liked the final book better because when I finished it I was left feeling like I’d gotten so attached to this story and its characters all for a finale I borderline hated. If I knew how it was going to all end I think I would have just read the first book and called it a day. I’m not saying you shouldn’t read the entire trilogy; maybe your opinion will differ from mine.
 
FINAL RATINGS:
Shadow of the Fox: 4⭐️
Soul of the Sword: 3.75⭐️
Night of the Dragon: 3⭐️  

 

 

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