YA Weekend Audio: Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of Shadow of the Fox
Publisher: Harlequin Audio (October 2, 2018)
Length: 14 hrs and 45 mins
Narrators: Joy Osmanski, Brian Nishii, Emily Woo Zeller
Julia Kagawa has come a ways in the few short years since Talon, a book I enjoyed but failed to give me much motivation to continue the series. Shadow of the Fox, on the other hand, started out on a strong note and never let up until it was over.
Taking place in a fantasy world inspired by history and culture of feudal Japan, the story is told through the eyes of three characters from very different walks of life. First we have Yumeko, a half-kitsune girl who was raised by monks at the Silent Winds temple. Her whole life, she has been taught she must hide her true nature or else she would be hunted down for her part yokai heritage. However, one day her home comes under attack by demons trying to steal a powerful scroll hidden in the temple. Yumeko, the only survivor of the massacre, manages to escape with the precious artifact, vowing to do all she can to transport it somewhere safe.
Almost right away, she encounters a lone samurai working on behalf of the mysterious Shadow Clan, who has also been tasked to retrieve the scroll for his masters. Kage Tatsumi is a demon hunter, who’s only following his orders. When he meets the girl named Yumeko who claims to have fled from the ruined temple and knows where the scroll has been taken for safekeeping, he has no choice but to follow her and keep her safe while she leads him to his goal (not knowing, of course, that what he seeks has been on her the entire time). Along the way, the two of them pick up another lone traveler, a ronin who offers them help navigating the treacherous road to the city, but ends up offering a lot more in the form of friendship and comic relief.
And finally, we have our third perspective, the ghost of a lowly palace maid who had the misfortune of working for her cruel and merciless mistress. Poor little Suki. Her role was mainly to show us the machinations behind the scenes, but I think many who read this book will also find her to be one of story’s most sympathetic characters.
Have I also mentioned how much I enjoy stories about kitsune? Lately, ever since M.L. Brennan’s Generation V series, my reading has been sorely lacking in fox shifters. Of course, Yumeko’s character was decidedly very un-foxlike, though her upbringing might provide some context for that. She’s cunning and witty, but far from the sly trickster I expected her to be. Ultimately though, I think her innocence and naivete helped to make her feel more genuine and believable, for this was someone who has spent her whole life literally cloistered in a temple raised by monks. Her personality was also a great counterpoint to Tatsumi’s damaged psyche, shaped by years of his harsh training and exposure to the ugly truths of the world. If anything is to melt that stern exterior, it would be Yumeko’s unconcealed goodness. The two of them may have been thrown together under some pretty thin circumstances, but I did like their chemistry and appreciated the fact that Kagawa didn’t foist a romance on them right away. In fact, only at the end do we get a real sense that both may be open to more, the way the best kinds of forbidden love stories tend to go.
The plot also took a lot of detours along the way, but rather than finding this distracting, I personally enjoyed how things took a turn towards a quest narrative. Like a roleplaying game campaign where a party of heroes must combine their knowledge and skills to solve a problem, these encounters allowed our characters to bond and cement their alliances. The stopover in the village with the graveyard full of hungry ghosts was a prime example, and while in retrospect, it might have been a totally cheesy and hackneyed way of doing it, I’m still glad we got to go on some of these “side quests” despite seeing why some would say they were completely unnecessary.
It kept the overall momentum of the story going, in any case. Peppered with plenty of mythological elements, this book would be a fascination for anyone with an interest in Far Eastern folklore or Japanese-inspired world-building. For a novel that takes us in so many directions, the plot was also surprisingly well-paced and a delight to follow. I won’t lie and say there weren’t a lot of the usual YA tropes in this, but at the same time I wasn’t too bothered by them and they were written well. In the end, Shadow of the Fox was an entertaining and rather straightforward tale of questing and friendship without putting on too many airs, which is more than I can say for a lot of my recent YA reads. It’s been a fun ride and I’m looking forward to more, especially given what happens in the shocking final scene of the epilogue. This time, I’m definitely motivated to pick up the next book.
Audiobook Comments: The three character POVs were read by three separate narrators, Joy Osmanski, Brian Nishii, and Emily Woo Zeller. I’ve always said audio is the best way to “read” YA and Shadow of the Fox is a good example of why, being an immersive experience for listeners who enjoy being completely transported to unique and evocative magical worlds.