A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

I received a free e-ARC of A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer from NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a fantasy novel was was published by Bloomsbury in the UK on 29th January 2019.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

This is apparently the season for Beauty and the Beast retellings! In some ways, A Curse So Dark and Lonely is fairly true to the original, but Kemmerer definitely makes it her own, and puts a great, modern spin on everything.

One of the main different aspects of Curse is that Harper, the book’s Beauty, has cerebral palsy. It’s wonderful to have a main character with a disability, and one doesn’t feel like it’s just there for brownie points. Harper’s life has definitely been impacted by her disability, but it’s also given her a different perspective on the world, and I think that sets her character above a lot of the cookie cutter-type heroines in YA fiction. I think it’s also key that the role Harper’s playing is the Beauty. Her disability is visible, and is something which sometimes causes Harper frustration or sadness. But it doesn’t stop her from being Beauty. To me, this felt like an example of positive, realistic representation, and I would love to read more of this type of rep, particularly in action-heavy stories such as this.

I liked that Kemmerer doesn’t shy away from the true horror of the Prince’s curse and the dreadful things he’s done. It makes him feel truly monstrous, rather than a Disney type of beast, all growls and no trousers. I also liked, without giving away anything, one of the things we learn about the type of beast he becomes, as it certainly made it feel more realistic that he hadn’t been stopped yet.

I also enjoyed the castle as a metaphor for the Prince’s depression. It’s beautiful, filled with food and music, but it’s the same every day and he’s long since tired of it. And everywhere he turns, he’s reminded of the damage he’s wrought. So even as Harper is overwhelmed by the abundance it offers, Rhen has stopped seeing that as anything other than the curse.

There were two major aspects that limited my enjoyment of the book. The first was the way that Rhen’s beastly nature is hidden from Harper for much of the book, and when the truth does out, it’s a strangely subdued moment. I really struggle with stories where relationships are built on major lies, and it means I found it hard to really believe in the potential pairings within the book, as there was no truth to their foundation. Added to which is the fact that Harper was literally kidnapped and brought to their world, so there’s a huge power imbalance, and I just couldn’t support the romantic storylines at all.

The other aspect I struggled with was how ‘not like other girls’ Harper is. In terms of how she feels about herself in her life in DC, I can understand that. She has a disability and her family life is difficult and she feels apart from her peers. But when she arrives in Emberfall, Rhen and Gray are spouting the same things, only it’s because Harper’s so different to all the girls they kidnapped before. I found that really frustrating, and it colored how I felt about the romantic relationships that developed.

Overall, A Curse So Dark and Lonely didn’t really do it for me. I liked Harper and found her personal journey very satisfying, but I struggled with the ‘not like other girls’ aspect of the story. I also didn’t enjoy how the huge secret that Rhen and Gray were keeping from Harper was dealt with. However, I think it’s great to see a character with a visible disability at the centre of really action-filled story, and I liked the interplay between Emberfell and the modern world. I can understand why this book has been so popular, and I think it’s just a case of it not being the right book for me.

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Pulp by Robin Talley

Pulp.jpg

I received a free e-ARC of Pulp by Robin Talley via NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. Pulp is a queer YA historical novel, published by HQ Young Adult, an imprint of HQ, in December 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.

Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favorite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.

In this novel told in dual narratives, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words. A stunning story of bravery, love, how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go.

I’d seen a lot of hype about Pulp around the bookish internet, so I was excited to pick it up. I’ve read some of Talley’s other books, with some mixed feelings about them. And sadly, Pulp was another that left me with mixed feelings, though I think a fair amount of that is probably my personal taste.

Pulp follows two parallel story lines. In modern day DC, Abby is struggling with her senior year of high school. She’s just broken up with her first girlfriend, and has some serious work to do in school. In the 50s, Janet has had her eyes opened to the fact that she might be a lesbian, something which, were she to be open about it, could place her in serious danger. The stories overlap when Abby delves into the world of lesbian pulp fiction, reads the book that Janet wrote, and becomes determined to discover what happened to its author.

As a historical novel, Pulp certainly brought home to me the dreadful realities of being gay in 1950s US. Janet reads as quite naïve to today’s audiences, but that only emphasises how very little information she had, and how few ways she had to get more information. She’s reliant on a whisper network, and on brave individuals willing to put themselves out there to try and educate her. It’s a chilling way to live, and given news coming from other places, such as Chechnya, it certainly made me grateful to be living in present day London, and more appreciative of the daily difficulties of people who came before.

The modern storyline, with Abby, is well-wrought, giving what felt to me like a realistic vision of a hugely stressed out senior who feels like everyone around her has a clear idea of what they’re doing with their lives, while she’s just treading water, trying to figure out where to go next. I could certainly relate to her in that way, and I think there will be plenty of other readers who feel similarly. Compared to Janet, Abby and her friends are incredibly worldly and knowledgeable, and learning about Janet’s story teaches Abby about how drastically things have changed in sixty years, and gives her some perspective on her own life.

The book also has commentary on what it means to be a writer, from both Abby and Janet’s perspectives. Without saying anything that would spoil the story, I definitely appreciated the lessons that Abby comes to learn about writing from investigating Janet’s life, and how books can mean hugely different things to their authors and their readers.

The reason I personally didn’t enjoy the book that much was because I struggled to connect to either of the main characters. I enjoyed reading about them, but didn’t feel particularly engaged with their stories. As I mentioned above, I think that’s probably a matter of personal taste. I’ve felt a similar way about others of Talley’s books that I’ve read, so I think it’s just that her writing doesn’t suit me personally.

Overall, Pulp is a well-written book with a great, diverse cast, which sheds light on a period of recent history which, from my knowledge, has been little touched upon by current YA novels. It offers an opportunity for modern readers to learn about the day to day experience of life as a queer person in the 1950s, as well as showing a modern teen who’s dealing with personal problems of her own. Though it wasn’t a book I enjoyed much myself, I think it would appeal to those who enjoy historical fiction, parallel storylines, and anyone who’s enjoyed previous of Talley’s books.

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The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

The Sisters of the Winter Wood

I received a free e-ARC of The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner from NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. The Sisters of the Winter Wood is a fantasy novel which was published by Orbit Books, an imprint of Little, Brown, in the UK in September 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Raised in a small village surrounded by vast forests, Liba and Laya have lived a peaceful sheltered life – even if they’ve heard of troubling times for Jews elsewhere. When their parents travel to visit their dying grandfather, the sisters are left behind in their home in the woods.

But before they leave, Liba discovers the secret that their Tati can transform into a bear, and their Mami into a swan. Perhaps, Liba realizes, the old fairy tales are true. She must guard this secret carefully, even from her beloved sister.

Soon a troupe of mysterious men appear in town and Laya falls under their spell-despite their mother’s warning to be wary of strangers. And these are not the only dangers lurking in the woods…

The sisters will need each other if they are to become the women they need to be – and save their people from the dark forces that draw closer.

Sisters of the Winter Wood is another book that I’d seen all over the place, and I was intrigued by the story. Following two sisters as they come to learn things about their family they’d never even dreamed of, this is a hugely vivid story which pulls the reader into their world.

The main characters are the two sisters, Liba and Laya. They’re very different people, and this is emphasised throughout the book. They have different personalities, they want different things, and they approach the world around them differently. I enjoyed how we were able to see the world through two very different perspectives, and how much more depth that brought to the story. I also liked seeing the secondary characters from these differing viewpoints. Particularly given the nature of some of those characters, it really emphasises how personal perspective influences how we see the world.

As the story develops, we learn more about their town through the experiences of Liba and Laya. They’ve always felt comfortable there, though they’ve known that being Jewish sets them apart from others, and it’s heartbreaking to see that change over the course of the story. Rossner, I felt, did a brilliant job in showing the creeping changes that came over the town and its inhabitants, and how it took relatively little to bring old tensions to the surface. I think this was the aspect of the story I appreciated most, though it’s also one of the saddest elements of the book.

There are a number of themes in this book, all of which I think are woven together skilfully by Rossner. It’s a coming of age story for the sisters, with life-changing consequences for both. It’s a story about otherness, and the inherent lack of security that comes from being other in a place that, whatever the surface might show, might not always be safe for you. It’s also about family and what that means – is it blood, is it upbringing, is it the people you’ve chosen to be around you? As an overall story, I think Sisters of the Winter Wood is both honest and hopeful, and a very apt fantasy tale for our current era.

All that being said, I didn’t love this book as much as I wanted to, or as much as I feel like I should have. However, I would put that down to personal taste rather than anything else here. And the reason I say this is because there wasn’t anything particular that I actually disliked about the book, and in fact there’s a lot about the book that I think is really good; it just wasn’t for me.

Sisters of the Winter Wood is certainly an intriguing addition to current fantasy offerings, and I think it will appeal to anyone looking for a fantasy story that’s very relevant to the current world we live in. It’s got sisterhood, it’s got family secrets, and a whole lot of magic. Although it wasn’t the book for me, I think it has a lot to recommend it, particularly if you like your fantasy a little darker, but without the violence that often comes with that.

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Rise Up! by Chris Bone

Rise Up

I received a free e-ARC of Rise Up: Broadway and American Society from Angels in America to Hamilton by Chris Jones from NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my views. Rise Up! is a non-fiction book, due to be published by Methuen Drama, an imprint of Bloomsbury, in the UK on 15th November 2018.

Synopsis

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Penned by one of America’s best-known daily theatre critics and organized chronologically, this lively and readable book tells the story of Broadway’s renaissance from the darkest days of the AIDS crisis, via the disaster that was Spiderman: Turn off the Dark through the unparalleled financial, artistic and political success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. It is the story of the embrace of risk and substance. In so doing, Chris Jones makes the point that the theatre thrived by finally figuring out how to embrace the bold statement and insert itself into the national conversation – only to find out in 2016 that a hefty sector of the American public had not been listening to what it had to say.

Chris Jones was in the theatres when and where it mattered. He takes readers from the moment when Tony Kushner’s angel crashed (quite literally) through the ceiling of prejudice and religious intolerance to the triumph of Hamilton, with the coda of the Broadway cast addressing a new Republican vice-president from the stage. That complex performance – at once indicative of the theatre’s new clout and its inability to fully change American society for the better – is the final scene of the book.

Review

I’m someone who loves the theatre, but isn’t all that knowledgeable about it. So a book about some of Broadway’s recent history, since Angels in America, seemed right up my street. It should be noted that this book is not, nor does it purport to be, a comprehensive history of the American theatre or Broadway. It focuses specifically on those recent plays which have, in some way, incorporated something new within then, and impacted both Broadway, and the wider theatrical world.

The book is structured in chronological order, from Angels in America in to Hamilton. Each chapter focuses on one (or occasionally two) play(s), and Jones discusses the history and development of the playwright, those who influenced them, those who followed them, and why this specific play had the impact that it did. For someone who doesn’t always know the backstories behind the plays she sees, it was so interesting to learn more about the writers, producers, and original casts. I also feel like I understand a bit more about the economics of Broadway itself and what ‘success’ actually means, which is in some ways pretty clear cut (financial success), and in other ways much more nebulous (a lasting legacy, starting a conversation which outlasts the play itself).

All the plays discussed are those which have tried something new – an unusual topic, new technologies – whether that’s worked out for them or not. Some have brought significant events to wider audiences, some have fused different cultures and traditions, and others have tried to bring the drama and elaborate effects of the screen to the theatre (we’re all looking at you there, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark). There were a couple of that I particularly enjoyed reading about, and all plays that I’ve been lucky enough to see myself. Angels in America and Rent, which both focus on the AIDS epidemic but in different times and from very different perspectives, and both of which I saw last year. And then Wicked, which was my personal entrance into musical fandom, but the genesis of which I knew little about. All of the book is fascinating, but for me, my personal experience really enhanced these chapters.

Jones’s writing is great, bringing a light touch to what could potentially be a fairly dense read. The book is full of information, but it’s presented in a way that makes it incredibly readable. Added to which is the fact that, for many of the plays being discussed, the behind the scenes stories are as fascinating as the plays themselves. With his long involvement with the theatre, Jones is able to pepper this book with anecdotes, and with the kind of detail that only comes from deeply, truly knowing a subject.

Summary

I found this book absolutely fascinating, bringing together topics that I love – theatre and social history/commentary – in an incredibly informative and readable book. I would heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys the theatre, and particularly anyone with an interest in how forms of entertainment both influence and are influenced by the circumstances in which they are created and performed.

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Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Empress of All Seasons

I received a free e-ARC of Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean from NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. Empress of All Seasons is a YA fantasy novel, due to be published by Gollancz, an imprint of Orion, in the UK on 8th November 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Marry the prince. All are eligible to compete—all except yōkai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy. 

Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren’t hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yōkai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari’s fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yōkai outcast.

Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro, and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku in this beautifully written, edge-of-your-seat YA fantasy.

Empress of All Seasons is another book I was seeing all over my Twitter feed, so I knew I had to request it when it appeared on Netgalley. But for a few reasons, I found it to be kind of a strange read in the end.

In the book, we follow the main character, Mari, as well as Prince Taro and Akira, the Son of Nightmares. All three have very distinctive voices and by switching between them, Jean is able to give the reader different perspectives on Honoku, the vastly different experiences of the yōkai and the humans, and the uncertain, unsettled situation within the empire.

The setting and sense of place is brilliant, particularly in the seasonal rooms Mari is trying to survive to win the prince’s hand. I felt that the palace and surrounding city were very vividly described, and I could really picture where all the action was taking place. The story also felt very connected to the world in which it took place, both influencing and being influenced by the landscape in way I enjoyed, and which made me hugely appreciative of all the work that must have gone in to the worldbuilding.

I thought the book was beautifully written. Jean has a lovely way with descriptive language, but it never feels like the prose is overwhelming the plot. Japanese folklore is incorporated very skilfully into the book, and there are enough explanations for those, like me, who are unfamiliar with some of the words or the history, without it feeling bogged down with exposition.

However, I did have some issues as the book approached its end. Although I understood and appreciated the message Jean was trying to convey (and indeed, it is explicitly stated right at the end of the book), I didn’t feel like the story itself bore out that message. It often felt that characters were saying or indicating a belief in one thing, but not following through on that belief with their actions. It meant that, for me, I felt that the book lacked depth and, in the end, felt like a fairly shallow, well-meaning exploration of an idea, rather than a cohesive narrative with a strong central message. I also felt that the pacing didn’t quite work for me, as there was a lot of build up, and then a short, action-packed climax, followed by a very brief tying up of loose ends. I would have liked to see the last section slowed down a lot, so I could really enjoy the experience.

The book also includes an example of the Bury Your Gays trope, and in a way that I found particularly frustrating, as the sexuality of the character(s) in question wasn’t mentioned until one had already been killed off. To me, that made it feel like diversity for diversity’s sake, and I would actually have vastly preferred if their sexuality had just not been mentioned at all, as it made no impact on the plot.

Overall, though I enjoyed the experience of reading this book because of the gorgeous writing and vivid settings, I found the storyline underwhelming, and the end of the book quite frustrating. I would definitely be interested in reading more of Jean’s books in the future, but I would be hesitant about recommending this particular book.

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Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire

I received a free e-ARC of Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan from NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. Girls of Paper and Fire is a queer YA fantasy novel, due to be published by Hodderscape, an imprint of Hodder and Stoughton, in the UK on 6th November 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

Content warning for violence, sexual assault, forced prostitution, and animal cruelty/death.

I had been looking forward to this book ever since I first heard about it, so even though I’d already pre-ordered it, I jumped at the chance to read an e-ARC from NetGalley, and I was not disappointed! Before I get into the review, in line with the above note, this is a dark book and some upsetting, difficult themes are covered, so please bear that in mind. And if you’ve got questions about any particular topics or sections before you pick it up, let me know.

On with the review! We follow Lei, our main character, as she’s ripped cruelly from her father’s side and thrust into the unfamiliar world of the Paper Girls, beautiful girls and young women who spend a year as the king’s concubines, hoping they’ll be able to find good matches or good positions elsewhere in the palace after. Lei’s ignorance about the palace and its politics serves the story well, as we learn about her world along with her. Her innocence is a devastating aspect of her character, as her hopes are dashed again and again when her situation turns out to be far worse than she had anticipated.

The relationships between the characters is one of the strongest aspects of the book, as Lei gets to know the other Paper Girls, their instructors, and some of the other people who live in the palace. I think Ngan did a great job making all the girls seem like real, individual people with their own pasts and motivations, and this just makes it that much more heartbreaking when things start to go wrong, and when we hear about learn about what the girls go through in their roles as concubines. And on top of this, there’s a gorgeous queer romance at the heart of the story, and it feels very genuine and very realistic within the context of the wider story.

The setting, in the world of Ikhara, is elaborate and full of detail. I loved the history of the region, and how little details are dished out over the course of the book. Again, having Lei as the naive heroine works brilliantly because she comes with her own limited knowledge and has so much to learn, and much to unlearn as well as she discovers that some of what she’s always believed to be true isn’t actually so. I also enjoyed the court politics, and how they’re woven into the story and into the relationships between all the characters.

As I mentioned above, this is not a happy book. Ngan has taken incredibly seriously the situation the Paper Girls are in, and one of the main themes of the book is trauma and the way that it affects different people. Trauma is woven throughout the story, with Lei and her family still reeling from the disappearance of her mother before the start of the book, compounded by the effects of her experiences in the palace. It’s not easy to read about, but I think it’s a hugely important topic which deserves a greater focus in YA, to allow readers who’ve experienced traumatic events to see parts of themselves reflected in fiction.

In a year where I’ve read a lot of YA fantasy, I feel like Girls of Paper and Fire takes a different approach to the genre, focusing on something which isn’t often treated so seriously within YA fiction. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a hugely compelling one, and one which will leave you more than ready for the sequel, and I would highly, highly recommend it.

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Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Shadow of the Fox

I received a free e-ARC of Shadow of the Fox by Julia Kagawa from NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. The Shadow of the Fox is a YA fantasy novel, due to be published by HQ Young Adult, an imprint of HQ, in the UK on 1st November 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

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.

Having recently read a couple of YA fantasies recently which I ended up not enjoying too much, I was a little hesitant about picking up Shadow of the Fox. But I ended up enjoying it so much, and I finished the book so keen to find out what happens in the next one!

From the very start of the book, I found myself immediately drawn to both characters, and to the whole land of Iwagoto. From Yumeko’s life in the temple, we learn about the yokai, about her powers as a kitsune, and about the roles the monks play in keeping their world in balance. Tatsumi brings a much darker perspective, raised in the Shadow Clan and now one of their strongest weapons. We go back and forth between the two, interspersed with chapters set in the palace which give us tantalising hints of the wider conflict at play. I think there’s a great balance between the discrete plot of this book, and the overall plot of the trilogy, and as the story progresses, our protagonists have smaller obstacles and challenges to overcome which break up the journey that they’re on.

I liked getting both sides of the story, from both Yumeko and Tatsumi. I think it also helped to emphasise the enormous differences between the two characters, their upbringings, and how they interacted with other characters. It also brought an element of humour to the story, as they misunderstand each other or are otherwise bemused by the actions of their companions. Kagawa is great with her secondary characters as well, making each of them unique and well-described, with their own motives and agency which happen to bring them into Yumeko and Tatsumi’s story, and you can imagine them going off on their own again after they’ve played their parts.

Above all, the worldbuilding here is just brilliant. Building on Japanese folklore, I found that Kagawa did a brilliant job of introducing words and concepts that might not be familiar to those who don’t have limited or no knowledge of the culture, but without there being too much exposition. I felt like I was learning and gathering knowledge as I worked my way through the book, as well as enjoying a brilliant story.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this book, but I found it a hugely enjoyable read, and one which is both a great story in itself, and a great start to what I’m sure will be a wonderful trilogy. If you’re in the market for a new YA fantasy, Shadow of the Fox will give you great characters, high stakes adventure, and the promise of much more to come.

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