This is the first YA book I have read in a long time (at least a couple months). I have forgotten, honestly, the common tropes and style of writing found in young adult fantasy. But I picked this one up mostly because it is filled with Japanese mythology and I love learning about mythology in general. However, I had pretty mixed feelings about this book.
Release: Jan. 28, 2020
Page Count: 288
Synopsis: Kira Fujikawa is a young high school student and outcast at her elite Japanese school, finding solace working at her grandfather’s Shinto shrine. But her life changes the night her grandfather is brutally murder by yokai demons attacking the shine to find an ancient artifact to help demon lord Shuten-doji bring unending darkness to the world. With the help of a half-fox named Shiro who works at her grandfather’s shrine, Kira must bring together seven ruthless shinigami (death gods) to stop the destruction of the world.”
(Mostly Non-Spoiler) Review
I am a sucker for Japanese mythology, and while you definitely don’t need to know anything about yokai and shinigami before going into this book, it definitely helps to have an interest in it. I loved the world-building, learning of a world hidden within our own where demons prowl at night and curses and nine-tailed foxes are real. However, despite how much I really liked the world, the characters, the pacing, and the plot was kind of a mess in this book. Kira was a pretty bland character who let the story and other characters guide her while making few decisions herself. The fights with the demons often felt repetitive and the story felt slow at the same time as being a lot crammed into under 300 pages. Certain ideas and concepts were brought in and then forgotten for the rest of the book. And even the world, while interesting, remained pretty vague (sticking to a soft magic system as opposed to a hard one), though I didn’t necessarily dislike this aspect. Basically, I enjoyed the book because of the world but I could never feel invested in the plot and characters.
Let me break down my thoughts a bit, since I just finished the book and my ideas are a bit jumbled right now.
Let’s talk characters first. Kira’s introduced in a scene where she is being bullied by a group of girls and she tries to stand up to them. She gets beat up, and heads home with her wounds to discover soon after the shrine is under attack. This is my main problem with her character. We don’t really have a chance to get to know her before the inciting incident, making everything she does seem like normal to us. When we are told she is courageous for fighting demons and standing up for herself later, I don’t see it as impactful or character growth because she started like that. I would have preferred if we had seen a day in the life where we got to know her and learned her weaknesses, so when she later overcame them we could be impressed. She certainly grew in physical skills by learning to fight, but she as a character never changed. You don’t need the main character to necessarily change for it to be a good book, but clearly the story wanted to make it seem like she changed but I never got that feeling.
A lot of the other characters are pretty bland as well. Shiro, the main love interest, is kind of just there, supportive of Kira. Since they were already close before the book started, I never felt a connection to their romantic growth, because there wasn’t really any growth. I did like Shiro’s history, as he was raised by an adoptive demon mother and never really knew his real fox family, but it never really effected him as a character. Similarly, all the characters were kind of broken down to good and bad with little depth.
Second, the plot. Most of the plot follows Kira trying to find the shard the villain wants and to stop him by journeying around trying to find seven death gods to help in her cause. Meanwhile, she also trains to be a fighter. At the same time as going to school where Shiro joins her undercover (of course all the girls at school think he hot because…of course). At the same time she’d dealing with her strict family. At the same time dealing with drama with Shiro’s mother. If it sounds like a lot, it is for being under 300 pages. Because of this, most of the ideas and drama isn’t thoroughly examined.
The best way I can explain it is if an entire book series (or manga series, since this does feel a bit like a manga series in the format of a novel) is compacted into a two hour movie. You’d probably think it was rather bad, only shallowly examining most of the concepts the original took several books to examine. That’s how this book felt.
I don’t want to be too brutal on this novel, because despite its issues, I still enjoyed the world and setting. It is clear that the authors understood and researched Japanese culture to create characters to fit in that world (at least they read a lot of manga as research). If you are a fan of manga or anime, you’ll probably like this book more than I did.
In the end, I gave it three stars. It’s not a horrible book, but not an amazing book I would feel comfortable recommending to many readers.
Have you read or heard of this book? What are some book you like that examine Japanese (or any) mythology? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,