Shadow of the Fox
Every thousand years, the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers can be used to summon the great dragon, who will grant a single wish. To keep the scroll safe from evil doing, it was split into three parts and scattered across the land. Now, as the deadline looms, multiple forces are in play for the scroll pieces that can grant them their greatest desire.
This is the summary for Shadow of the Fox, the first book in Julie Kagawa’s new young adult series, and it reads almost exactly like at least three different anime I remember from the late 1990s/early 2000s, especially Dragonball Z (which even describes how to summon a wish-granting dragon that has been broken into pieces and scattered across the land). That doesn’t intrinsically make the novel bad – this type of story is popular for anime and Japanese pop culture because of its deep roots in more historic Japanese culture – but it does make the plot line a bit… predictable for those familiar with Japanese mythology, anime, and manga.
But before we get too far ahead, let’s talk about the actual story.
The narrative alternates between the main characters points of view: Suki, a young woman who worked as a maid for the nastiest woman (and most prized consort) in the palace; Yumeko, a half-human, half-kitsune (fox spirit, a sort of illusionist and trickster) girl who was raised in a monastery in the middle of nowhere; and Kage Tatsumi, the wielder of a demon-possessed blade and member of a samurai clan well known for their stealth and less well-known for their mystical abilities. Once this cast of characters is introduced, the story sadly begins to slow. We follow Tatsumi as he handles a mission, deals with his demon blade, and reports back to his supervisors, all while keeping his mind as blank and emotionless as possible to keep the demon from emerging. Suki’s storyline I won’t go into, but she is little more than an observer, and Yumeko (my personal favorite) played a few tricks, took a walk in the woods, had tea with a tanuki (a raccoon/dog spirit), and spoke with the Master at the monastery. Honestly, it was a bit boring.
Fortunately, however, things take off before you’ll be ready give up on the story. The monastery is attacked by a horde of yokai (minor demons), lead by an oni (an extremely strong ‘king’ demon), who are all out to get take possession of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. Yumeko escapes, through knowledge of her home, trickery and illusion, and takes the scroll with her, hidden from view. In the meantime, Tatsumi has been sent by the Lady of his clan to retrieve the scroll at any cost, and runs into Yumeko in the woods; she lies and convinces him the scroll was never there in the first place. To locate it, they must travel into the capital to find the only monk who knows the location of the hidden temple the scroll was supposedly sent to (and, coincidently, where the Master told Yumeko to go). As they travel together, and pick up a few stragglers along the way, Yumeko and Tatsumi get closer, with Tatsumi beginning to feel more and more, and Yumeko relying on him in a way she’s never dealt with before.
All in all, the story pulls heavily from Japanese mythology, incorporates a fair amount of Japanese (which is a little frustrating if you know the words, as it’s all done in the “foreign word, or translation, she carried” sort of way), and will still definitely appeal to fans of anime and/or Japanese pop culture. I quite enjoyed the novel overall, but was dismayed by the slow start and the almost episodic feel of Tatsumi and Yumeko’s travels across the country. It’s also clearly setting up a love-interest sort of relationship between the two, even though Yumeko has known little outside her life in the remote monastery and Tatsumi literally has burned emotions out of his mind. On top of that, the story ends so abruptly that I found myself flipping the last page back and forth (digitally, at least) convinced I was missing something.
Even with that, though, the writing was good overall, and Shadow of the Fox is a strong start to a new series. I will be looking for the sequel once it comes out – because I am intrigued to see what happens next.