I read the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa ages ago and really loved it a lot. It was probably one of my first introductions to the Fae world and it was fantastic. But I never read anything else by the author, for whatever reasons. Even this book wasn’t really on my radar, and I probably wouldn’t have thought about it except for my decision to read more Asian author’s works this year, and like always the brilliant recommendation from my dearest friend Nandini. I have now come to a decision that I will blindly pick up any book she loves because she is always right. And this book was no different.
As it’s been a while, I don’t really remember much about the author’s writing style. So, reading this book felt like discovering a new author. Right from the first page, we are introduced to a new world – one with its own myths and legends and stories, an interesting political system, the legendary samurai warriors, the ascetic monks who are much more than just spiritual guides, magic users and blood mages, and a very fascinating variety of supernatural creatures. I loved being in this world and getting to know more about it. I’m not an anime or manga fan, so I don’t know any Japanese terms which made it difficult to keep track of all the words that the author was using initially, but I got used to them quickly after a little note taking and then it was a joy to read. I love when author’s toe the line between using many native words and explaining them to unfamiliar readers. Kagawa explains in some cases, leaving us to understand some ourselves by gathering the context and I really enjoyed that process – I don’t mind putting in that effort to understand a new mythology and culture which I know nothing about. This book is also mostly a journey, with the characters on a quest and these are my favorite kinds of books. The author manages to introduce us to interesting legends and other side characters during the MCs journey and it made the story all the more fun. The pacing is pretty slow but even throughout until it ended with a bang and I kind of liked it that way. The action sequences are very well written and I was thrilled every second of reading them, wondering how the fight would unfold.
Yumeko is a kitsune who has lived her whole life among the monks at the Silent Winds temple and it makes her slightly naive, innocent and just enjoying playing pranks on others. However, having to suddenly lose her home and the only people she has even known, and then travel to an unknown place on a high stakes quest is a huge challenge for her – but she never balks from this duty. She is young and doesn’t know the way of the world but is cunning because of her half Fox nature, has no clue what to do in social situations, her total ignorance of sarcasm is hilarious and she is just so trusting – everything about her endeared her to me so much. I just wanted her to be ok and protect her. But it’s in this innocence lies her strength, her resolve to do the right thing.
Tatsumi on the other hand started off as a cold blooded demonslayer, who has to always control his emotions so as to not be possessed by the monster in his sword. But getting to know his terrible backstory was horrifying – how he has been raised and trained to be an emotionless killer, a weapon to be yielded with no thoughts of his own, loyal only to his clan. But the journey he undertakes with Yumeko, albeit disgruntingly completely turns his life upside down. She gets him to let down his guard, possibly trust someone other than his clan, even start having thoughts and emotions unrelated to his mission. It’s a revelation to himself, and watching him fight it was both delightful and painful. But the tentative friendship that develops between them is beautiful and while there is a possibility of romance, it’s too slow burn to even contemplate yet – but they do start caring for each other and it’ll be interesting to see what happens next after that cliffhanger ending. The side characters who they meet during their journey together make up this quirky group whom I have come to love and can’t imagine anything bad happening to them at all.
There are so many underlying themes in the book that make up the core and heart of this story, loyalty being one of the most important. Yumeko is loyal to her monks but it’s love that guides her, Tatsumi to his clan but it’s more due to being trained whereas Okame seems to have been betrayed by those he was loyal to and now questions the point of it. But it’s the loyalty they unwittingly develop for each other that guides them on their journey ultimately, even if they try to deny it all the time. Yumeko might be very naive and innocent, but it’s her inherent trusting nature that forms another major crux of the story – her belief that everyone should be given a chance despite their past actions, that there is always a hope for redemption if given the option, that there is always something more to the story behind someone’s actions. I loved this faith she had in second chances and how it informs every decision she makes, even in dreadful circumstances. It might not always help her in the short term, but I think her belief that every kindness will have unknown consequences might just have a huge impact in the later books and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
Finally, I just want to say that this Japanese mythology inspired fantasy was a delight to read and I would highly recommend it. If you are a fan of reading about a group of unlikely heroes undertaking a quest, then this book is perfect for you. This one has everything you can ask for in a fantasy – great worldbuilding, wonderful friendships, magic and monsters and prophecies. I absolutely loved this one and I’m actually glad being late to the party, because I only have to wait less than two months for the sequel and to know what the next journey for these heroes is going to be like.