Double rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)
*I received a copy of both books via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*
Shadow of the Fox follows young Yumeko who is forced on the run when her temple is destroyed by demons in search of a piece of an ancient text which summons one wish once every thousand years. With nothing but her kitsune powers, she teams up with a samurai who wields a demon-possessed sword and is unaware the very thing he’s searching for is hidden within the folds of Yumeko’s clothes.
This book was quite fascinating. Inspired by feudal Japan, I found Shadow of the Fox quite refreshing in the first chapters. It’s a great mix of samurai fighting, demon magic and folklore. Every thousand years, a dragon returns to grant one wish to the bearer of its scroll. Fearful of its power, the scroll ripped and scatted across the lands. Yumeko is a kitsune who was taught to hide from her abilities, making her quite a naive little child in the beginning chapters. But once evil descends on her temple, she is thrown right out of her comfort zone and into the real world where foes are at her every step, and every village seems to be hiding a secret that can kill. Tatsumi is our brooding love interest, who fears that he’s unable to carry the sword he wields.
The rest of the group that ends up in Yumeko’s journey are the highlight of this series. Despite the dark theme, they’re quite cheeky and unique that provides a strange presence of entertainment that I hadn’t expected from the book.
Despite enjoying their group dynamic, their mini-adventure detracts from the main plot for a vast majority of this book that felt quite formulaic. Yumeko and Tatsumi are clearly on opposite ends of each other, and their journey was just one long love angst that I didn’t really have much interest in. While I really enjoyed Yumeko’s growth and it felt like it kept digressing a lot. There’s a lot of switching up: one minute she’s naïve, and the next page she’s cunning before returning to appearing like a common fool for the sake of the comedic moment. The inner struggle between Tatsumi and the sword deserved more than what we’re given.
Overall, despite my initial thoughts, I did enjoy this. Towards the end, we face a battle of epic proportions. There’s a lot of action and intrigue that makes this book worth it, but I just felt quite disappointed that the events didn’t read as well connected as I expected.
Soul of the Sword picks up right where Shadow ends with Yukemo and her new band of friends on the run and still on their way to take her piece of the scroll to the Steel Feather temple. Now, Kage Tatsumi has fallen victim to the great demon Hakaimono. Locked away in his own mind, Hakaimono is now in control and joins forces with the Master of Demons to set himself truly free. Continuing the dual perspectives, we now follow the demon and Yumeko as their paths slowly reunite to a dangerous outcome.
I would say my feelings about this series didn’t change much after reading the sequel. I’m still stuck in this middle zone where I can’t really figure out if I really like this series or not a fan of this series. What I loved about Shadow does follow through into Soul, the secrecy and Japanese folklore with a lot of angrier demons on our lead’s tail. We now have our new perspective of Hakaimono, who is more violent and vengeful as he makes his way across the land. I wasn’t that huge on Hakaimono’s voice as it barely sounds like a demon and more like a ghost of Tatsumi. A better choice would’ve been keeping Tatsumi’s voice and following him through the demon’s journey.
Yumeko is more consolidated and confident than book one, and here we finally see her grow into the powers she was turned away from. Despite being locked away spiritually, we get a lot more development behind Tatsumi, which was quite surprising, and I really enjoyed learning where he started and how he becomes the person we meet in book one.
Like in the first book, we watch the characters travel from place to place. In Shadow, it didn’t bother me as much as I genuinely enjoyed watched all the characters interact with each other and bouncing off each other was quite hilarious. In Soul of the Sword, it felt a lot more dragged on. Like, we were being pulled along until we got to the moment where everything truly mattered in the end, and the cliff-hanger sets the scene for the final book. This book felt like a buffer where the reader is stringed along, the real bulk and action of the book comes from the last quarter and then we’re left with the ending and the real work will happen in the final book.
The characters remained their brilliant selves and came through in this book. I really appreciate how well they all held up despite the weaker plot and the story follows quite seamlessly with little interruption. Soul of the Sword had a much dark tone but still kept the initial flair and interest I had in the story. Despite my own disagreements with the book, I am actually interested and very invested in seeing this entire story through.