Thanks to HQ Young Adult and Netgalley for providing me with a Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.
This is the second Japanese inspired YA I’ve read recently after Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean. I’ve held a lifelong personal interest in Japanese mythology and legends and for anyone who shares this interest, you’ll know one of the coolest aspects of Japanese mythology are Yokai. Yokai are supernatural monsters, ghosts and demons and there is a whole fascinating world of these to explore. My personal favourite is the Kasa-obake, a one-eyed umbrella that hops around on one leg. Yup.
This story follows Yumeko, a young girl who is half-Kitsune, a type of fox yokai. Yumeko is tasked to deliver a magical scroll to another temple to keep it out of the hands of…some other people who want it. Honestly, I didn’t really get the whole thing with the scroll. Some bad dudes want the scroll because.. reasons. Something about an evil dragon I think. Maybe? The first half of the novel is quite slow and meandering, and the second half is definitely more action-packed and fast-paced.
On her journey Yumeko is joined by Tatsumi, a mysterious demon slayer who is also seeking the scroll. Later, they are also joined by Okame, a disgruntled Ronin and Daisuke, a silver haired bishounen (if you’ve watched any anime or played JRPGs you know the type). The main characters are likeable enough, Okame was a standout for me and he interjected some much-needed humour and charm into the dynamic. Yumeko and Tatsumi provide the two main points of view and also an annoyingly oblivious romance. Lots of mysterious stomach flutters and pondering what it could possibly be…just your standard issue YA instalove I’m afraid. I struggled to tell the difference between Yumeko and Tatsumi’s viewpoints as they were both very similar. This was a little strange considering one was a sheltered young girl with no real knowledge of the world, and the other a hardened warrior from a mysterious shadow clan.
If you’re thinking “gosh, this sounds a bit like the plot of an anime or RPG” you’re not too far off the mark. The narrative is made up of a series of mini adventures (think sidequests) which I found to be far more interesting than the main plot. The characters have an annoying habit of explaining everything through some clumsy exposition and the dialogue can be slightly jarring and cheesy. This is also yet another book where random non-English words are interspersed in the dialogue. Having recently read Enchantée, I despaired to see this creeping in yet again. Can this trend just stop please? It’s just weird.
The setting of the novel feels authentic and I thought the world building was done well. The sheer diversity of Yokai included was fun but felt a bit like yokai bingo sometimes. I liked the sidequ.. I mean scene in the village with the Gaki the best.
When I was reading this novel I didn’t want to review it thinking “Oh it’s couched in Japanese culture so it must be like anime or JRPGs!” but it really just was. It felt like the novelisation of a game or a manga/anime and the character tropes were familiar to me as someone who is familiar with these genres. Overall, I enjoyed this. The Yokai were awesome and the setting and world were interesting enough for me to look over the things that bugged me about it.
If you want to learn more about Yokai, this website is a fun resource – http://yokai.com/finder/
I’d also recommend checking out Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean if you are interested in more Japanese themed YA.