I have a few physical books lying around in my house. The majority of them are textbooks, children’s books, and fables. There are some miscellaneous manga volumes, with some of them being volumes I bought myself.
As for novels, there’s a hardcover copy of Shadow of the Fox, the first book of a YA fantasy trilogy written by Julie Kagawa. My sibling had gotten it years ago (I don’t remember when, but considering all the stuff that came with it, it should be pretty close to its release), but since then it has been sitting idly on a bookshelf.
Earlier this month, I decided to read it since I couldn’t just let it sit there and collect dust. Plus, I needed to give my eyes a break from staring at a computer screen all day. I figured if there were going to be a book that could help ease back into non-manga works, this would be it. The setting is inspired by ancient Japan where both samurai and ninjas exist. The story centers around yokai (supernatural spirits in Japanese folklore). As someone fascinated with yokai-heavy or -inspired stories, I should at least find something good out of this novel, right?
For a book that I pegged as an intermediate between manga and non-manga literature, Shadow of the Fox came off way more manga-like than I initially thought.
Checking Off the Boxes
Yumeko is half-human, half-kitsune (fox spirit). She resides in a temple with monks who guard a piece of an ancient scroll. The complete, three-part scroll contains a prayer that, when recited, summons a wish-granting Dragon god. One night, the temple is attacked and destroyed by demons, leaving Yumeko as the sole survivor. Before their deaths, the monks task her to bring the scroll to a faraway temple that guards another piece. She soon runs into Kage Tatsumi, a ninja swordsman who possesses an evil demon and can tap into its powers when fighting. While disguised as an ordinary peasant girl, Yumeko manages to convince the ninja to accompany her to the temple without revealing that she has the scroll he is looking for. The rest of the book covers their travels to the temple.
All right, let’s see what similarities this book has with manga in general.
- Does it use honorifics (-chan, –san, etc)? Check.
- Is the protagonist a pure, kind character who insists on saving everyone, including strangers they just met, even when it would steer our main cast away from the main mission? Check. Look no further to Yumeko.
- Is there a main character (that is pretty much always male) who has an evil, powerful demon inside him that he can use but has to internally struggle against it in some way? Check. Tatsumi has an evil demon that can be used towards his sword, but he has to keep his emotions flat and low to avoid losing control. Think of Kurama (Naruto) or Sukuna (Jujutsu Kaisen), but it remains evil and always bloodthirsty.
- If it’s a quest-type story, do the characters gain more traveling companions or allies that were initially hostile but won over by the main character’s kindness and heroism? Check. One of them is even your token comic relief character!
- Are there clear standalone arcs? Check. During their travels, the characters often stop at a place and face some conflict they have to deal with (either because it’s a direct threat to them or because Yumeko insists on helping those who reside there).
(Also, I don’t know if this is common enough to be a trope, but the “gather all parts to summon a wish-granting dragon god” reminds me of the original Dragon Ball.)
There are other tropes (ex. “chosen one,” romance between the pure, kind girl and the dark, brooding boy), but those are tropes you’d see often in fiction (fantasy, romance, etc) in general. I’ll also acknowledge that the points I highlighted in the list above aren’t limited to manga. It’s just that they’re so prevalently seen in the manga and anime I’ve read/watched, and the book’s setting and tendency to drop Japanese terms doesn’t help.
To set the record straight, I found this book to be a fun read. Even though it did fall to some tropes, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. Execution is what matters, and Shadow of the Fox managed to use them well enough to be enjoyable.
Because the book is written and played out so similar to manga, I often tried to picture how some scenes would look if drawn out in manga panels. (I found it easier when it was a romantic scene… I have no idea what that implies about me and my reading preferences, but I’m not going to bother figuring that out.) This probably elevated my enjoyment quite a bit.
One thing to take note — the story is told through alternating 1st person POV between the two main characters, Yumeko and Tatsumi. There are some exceptions, such as the 3rd person POV chapters that serve as the first chapters of each “part.” The book doesn’t give any immediate indicators on who’s speaking, so it may be confusing at first.
If there’s one gripe I have with the story, it’s that the switch of narrators/POVs made the romance subplot too on the nose. I get that there’s supposed to be a “slow burn” romance between the two characters, but it sort of defeats the point when the readers can see into both characters’ heads, and all of their internal thoughts on their love interests are obvious yet repetitive. This is especially recurrent with Tatsumi’s POV. Although, to be fair, his whole “I must keep my emotions suppressed so the demon inside me won’t come out and cause havoc” personal conflict has always been pretty direct, so I guess it’s to be expected.
Plus, it is a YA book. And I may just be nitpicking at it since I haven’t been clicking with most romance stories in general (this goes with manga/anime as well). Maybe it’s just me wanting to read a romance that’s more on the subtle side of things, who knows.
If you’re not into trope-y stories with a lot of “padding” (or, as I call them, standalone arcs), then you might not enjoy it. Otherwise, I’d recommend it as just a fun read. I really like the world and its implementation of Japanese mythology. It’s written in a way that’s easy to visualize the scenes in the book playing out. And even though there is padding in the form of “arcs” or “side quests,” it never bothered me. Part of it is that I’m just used to seeing that, but it also helps build a sense of camaraderie between the main cast. If the plot was more streamlined, the relationships between characters would come off very forced and underdeveloped, especially when it comes to the slow burn romance between Yumeko and Tatsumi (even though I ultimately was indifferent towards that).
Will I be reading the next books in the series? Yes, why not? I don’t have the physical copies for those yet, but I’ll get hold of them at some point. It’s probably way too late for me to get any with bonus goods though.