Having loved how Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa, I picked up the sequel with no hesitation at all. I’m a sucker for anything involving mythology and YA fantasy, especially a story with characters as lovable as Yumeko and Tatsumi. Diving into Kagawa’s crafted world once more, I enjoyed the heart pounding journey of the fox girl and her unlikely crew once again.
Similar to the first book, we have shifting character perspectives however we add a new member to the POV characters. Suki’s appearance has a purpose which I absolutely loved in Soul of the Sword. She was given so much time in Shadow of the Fox I feared we would only see her as a plot device and nothing more. Though her part was not as central as Yumeko’s, it was good to see her given some development rather than a superficial appearance to show the magnitude of others and their involvement.
The central two characters in Soul of the Sword are Yumeko and now Hakaimono rather than Tatsumi. Both of them have a vested interest in Tatsumi and the difference between the two regarding the Kage Demonslayer allows for an interesting dichotomy. Yumeko views the world from a more innocent perspective. I hesitate to call it Naïve as it feels like something more than that. She comes to understand what the Kage are and what they are willing to do to her and her companions as well as the Demonslayer. It’s clear she understands the gravity of how dangerous those she encounters is yet she maintains this positive attitude that I adore. The impossible situation she finds herself in is perilous and fraught with danger, yet she pushes on and grows as the story progresses. She’s learned from her experiences and shows cleverness when confronted with problems and new adversaries which shows a fantastic growth of character. There are moments that, as a reader, a direct comparison can be made to the Yumeko of Shadow of the Fox and you can see just how much she’s grown from that scared little half kitsune.
While Yumeko’s character development was fantastic and enjoyable, Hakaimono was rather lacking in comparison. He’s given so much time in the novel yet it feels as though he’s no different than when he began. However it’s not as big a detriment here as it would be in other stories. Hakaimono is a rather static character and it makes sense in the context of Tatsumi and Yumeko’s story. He’s their antagonist with a grip around something near and dear to Yumeko. My only issue is that it feels like there was more potential to explore with this. I would have loved to see more conflict in a monster never to have been believed to ever know compassion.
Again building off of the excellent worldbuilding of Shadow of the Fox, we are treated to more fantastic creatures inspired by Japanese mythology and a world with a carefully crafted mythos. The perspective of Hakaimono allows us to learn more about the Oni, Yokai, and other spirits of the world. The way Kagawa illustrates various new locations, their histories and their people, really makes it feel as though it could be lifted from Japanese Mythology. And just as in book 1, the incorporation of mythological elements is done in a way that doesn’t break the story. Hakaimono, knowledgeable of the spiritual world around him, functions as the perfect guide for us to learn about them as we read.
The odds are stacked against Yumeko and her friends yet there’s always a sense of hope as the story moves forward. It’s an impossible task they are given and time after time they are repeated of this fact yet they approach it with both reason and emotion. The combination of motivations feels a lot more genuine as there’s enough weight behind both. The plot emphasizes this and allows for an exploration of the world, the history of Tatsumi, the Kage, and the Oni while never hampering the adventure Yumeko is on. It’s all seamlessly woven in for a fun and exciting tale.
In book 1 where there were several adventures that Yumeko and Tatsumi found themselves in, Soul of the Sword has a more focused feel as the gravity of the situation demands their full attention. Because of this difference in tone, Soul of the Sword has far more emotional weight in terms of consequence than Shadow of the Fox. Whereas book 1 had more of a focus on duty and honor, the sequel focuses heavily on the emotional impact of their journey, of their actions and consequences. All of this leads up to an exciting climactic clash that, unfortunately, feels as though it ended a bit too quickly.
One of the moments that made me happiest as I started reading Soul of the Sword was how Kagawa fixed my only real issue with the writing style in the first book. The beginning of each chapter starts with the name of the perspective character, allowing us to know who we’re viewing the story from. This is big as the first book had a problem of feeling a bit messy as it took a moment to understand whose perspective we were viewing the story from. Other than that the writing style is just as enjoyable as in Shadow of the Fox, easy to understand, follow, and get lost in.
There is maybe one thing that could be considered rather jarring to some though I found it resolved with the use of naming who the POV character is at the start of each chapter. Suki’s chapters are written in third person perspective while Yumeko’s and Hakaimono’s are written in first person narrative. This was similar to Shadow of the Fox however in book 1 it was overshadowed by the more glaring issue of confused perspective. Here it’s not as big an issue though it does come off as a bit of a strange choice. Even finishing the story it’s not quite clear why Suki’s perspective is in third person.
What Writer’s can learn from this Novel
Julie Kagawa creates wonderfully endearing and fascinating characters in a world full of mystery and intrigue. There’s so much that an author can learn from her in these two books. But what I find most enjoyable was the emphasis on writing a story based on hope and being genuine. The protagonists are trying to save the world as so many others do but the hope isn’t revolved around that. The “save the world” plot takes a back seat to a real, more interesting character driven hope in rescuing their friend Tatsumi. Lately I’ve been finding the world of literature filled with dark and gritty characters and worlds lost of hope and far too grim. It’s a breath of fresh air to find a story that isn’t so naively light hearted but still so full of hope and a genuine happiness to the characters. As a reader, I found the characters so endearing as a result that I was excited and scared for the sake of Yumeko and her party members.