Book Review: Soul of the Sword

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Soul of the Sword (Shadow of the Fox #2)
by Julie Kagawa
YA Fantasy
304 pages
Expected publication June 25, 2019, by Inkyard Press


(Possible spoilers for Shadow of the Fox)

 

After the events at the end of-of Shadow of the Fox, Yumeko has a choice: try to save Tatsumi, or do as she promised and deliver her piece of the scroll to the Steel Feather monastery in the mountains far away. This choice is made more complicated when they are drawn into the Shadow Clan’s potentially deadly politics. And far away, in a haunted forest, a demon army is rising to conquer the lands and destroy anyone and anything in their way. But Yumeko has hidden strengths– ones that even she doesn’t know about and that she must master in order to save Tatsumi and potentially the world.

In this second installment of the Shadow of the Fox trilogy, American author Julie Kagawa continues her tale of Yumeko, naïve, half-kitsune (fox spirit) girl and her eclectic group of friends as they travel with her to the mysterious Steel Feather monastery. Now that the reader has met them and knows their personalities, Soul of the Sword offers a deeper insight into their personalities and relationships, and their pasts and regrets. But it is primarily Yumeko’s story. During their journey, she continues to learn about love and life and her place in the world.

In a landscape of YA fantasies populated by snide, sword-wielding heroines whose romances often take over the story, sweet Yumeko with her mischievous spirit and illusory fox-magic is a surprising breath of fresh air, proving that a heroine need not wander around kicking ass to be strong. Moody teenagers who solve their problems by punching things need not apply here. Loyalty, trust, and respect are the qualities most valued by our intrepid heroes, and even if they don’t see these aspects within themselves, their friends see them. It’s what keeps them together in spite of the forces seeking to drive them apart and destroy them.

“A feeling of acute longing and homesickness washed through me, nearly bringing tears to my eyes. So much had happened since the night the demons burned down the temple and Master Isao had entrusted me with the scroll. I was keeping safe, but just barely. Everywhere I turned, it seemed the was someone else who wanted the scroll, be it a demon, and emperor, a blood mage, or a daimyo. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep it hidden, and one mistake or accident could cost everyone their lives. But I would keep trying. I had promised I would deliver this scroll to the Steel Feather temple, and I would keep that promise even if it killed me.”

While Yumeko’s innocence is still a part of Soul of the Sword, the tone has taken a darker turn, and we hear very little from Shadow of the Fox hero, Tatsumi. Instead, one of the prominent viewpoint characters is the demon Hakaimono, whose presence takes the story into that dark region, specifically into the more hellish realms of Japanese folklore. Demons and ghosts abound, but the story’s lightness is not drowned out by the darkness.

Though Kagawa’s prose is not the most refined, it suits the story and Yumeko in particular. It is straightforward and light and doesn’t try to be more flowery and elegant than the story requires, just like Yumeko herself. This isn’t to say that the writing doesn’t tell an intricate story– it does. Our heroes have complicated relationships that change and grow throughout the story, right up to the end when a dramatic twist changes everything forever.

In a YA landscape filled with shades of the same story and the same Strong Female Characters rudely cutting their way through a field of enemies, Yumeko is a refreshing change who shows that even innocence can be a strength. Fans of Shadow of the Fox will enjoy this second outing and, thanks to a suspenseful ending, will eagerly await the third book.


(Thanks to NetGalley and Inkyard Press for providing me with an ebook ARC in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my opinion in any way.)

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