One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.
Now he has broken free.
Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has one task: to take her piece of the ancient and powerful scroll to the Steel Feather temple in order to prevent the summoning of the Harbinger of Change, the great Kami Dragon who will grant one wish to whomever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. But she has a new enemy now. The demon Hakaimono, who for centuries was trapped in a cursed sword, has escaped and possessed the boy she thought would protect her, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan.
Hakaimono has done the unthinkable and joined forces with the Master of Demons in order to break the curse of the sword and set himself free. To overthrow the empire and cover the land in darkness, they need one thing: the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. As the paths of Yumeko and the possessed Tatsumi cross once again, the entire empire will be thrown into chaos.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED JUNE 18, 2019
CW: violence, gore, body horror, suicide mentions, loss of a loved one, animal death, graphic injury
Getting the approval for this book had me over the moon, because Shadow of the Fox way back when was actually my first eARC (and it was 5 stars, mind you)! So naturally, I was excited for Soul of the Sword, and I’m really pleased to say it paid off!
We pick up directly after the events of Shadow of the Fox, in the wake of the destruction Hakaimono has wrought, including his possession of Tatsumi. There’s not a beat missed between installments, and already the pressure is on: Yumeko still has to take her piece of the Dragon scroll to the Steel Feather temple, but she also has to somehow save Tatsumi and avoid death by Hakaimono in the process. Not to mention Tatsumi’s overseers have gotten involved, complicating everything.
Overall, this makes Soul of the Sword less of a travel story and more of a political games story. It’s not without its action scenes (more on those in a moment!), but given that Yumeko has to navigate the wiles of Lady Hanshou, there’s an element of thinking ahead of the enemy, of outsmarting the figures standing in Yumeko’s way. I actually almost preferred the travel narrative better, though, because Soul of the Sword felt…slow, up until the latter half of the book, when the action picks up at last. At least while they were traveling in the last book, there were new characters and new yokai popping up, setting the stage while remaining engaging. This time, though, some history lessons and some chapters from the POV of the antagonist just weren’t cutting it for me.
But when that action did pick up? Oh man. Julie Kagawa hasn’t strayed from shaping up some intense fight scenes in this one, and they are a little graphic in some places to boot (so steel yourself for that if that makes you uneasy). The action is so easy to picture, and so fluid. In some ways, it’s a little reminiscent of the anime fight scenes I’m familiar with: fluid action, pauses to announce intentions and aspirations and introductions, unusual and almost supernatural displays of speed and strength, and a deep-rooted concern for one’s fellow fighters who are also now friends with a close bond. The good stuff, in other words!
I’m especially pleased with how independent Yumeko is becoming, and the consequences of her taking matters into her own hands. She isn’t always fully prepared for the results of the choices she makes, especially in a pinch, and I love that she’s starting to balance her compassionate, gentle trickster side with some steel. I also love that she worries about introducing that steel, about how ruthless she may have to be to succeed. It makes her a very human character, and I’m so fond of her.
Bonus points for her finally getting a slightly better grip on sarcasm. She’s such a delight.
I also feel like I should mention the queer rep in the book. On the one hand, I’m really happy that we see two queer characters right there on the page! On the other hand, they’re not just the only ones we meet, but we only see them through Yumeko’s eyes. It’s this mix of good and bad representation, where they’re present and they’re protagonists of pretty solid importance (yay!), but they also feel like props or puppets in a way, only playing out their relationship while being unwittingly spied on and wondered about by the POV character. Yumeko never really talks to the characters about their relationship, and really, never talks to them at all beyond the mission they share. It makes for some flat traveling companions, which disappoints me for sure, especially when I think the dynamic could be so fantastic with a little more development.
Granted, I am reviewing an arc, and there should be at least one more book. Hopefully this will improve.
In the end, I don’t think Soul of the Sword was nearly as good as Shadow of the Fox. Its pace and character development left something to be desired. That said, I still think it’s a strong book in a series that has world-building I really enjoy, and the direction the plot is going promises a showdown that might involve gods as much as it involves monsters, and I plan to be on board for that.
And if you’re going to stick around for the series conclusion, make sure you get your hands on Soul of the Sword as soon as you can, whether it’s by pre-order or library request! It comes out June 18th, which is right around the corner!
So, have you read Soul of the Sword? If you did, what did you think? And which yokai are you most interested in reading more about? If you haven’t think you’ll give this series a try? Let’s chat!