Mini-Reviews: Shadow of the Fox & Traitor’s BladeShadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
Series: Shadow of the Fox #1
Published by Harlequin on October 2, 2018
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Source: Received from publisher

In this first book of her Japanese mythology-inspired Shadow of the Fox trilogy, bestselling author Julie Kagawa weaves a stunning, high-stakes tale of alliances and deceptions, characters who aren’t what they seem, and secrets that could change the fate of the world.

Every millennium, whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers has the power to call the great Kami Dragon from the sea and ask for one wish. The time is near...and the missing pieces of the scroll will be sought throughout the land of Iwagoto.

When demons kill half-kitsune Yumeko’s adoptive family, she’s forced to flee her home with one part of the ancient scroll. Fate thrusts her into the path of mysterious samurai Kage Tatsumi, who is Yumeko’s best hope for survival. But he’s under orders to retrieve the scroll. An uneasy alliance forms, and Yumeko begins the deception of a lifetime, knowing her secrets are more than a matter of life or death—they’re the key to the fate of the world.

Books in the Shadow of the Fox trilogy:
Shadow of the Fox
Soul of the Sword
Night of the Dragon

The Shadow of the Fox is the series opener for a YA fantasy story inspired by Japanese legends – and feudal Japanese history. 

Three very different teenagers find their fates intertwined when they become tangled up in the hunt for a powerful scroll capable of raising ancient magics. Yumeko, a half-kitsune girl raised by monks whose mischievous side is matched only by her puzzling naivety; Kage Tatsumi, a not-quite-samurai chosen to carry a sword possessed by a demon; and Suki, the ghost of a lowly palace maid killed for seeing too much. Different political, martial, and mystical factions are all vying for the scroll, and they aren’t above using a trio of kids to do their dirty work…

Most of this story is spent establishing Yumeko and Tatsumi as characters, and the world they inhabit. The Shadow of the Fox has a ton of action, with many side quests on the hunt for the scroll, but their function is to introduce new players and flesh out the world. Essentially, this is a “journey story” where most of the plot involves moving from point A to point B. I wasn’t bored by it, but I wasn’t thrilled either. I liked Yumeko’s characterization, which felt quite unexpected: she’s a pure-hearted and extremely literal girl without much cunning. Tatsumi felt a bit tired by comparison, with his harsh personality and tortured psyche. Given events at the end of the book, I expect his character will develop a lot in the sequel.

I enjoyed the mythology here, which draws primarily on Japanese legends but also incorporates some pan-Asian elements. You can expect to encounter everything from kitsune to yokai, kami, and hungry ghosts. If that sounds appealing to you, check it out! I think this would be a great introduction to Japanese-inspired fantasy and would definitely recommend it to fans of the popular kdrama Tale of the Nine-Tailed.

A note on the audiobook: unfortunately I can’t recommend it. The audiobook boasts three narrators (one for each POV character), but only one delivers a strong performance. Among other audiobook crimes, the narrator responsible for Yumeko’s perspective mispronounced most of the Japanese vocab. Yikes! I would’ve enjoyed the reading experience more had I read it in print.

Mini-Reviews: Shadow of the Fox & Traitor’s BladeTraitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell
Series: Greatcoats #1
Published by Quercus Publishing on February 10, 2014
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy
Pages: 384
Source: Received from publisher

When every noble is a tyrant and every knight is a thug, the only thing you can really trust is a traitor's blade.

The Three Musketeers meets Joe Abercrombie via Mark Lawrence: 'Guaranteed to increase household swashbuckling by 100%,' says Library Journal

The Greatcoats - legendary heroes, arbiters of justice . . . or notorious traitors?

The Greatcoats are travelling magistrates bringing justice to all . . . or at least they were, before they watched the Dukes impale their King's head on a spike. Now the land's heroes are reviled as traitors, their Greatcoats in tatters.

'One hell of a good book' - Conn Iggulden, author of the Sunday Times Top Five bestseller The Gates of Athens
Facio, Kest and Brasti have been reduced to working as mercenaries, but when they find their employer dead - and are forced to watch as the killer plants evidence framing them for the murder - they realise things are about to get even worse.

For the royal conspiracy that began with overthrowing an idealistic young king is spreading to Rijou, the most corrupt city in the land, and the life of a young girl hangs in the balance.

When every noble is a tyrant and every knight is a thug, the only thing you can really trust is a traitor's blade.

Traitor’s Blade is fantasy’s answer to the swashbuckling adventures of the iconic heroes from The Three Musketeers. Most of the story involves fighting for king, country, and justice – and your friends – and the dynamics between the three Greatcoats (the Musketeers, if you will) are a highlight.

Falcio val Mond and his friends Kest and Brasti are the last of the Greatcoats, the travelling magisters of the late King Paelis. Once a celebrated force responsible for upholding the laws of the land, they’re now reviled and considered traitors. With their country now governed by horribly cruel and corrupt Dukes, Falcio and his friends do their best to scrape by in an effort to fulfill their King’s dying wish. If only it weren’t so damnably cryptic! Whatever their mission, completing it is nigh impossible with seemingly every other character out to kill them.

Traitor’s Blade is packed with non-stop action, with Falcio and friends facing a constant wave of obstacles for them to fight their way through. Author Sebastien de Castell writes his swashbuckling with flair, so readers who especially love fight scenes will find a lot to enjoy here. Personally, I could take or leave fight scenes. What kept me interested were the series of moral dilemmas the characters faced. The role of authority, obedience to higher powers like government and religion, and the ethics of taking a life are all tackled by Falcio, Kest, and Brasti. Because let’s face it, the Greatcoats might be the good guys but they’re also doing a whole heap of killing.

There’s a shift in tone about midway through the story that I found quite jarring: Falcio’s narrative voice moves from being sarcastic with a dark undertone to just plain old dark without much warning. I understand that the purpose is to illustrate how traumatized he is – although the text doesn’t name it as such, he clearly has PTSD – but I think de Castell was too heavy-handed. Some of the scenes where Falcio’s continuous, unrelenting suffering took center stage felt gratuitous, especially the scene where he receives “healing by sex” that actually read (to me, anyway) as sexual assault. Don’t be fooled by the opening chapters, because Traitor’s Blade is not a lighthearted adventure story.