Books Books

Shadow of the Fox

Since I completely forgot to do a review last week, I’d love to do two this week. However, I haven’t really finished reading something new, and I’d rather save some more of the older series I’ve read for reviews when I haven’t read something recently. So, instead, I’ll just stick with the one I was planning to do last week.

The last OwlCrate I received had two books in it for me to read and enjoy. Because I have so so many books on my to be read pile, it’s taken me a while to get to just one of them. I’ll get to the other eventually this year, but for now, I recently decided to read one of them, and I was flailing around and so happy with it, so of course it’s going to be the next book I review.

Shadow of the Fox. Okay, it’s already got me with the name. The cover’s beautiful, with a hint of mystery and intrigue. Then I notice it’s by Julie Kagawa? Yep, already invested and sure that I’m going to love it.

I first found Julie Kagawa when I discovered Talon. The concept of dragons in human bodies, infiltrating our world? Beautiful. I loved it so much. Then I discovered her Iron Fey series. I’m a sucker for Fey. Especially a good story of them, which I found this to be. (Haven’t managed to track down the second part of that series though, sadly, so I feel as though I’m left with an itch that needs to be scratched).

I know with my previous review, Girls of Paper and Fire I spent a lot of time happily ranting about the romantic storyline, and how much I loved it, and the representation it offered. I don’t think I went as deeply into how much I loved the Malaysian representation. (Which I did, very much.) I am a huge sucker for diversity. Well, not a sucker. I wouldn’t say that you could write any old thing and have it be diverse and I’d be all for it. That being said, I do generally find myself very excited when I pick up something that’s popular and has a non-caucasian, or non-straight main character. It gets me excited. Needless to say, I was very happy when I found that this book was set in a very Japanese-styled world.

So, sidenote here, I’m a total weeb. I love anime. Not even slightly ashamed to say it. Which may have sealed the fate of my enjoyment of this story. I loved the casual mix-ins of Japanese and English. The writing is in English, but there are small phrases here and there which are Japanese, much as the culture of the world is based on Japan. From kitsune to samurais. The small “arigatou’s” and using “ano” as well or instead of “um” made me strangely happy.

Of course, Japapnese culture is so much more than the language. The lore in the world was absolutely beautiful. Being a huge fan of kitsunes before now, (what’s not to love about mysterious foxes?) having a main character as one was wonderful. What was even better, was how Kagawa managed to stay true to the myths. It can be all too easy to say you like the mischievousness of something, like Fey, dragons, or kitsune, only to cut it out or cool it down because it makes characters less sympathetic to readers.

Yumeko was incredibly sympathetic. That she was raised by monks who tried to encourage her humanity, compared to her natural curiousness and desire to play tricks on people, created a wonderful contrast between those two sides of her. What was even better? Not only were there moments of introspection where she fought against pulling tricks, but she actually pulled tricks.

I loved it so so much. The story was wonderful, the characters had a lot of depth to them and I found them very believable. The world was absolutely beautiful.

I will absolutely most definitely be reading this series again at one point. Though, one thing I will say, which absolutely does not detract in any way from my love of the book, is that I can draw some correlation between Kagawa’s works. To be fair, I mostly only noticed this earlier, and specifically while I was writing this review. I did notice the similarity between her choice in protagonists (typically mischievous non-human species. Although Meghan did start out as human). Then her love interest seems to be rather uptight, drilled into a certain way of life which is very contrary to the female protagonist. Finally, there’s an interesting and funny side character who has some of the more interesting lines at points as they don’t have as much invested in whatever quest the protagonist and love interest are on, but come along anyway. It’s a small thing, and by no means suggests that the stories are the same, though sometimes I enjoy noticing little similarities in an author’s work. It tells you so much about the author themselves.

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Girls of Paper and Fire

Like the vast majority of my book purchases, I came across Girls of Paper and Fire in QBD when I was randomly looking through the YA section for anything that might happen to take my fancy. The title and the cover drew me in, then I was sold when I read the blurb. Due to some enthusiasm on my part, as well as understanding, this review does contain a couple of minor spoilers. If you don’t wish to be spoiled, I recommend you read the book first.

Is it just me or is the whole “Royal Male Figure” gets what’s basically a harem a popular genre at the moment? Okay, it might just be me. But then, there’s The Selection series, which has the Prince in what’s essentially a The Bachelor situation, picking from a… well, a selection of pretty girls. Then there was Grace and Fury, a fantastic book that came in one of my OwlCrates (before I had to give it up ;_;) where the ruler, or in this case his heir, had a similar selection from a bunch of girls preened and polished to take on the role, to select three women for his wives/consorts. Then Girls of Paper and Fire… Okay, yeah, sure, it’s no Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, Evernight, House of Night, Cirque Du Freak, etc. Vampire craze, but maybe I’m not crazy in seeing a pattern here.

Beyond the blurb, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Girls of Paper and Fire when I first opened it up. Until I read the Author’s Note at the beginning. That Author’s Note made me desperately want to find Natasha Ngan and give her the biggest hug I could (if she wanted one).

I am so thankful for the existence of this book, and that it was apparently in one of the latest OwlCrate editions. (Sad I missed out on it through them, though it’s even more evidence that the OwlCrate people and I have a shared excellent taste!)

Ngan wrote this book because she knows that everyone deserves to have their story told. That’s how a gay Malaysian girl who had to deal with rape and abuse came to have her story told. (I am talking about Lei. I have no idea if Ngan is gay and has had to deal with rape and abuse, though all the more reason to hug her if she has.)

Lei was a wonderful character who I found myself feeling deeply for very quickly. Smart and strong, I found my heart breaking at her situation, even more so when we got to further know Wren, and Wren’s situation.

The world was immersive. I found myself vividly picturing the Moon and Steel caste walking around. From bird demons to wolf demons, and the bull Demon King, I could easily envision them as a part of the world, looking down on mere humans for not having the same abilities as them.

The story was absolutely stunning. I was cheering for Lei as she stood up against oppression every chance she got, and found myself saddened when she was kicked back down by those who are on top. The love story had me cheering (in so many ways. I cannot stress enough how much seeing a gay love story happen without very clear signposting on the book makes me happy.)

The characters were truly wonderful. From Lei, who stood up when she could, to the spoiled Bull King who played with his toys. Of course there’s Wren, strong, determined Wren. But mostly I found myself loving Ngan’s depiction of Aoki, if for no other reason than the truthful depiction of how not everyone who’s abused sees it that way. They can often overlook the bad times and think of the good. That, and her being the youngest of the girls being the one to see the King as kind makes the most sense, as when we’re younger we’re more eager to look for love in the wrong places, and see the tiniest things as signs of something better.

I cannot possibly recommend this book enough. It enraptured me, and as a lover of diversity in YA I want to throw it at as many people as possible to make them read it. That being said, it does deal with some very heavy topics, particularly rape and abuse, and I can understand that not everyone can handle such things. If you are one of those who can handle it, I highly recommend Girls of Paper and Fire, and I hope you find yourself as drawn in to Ngan’s world as I was.

I will most certainly be reading this again at some stage. Likely before the next one comes out. (If there’s not going to be a next one, I will protest quite vigorously!)