Soul of the Sword

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Shadow of the Fox. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Soul of the Sword was written by Julie Kagawa and first published in 2019. It is the second part of the Shadow of the Fox Trilogy, continuing Yumeko’s quest to deliver a fragment of the legendary Dragon scroll to the Steel Feather Temple. As the novel carries on directly where Shadow of the Fox (2018) left off, you really do need to read the novels in sequence to fully appreciate them.

Although Yumeko and her allies managed to defeat Lady Satomi’s forces, their victory came at a terrible cost. Hakaimono has escaped imprisonment from within Kamigoroshi and has completely taken over Tatsumi. The former demonslayer is now a prisoner in his own body, forced to watch as the monster exacts its bloody revenge on the Kage clan.

Although she is desperate to save Tatsumi, Yumeko does not know where to begin. Hakaimono is too powerful to be expelled by an exorcism and would surely rip apart anyone who tried. Yet a mysterious silver fox appears to her in a dream with a solution. If she can master the dark art of kitsune-tsuki – fox possession – she will be able to drive out Hakaimono from within.

Yet saving Tatsumi is not her biggest priority. Yumeko’s piece of the Dragon scroll still must be delivered to the Steel Feather Temple for safe keeping. The trouble is, no one knows precisely where the temple is hidden. Will Yumeko and her friends be able to uncover its location, or will Genno’s army of yōkai, witches and oni find them first…

As with Shadow of the Fox, I am still torn in my feelings towards this series. I really do want to like them as I have a deep love of Japanese mythology, which is something that Kagawa really embraces in these stories. The Empire of Iwagoto is rife with all manner of yōkai, yurei, kami and demons, but what makes it more interesting is the inspiration it takes from Japanese culture as a whole. It is a world where failure to observe etiquette has lethal consequences, Bushido is a way of life and duty is expected to come before love. The novel is also accompanied by an extensive glossary to help the reader to keep tabs of all the creatures, terms and Japanese exclamations that fill the story.

While this setting did help to set the novel apart from the majority of young adult fantasy stories, I was disappointed to find that it merely dressed a very generic tale. There is nothing especially unique about the plot of Soul of the Sword. As I noted in my review of Shadow of the Fox, it really is just the tried and tested love story of a sheltered girl and brooding warrior. The magical McGuffin which is the Dragon scroll still only really exists at this stage to keep the plot moving, and the evil that Genno represents lacks any kind of subtlety.

To make matters worse still, Soul of the Sword is almost entirely filler. So much of the novel shifts between repeated discussions about how Yumeko and her friends need to save Tatsumi, and Haikamono lamenting about his time as a prisoner of the sword. While there is a lot of talking, this means that the story contains far less action than the previous instalment, which at least used its frequent yōkai encounters to keep the reader’s interest. Indeed, no actual plan to rescue Tatsumi is put in motion until around page 345 of a 425 page novel.

The narrative structure of Soul of the Sword also did not quite sit well with me. As with Kagawa’s previous series, The Talon Saga, the chapters alternate between four different characters – Yumeko the half-kitsune, Tatsumi the human warrior, Hakaimono the oni lord and Suki the ghost. The problem was that all of the voices of these characters were incredibly similar. Hakaimono in particular made this incredibly problematic. Not only were his chapters filled with almost gratuitous gore but his voice sounded like that of a teenage boy. He was supposed to be an all-powerful demon who had not tasted freedom in 400 years. I really did feel that there should have been something to distinguish his mode of speech from Tatsumi’s!

The novel also broke off at an incredibly dramatic moment while resolving very little. Really, this story just serves to act as a bridge between the first and final instalments of this trilogy. While the climatic battle against Genno’s forces was easily the most exciting part of the novel, it did not really feel as though the stakes were as high as they should have been. Really, it only existed to move the key characters to where they need to be for the final instalment.

In terms of characterisation, Soul of the Sword is a bit varied. While I did like the way that Yumeko and Tatsumi’s feelings for each other developed gradually over Shadow of the Fox, there seemed to be a bit of a jump in their relationship this time around. Tatsumi barely blinks when he discovers that Yumeko is a half-yōkai, despite the fact that this should make her is sworn enemy. Yumeko is also still almost insufferably naïve, particularly when it comes to understanding intimacy. He ability to overlook the fact that Daisuke and Okame are into each other was jaw dropping, despite the fact that the pair basically talk in innuendos!

I also felt that not enough time was devoted to showing Tatsumi’s struggle. While there are many chapters from the perspective of Hakaimono, there are very few that give any indication that Tatsumi is actively fighting his control. The final twist in their combined story arc also doesn’t make a great deal of sense, as it requires the oni lord showing a surprising amount of emotion for a character that supposedly is incapable of feeling any.

The secondary cast, however, get a lot more time to shine. While Reika is still a bit of a one-note character (and really should have been given more time to get through her personal tragedy), a lot of time was devoted to developing Daisuke and Okame’s romance. This is slow burning and incredibly sweet, showing their growing respect for one another and exploring the problems caused by their sharp social divide. I can’t wait to see where this will take them in the final instalment.

So, all in all, I was unfortunately left disappointed by Soul of the Sword. While I do like the setting and the general idea behind this novel, I personally felt that the plot, pacing and characterisation had a lot of problems. As I have gotten this far, I will certainly be reading the final instalment when it is released next year and really hope that it brings things back on track.

Soul of the Sword can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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