The titular fox is Yumeko, a half-kitsune, who are known for their illusion magic and the tricks they like to play on unsuspecting people. Yumeko lived a sheltered life in the Silent Winds temple, where she was raised by monks who taught her to right from wrong, up from down, and how to control her nature and pass for human.
Her life at the temple is forever changed when a powerful Oni smashes the temple to bits and slaughters the monks. They sacrifice themselves so that Yumeko can escape with the magical Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. The torn Scroll is sought far and wide because if the pieces are reunited a dragon will come down and grant the bearer one wish. Ordered to hunt for the Scroll by his shadowy clan, Kage Tatsumi runs in Yumeko and she convinces him to escort her on her journey to the Steel Feather Temple, where she claims a piece of the Scroll is being kept. Unbeknownst to Yumeko, Tatsumi has dangerous secrets of his own, one of the those being that he is in possession of a demon sword that will take over his body forever if Tatsumi ever lets his guard down.
Most of Shadow of the Fox covers Yumeko and Tatsumi’s journey to find the location of the Steel FeatherTemple. They travel through the land encountering cursed villages, demon bears, witches and are hunted by a mysterious force that keeps sending demons after them. The Scroll itself and the eminent emergence of the dragon were McGuffins. They (and when I say they I really mean Yumeko) make friends along the way, like Okame who is a scoundrel and a ronin, and Taiyo Daisuke, a formidable swordsman and member of the royal family. These two add a needed bit of colour to Yumeko and Tatsumi’s quest.
Yumeko is lovable. She loves causing mischief and playing pranks, which is part of her kitsune nature. She is also open and easy going, with a fun sense of wonder and naivety that comes from being isolated from the wide world her entire life. Meanwhile, Tatsumi, personality-wise could be replaced by a literal stick. Kagawa obviously did that on purpose, because Tatsumi has been taught his entire life to keep himself buttoned up, care about no one and trust nothing, so that his demon sword has no foothold to gain access to his mind. But the more they travel the more Yumeko becomes Tatsumi’s soft spot, and while he doesn’t end up unbuttoning himself any less he considers developing a personality.
I get very excited when I find Japanese-inspired fantasy. It is one of the most under-explored time periods to set a fantasy and it comes with its own mythology, social order, customs, and politics that allow a writer to start from a strong base without covering ground that a thousand other fantasy stories have covered before. The world of Shadow of the Fox is a fairly typical Japanese land with mythological creatures and a magical Scroll thrown into the mix. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a simple concept, but it is a lot of fun. There are a ton of crazy Japanese mythological creatures that I would love to see make an appearance and watch cause problems for our characters.
The story seemed a little slow at times. Tatsumi, Yukemo and the gang have a lot of episodic adventures, but it’s unclear exactly what’s going on around them and whose working against them for what end. I would have also appreciated a bit more character relationship development between everyone.
I am looking forward to the sequel. Shadow of the Fox left off in an interesting spot, where dynamics have changed and shadowy forces are beginning to emerge, and soon the lies that Yumeko has told everyone are going to start to unravel.
If you love Japanese mythology, anime, or light adventure stories, you might love Shadow of the Fox. Enjoy the read and don’t get pranked by a bored kitsune!