I don’t consider myself a reader of YA novels. That’s not because I have anything against the genre, though. I just generally tend to lean toward books that are more *clears throat* adult in content.
Okay look, I like some smutty stuff, I admit it. It’s not all I read, but these days my time for reading is limited, and maybe I’m drawn more to smutty fiction than anything else.
The only YA book I have previously read [aside from the Harry Potter series] is Cinder, by Marissa Meyer [Tori did a review of it you can check out here]. I keep walking past the young adult section of my local Barnes & Noble, eyeing all the different novels, slightly overwhelmed, and also not quite sure if I will find something that really catches my interest.
And I’m babbling. What I mean to say is, I was pleasantly surprised when I was sent a review copy of The Fox’s Mask, by Anna Frost. This book is labeled as young adult, but it is also labeled as being LGBT, and set in an alternate reality feudal Japan. I was instantly curious and excited and jumped right in. I am also an anime fan, so this book seemed to promise a beautiful mix of things I enjoy.
I have to admit that there is one theme in particular that I really want to talk about in my review, especially if anyone else reads it and wants to discuss it further. The problem is that one element is a huge spoiler. So most of this review will be spoiler-free, until that moment.
The book is written in third person but from the points of view of different characters. The text doesn’t shift how it looks to show who is talking, but it is still generally clear whose point of experience we are hearing the story from. I enjoyed Anna’s style of writing – there is a lot of dialogue and inner monologue, but also great descriptions of settings. Though I was immediately picturing a Rurouni Kenshin setting in my mind, it was just the base for the world she described. The dialogue of the characters flowed nicely, and only every once in a while was I jarred slightly when an internal monologue sounded extremely “teenage-angst-ish.”
The main characters are Akakiba and Yuki. Akakiba is Yuki’s tutor, teaching him the way of demon hunting. Akakiba is 18, and Yuki is only 15. The prologue shows that their meeting was unfortunate, but for some reason Yuki has stayed with Akakiba for three years at the time of the first chapter. Akakiba is a very smart-mouthed character who reminded me slightly of Edward Elric – so of course I liked him right away. Yuki was tough, but not as loud as Akakiba. I liked the balance of their personalities and how they worked together.
With the introduction of demons, it is obvious that this story will have a lot of magical/spiritual elements. Anna weaves in a lot of symbolism and words from the Japanese culture that I appreciated – though she used the Japanese terms to describe some things, I felt like it was always obvious what she was talking about. I’m always on the fence about using different languages to describe things within a story, but this is an instance where I feel like it mostly worked. There were only one or two times I had to think about what was being referred to.
The overarching plot of the story is that for some reason, magic seems to be fading from the land. Healing spirits aren’t around their shrines, there are fewer dragons, and even fewer demons, so it seems. The additional points of view are of Akakiba’s younger sister, Sanae, who adds a different view as trouble starts to emerge within the Fox Clan, and also offers a chance to show some of the traditions and special abilities of the group. Other main characters whose views are used are Mamoru and Jien. Mamoru is from a rival clan, and his story eventually reveals how deep the demon problem is becoming. Jien is a friend of the family, a monk who Akakiba had helped save, and often the comedic relief.
What I liked:
- The feudal Japan style setting
- The incorporation of a cultural background with the supernatural, spirits, demons, and dragons felt natural with the story line
- The undertones of attraction between Yuki and Akakiba
- I was actually caught off guard with how the story progressed and the ending of the book
- There wasn’t a love triangle \o/
What I didn’t like:
- Sometimes the inner monologue of the characters sounded jarringly younger, which might just be a personal preference
- While I liked what Mamoru offered in his chapters, I almost wish there was more – I felt like the balance of points of view was weighted heavily on the two main characters, and having multiple points of view I feel should be well rounded
Recommend if: You like anime set in a feudal/Japanese universe, and supernatural type stories. I could see this being an anime, or a manga, any day.
The book comes out tomorrow, Friday October 19!
Okay, if you have read the book or don’t mind spoilers, here is the part I really want to talk about.
No seriously, spoiler ahead, just stop now if you don’t want to be spoiled for an end of the book reveal.
….you got it?
I think that this is something that is extremely important to talk about because I saw a lot of different things coming out of this simple revelation, and I think that it could either mean great things for the next book in the series, or potentially things I don’t agree with. I don’t know Anna’s intentions, this is all just my speculation right now.
At the end of the book, it is revealed that Akakiba is, actually, able to shift genders like his sister and mother were able to do. This happens close to the end, and it is not done haphazardly. Akakiba revealing his true gender to Yuki is out of necessity, and we can see his reluctance and almost revulsion at being in his true form.
After finishing the book, I was at first frustrated at the “cop out” of having Akakiba actually be female, since there were interactions with Yuki that suggested some potential feelings lurking beneath the surface. But then I sat and thought about it.
I wonder if perhaps, this is meant to be a representation of someone who is transgender. Akakiba obviously left home because he didn’t want to stay in his female form and raise children; he wanted to go out into the world and be a demon hunter, living the by sword, as the men of his clan might do. It was a choice he made when he was Yuki’s age, and something he sticks by throughout the novel.
My fear, though, is how this story element will be used in future books. As it is now, I applaud it. I like the idea of a character living his/her life as the gender he/she prefers, no matter what that means. But there is Yuki, the apprentice from whom a static of attraction is just starting to show–what if now Yuki’s affections become more vocal because he knows that Akakiba is actually female? How will Akakiba handle that?
To me, most importantly, is: will Akakiba give up what he has been fighting for because of Yuki. I would rather see the storyline go with Akakiba pretty much saying “This is what you get, like it or get out,” which I could definitely see him doing. I would rather that, and the potential for no romance at all, than Akakiba conceding and turning female, because he wants to be with Yuki.
Would love to hear your thoughts on this as well!