"On the night of the thousandth year.. before the dragon stars fade from the skies and concede the heavens to the red bird of autumn, the Harbinger of Change can be called upon by one whose heart is pure."
'Night of the Dragon,' the third and final book in the 'Shadow of the Fox' trilogy by Julie Kagawa, centers around a group of companions that are determined to stop the Master of Demons from using an artifact called the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers.
The Dragon's Prayer, is a ritual that can be used once every 1,000 years to summon the god called the Great Kami Dragon, who will grant the summoner one wish. If they should fail on their quest to stop the Master.. Genno.. from using the scroll, the empire will fall to chaos.
This was my first Kagawa read, so I didn't really know what to expect from her. I knew she seemed to have a pretty big following and certainly the concept of the story sounded interesting.
Unfortunately, unpopular opinion time, I just wasn't impressed. You're going to find this is a mostly positive review, even though she didn't rock my world. Don't get me wrong, she's a very solid writer. She understands the acts and how to move the story along. She understands the importance of relationships and various types of intimacy. The quality is there, the story just lacks the factors that could make it stand out and become something exceptional. In fact, there are a ton of things she's actually great at.
"Fighting hordes of the dead seems a fun way to spend an evening. Unless we vote to stay here and make sure all the sake doesn't go to waste...? No? Fine, blood mages it is."
Her battle scenes were very visual, without being so blown out that you couldn't focus on anyone. She did touch on different parts of the fights, but she lingered long enough with each group to give the reader a good understanding of what was happening, what the characters were feeling, and enough play-by-play to let you 'see' what occurs, before moving on.
Telling the story from multiple view points, she does a fine job of transitioning between them, though they did lack those distinctive voices that make this approach work to it's best. Other than who they were talking to and/or about, they mostly sounded the same.
Character wise, the group is likeable. Yumeko, the kitsune shifter and main character, is sweet and determined. She does suffer from a little of that 'can figure out how to do just about anything in a couple of seconds' syndrome, but we're going to chalk that up to her unique heritage.
"The Dragon is almost risen, and all the world trembles with the end of another age. But whether the Wish brings ruin or fortune is yet to be decided."
She's accompanied by Kage Tatsumi, a shadow clan shinobi, who is stuck sharing his body with the First Oni, Hakaimono. Now, the demon General is actually my favorite character in the book. Don't ask me why. He's the Beast, I suppose. He's the most powerful, most dangerous oni in the demon army, he's a bit brooding, he's always a bit disgusted with everyone, but he's still the one for me.
There are others, of course.. Reika the shrine maiden and Chu the komainu guardian, Daisuke the noble warrior prince, Okame the ronin, and a host of smaller characters that still play pivotal roles. Daisuke and Okame, especially.. have a rather soft, beautiful relationship for a pair of warriors.. and I absolutely loved that. Yet.. all these things aside, the characters still felt like we were really only seeing the surface layers of who they might have been.
"Baka noble. Why do you always have to fling yourself at the biggest thing on the battlefield?"
As I read the book, I constantly felt as if it was really just very average. Most of it seems to rely heavily on the hope that readers will just be fascinated with the idea of the mythological Japanese characters to begin with. There's no impression of the author reaching to be creative with them at all, but rather to keep things "interesting," she would just throw in another creature and then do pretty much nothing to expand on the existing mythos surrounding them.
Instead of foreshadowing, she outright telegraphs what's ahead and honestly, the story just feels like she combined a lot of existing cliches from long standing Asian stories and put them forth like they were unique in some way, without putting in the work to make them that way. And frankly, I didn't feel any investment or interest until I was over 60% through the novel.
I love seeing diverse content published and on a personal level, I obviously love seeing content that relates to my own heritage, being consumed. But this felt like a mediocre effort. Like.. hoping the majority of the audience just wouldn't be that familiar with the other media much of it seems to be drawn from. I did like that she's not afraid to let go of a character. Almost any character. But that would be more effective if she didn't display the urge to find a way to make things okay afterward.
Aside from all that, objectively.. if I'd been less familiar with the subject matter, I might have been bowled over a bit more. Plus, like I said, she's a good writer. I just don't think she's a very creative one. I do, however.. think people are going to love the book.