The Keeper of Night
Rating - ⭐⭐1/2
"Death is her destiny.
Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.
When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death… only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side."
The Keeper of Night is the first novel in the upcoming YA fantasy duology of the same name by Kylie Lee Baker.
First and foremost, I would like to thank NetGalley and Inkyard Press for granting me access to review this. Please note that this in no way affects my opinions. Also note that what I read was an ARC, and things may be subject to change for the final release.
With a tagline that grabs you from the getgo and a plot focusing on Japanese yokai and shinigami, I was ready to love this. Unfortunately for me, this just didn't go the way I wanted it to. Books that follow the main character doing whatever they need to to get what they want are simply not for me. That is exactly the case with Ren's story as her journey is fueled by, while not exactly unwarranted, entirely selfish desires that isolate both the other characters and the reader from her. That being said, take what I say with a grain of salt because a lot of what I didn't like about this book comes down to personal taste.
Starting on a positive note, I found the writing to be rather stunning at points. Poetic isn't exactly the word I would use, but it was very beautiful and philosophical. It is the kind of writing that makes you sit there and go 'wow'. It didn't feel forced either, like it was intentionally trying to sound that way as the words flew naturally off the page.
This book wastes no time diving right into the catalyst for our main characters to go on their journey. While that might not be a bad thing in certain cases, everything was moving too quickly. I think the book would have benefited from having more initial time getting to know Ren and Neven, our main and side characters respectively. The further I went on as well, the more I found my enjoyment waining. The folklore aspect was the saving grace of the book, especially when it started to focus on character relationships instead which wasn't exactly what I wanted to read about.
What also decreased my enjoyment of the book was that the entire journey was fueled by misplaced optimism and incompetence. When she is forced to leave the reapers, Ren thinks it is only logical to travel to Japan where she will meet her mom, fit right in with the shinigami, and get everything she thinks she deserves in life. The reader knows that that probably isn't going to be that easy (or happen at all), so it is frustrating to see her bumble her way to a different country without even thinking of a plan b.
When I reached the climactic point, I had no sympathy nor empathy in my body for Ren. Her character development, while not necessarily a bad thing, just didn't work for me. Personal feelings aside, I felt like the climax happened way too suddenly, and way too much was going on. I was rather baffled by the chaotic ending, and not in a good way. I was left there suspended in disbelief, wondering why it ended like that and whether or not a sequel is necessary.
This is set in a world where each respective country and culture have servants who are under the command of their respective figure of death. On the positive side, I thought that the book did a good job at establishing the world and explaining the aspects of the cultures. The author interweaved the tales of the yokai into the story which I thought was a way to integrate backstory into the world. What I would have liked more of, however, is an explanation as to why the reapers act the way they do.
I found that a lot of the book hinges on being cruel for cruelty's sake. The world of the reapers is cutthroat, but I didn't get a good enough sense as to why. You are just told that there is a hierarchy where the superior can do whatever they want to the inferior. I think Ren's journey would have been more appealing to me if she went to find her place in the world out of her own volition, and not because the reapers were horrible to her.
There were other small details that bothered me as well. For one, I had no idea what time period this was supposed to be set in. It is not stated in the synopsis, and although some hints are given due to the obvious sexism, racism, and xenophobia, it would have been nice to have a concrete date instead of a vague one in order to help get a better sense of the surrounding world.
Let's start with our main character, Ren, shall we? She is, to say the least, unlikable and unsympathetic. I know that not all characters have to be likable, but when they have no redeemable qualities whatsoever, I tend not to have a good time following them. The best words I would use to describe her are selfish and foolhardy, and she is not alone as it seems like most of deaths servants are supposed to be emotionless and love the macabre. I spent more time hoping for something bad to happen to her than for her to get what she wanted. It makes it really hard to enjoy a book whose main characters' entire journey you are hoping would fail.
I also found her to be rather hypocritical when it came to her half-brother, Neven. Neven joins Ren on her journey and, as time goes on, Ren becomes less and less sympathetic with what Neven is dealing with, and not rightfully so. Neven honestly deserved way better than her, and it was a shame to see his character used that way, not as a supporting character but as something that was in the way. He was a much more intriguing character than Ren, and I would have liked for him to have more of the limelight.
Hiro, someone they met in Japan who aids them on their journey, was also more intriguing than Ren (for the most part). He is mysterious and suspicious and has a lot more personality than Ren does. I wasn't a fan of the direction his character arc went in though as it wasn't surprising and, like Neven, I felt like it was a waste of potential. In the end, it felt like his character was only there for Ren rather than being his own character.
I simply don't think books that focus on the main character doing whatever they can to reach their goal, it never ends well for me. If you don't mind characters who are on more of the chaotic evil side, then this might work for you. If you like the idea of yokai and shinigami, then your best bet would be to watch some anime or read some manga. I would suggest Bleach, Demon Slayer, XXXHolic, Mushi-shi, and Natsume's Book of Friends (if you want something more on the lighter side).