I think you all know how obsessed I am with Japan and Japanese culture by now. Though a lot of that interest is pop-culture focused, I’m both a history geek and a myth & legend fanatic at heart, so there are other areas I’m interested in too. This interest and my love of YA books meant that The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker was a must-read for me, and I was lucky enough to get an ARC through Harper360’s newsletter. I’m super grateful for this one, even if I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I hoped.
This book follows Ren, a half-Shinigami half-Reaper girl who has been living in 1890’s London her whole life. She was bullied for being different, and the only person who really cares for her is her younger half-brother, Neven. One day she injures another Reaper with her shinigami powers and has to go on the run. She heads to Japan with only her brother for company, desperate to become a Shinigami.
Let’s start with what I loved, and that was the atmosphere. This is a dark book to read, which makes sense as it focuses on soul collectors. The descriptions of Yomi and all the yokai in Japan were so well done. Everything felt honestly creepy, and the writing in that aspect was excellent. I could clearly picture these dark settings, and the fact that Baker didn’t shy away from graphic violence really added to that whole feeling of unease. I am a little squeamish, so at times I was tempted to nope out, but I carried on as the intrigue was there.
What intrigued me the most was obviously the Yokai. I already know about Yuki Onna, and though I didn’t know the name Tamamo No Mae, I obviously know about Kitsune. So there was some knowledge anyway, but I feel like you would understand these Yokai just by reading this book. I love the use of folklore in books, and this really was no exception. These stories were perfectly dark, and I love that you’re told their tales within the main story. It added something a little fun.
However, this wasn’t a perfect book. I did manage to read it fairly quickly, which is always great, but there were times where I started to skim. I didn’t really like most of the characters, and I was suspicious of Hiro from the off. Which probably took some of the enjoyment out of the romantic scenes. I liked Neven, and I wanted to protect the Tamamo no Mae, but Hiro and Ren? Nah.
I knew the protagonist was going to be morally grey, so it wasn’t like I was disturbed by her actions. Well, I was by the fact she was willing to kill an innocent child, but she couldn’t do it, thank god. My main issue was that she didn’t really feel grey, just wishy-washy. Early on, you have people telling her she’s evil, but she’s not. Then when she starts to give in to that side, it feels very sudden. She just didn’t make sense, and it didn’t feel like she was willing to do bad things for good reasons or even for herself really. It felt more like everyone was telling her she was bad so she just went along with it. And that was kind of weird.
I will note that a lot of Ren’s issues come from the racism that she faces. Not being mixed race, I’m not going to understand what it’s like to deal with that. But unfortunately, all that did ring true. I know the Brits can be incredibly racist, and I know that the Japanese can be too. So seeing that in-text was sad, but it needed to be mentioned.
I’m unsure as to whether I want to read book 2 or not. It’s only a duology, and I’m kind of interested in seeing where it goes after the end. But I also don’t know if I want to return to Ren’s head. I found the whole book very meh, and the only thing that really kept me reading was how good the atmosphere was. This was a debut novel though, so maybe some of it is just that it’s her first book.
I don’t know.
Either way, you should read the book and make up your own mind. If you’re looking for something dark and filled with folklore, this could be the book for you.
Title: The Keeper of Night
Author: Kylie Lee Baker
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Age Range: Young Adult
Publisher: Ink Yard Books/Harper 360
Release Date: 9/12/21