Today is my stop on the TBR & Beyond Tours for The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker.
Special thanks to Inkyard Press for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
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Goodreads: The Keeper of Night (The Keeper of Night #1)
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication Date: 12 October 2021
Genre: Young Adult Dark Fantasy
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.
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Kylie Lee Baker grew up in Boston and has since lived in Atlanta, Salamanca, and Seoul. Her work is informed by her heritage (Japanese, Chinese, & Irish) as well as her experiences living abroad as both a student and teacher. She has a BA in creative writing and Spanish from Emory University and is pursuing a master of library and information science degree at Simmons University. In her free time, she plays the cello, watches horror movies, and bakes too many cookies. The Keeper of Night is her debut novel.
- Exceptionally detailed and vivid world-building of the Reapers’ catacombs in London and Yomi in Japan set in the 1800s! Really, Yomi (the Japanese underworld) is like its own character!
- Rich Japanese mythology focusing on the God of Death, Shinigami (Japanese reapers) and Yokai (demons), including some particularly horrifying stories for some of them.
- Nuanced exploration of identity and familial relationships
- A morally grey biracial protagonist who will do anything to be accepted and belong
- A heart-wrenching and complex yin-yang sibling relationship with two character who go through so much growth and development throughout the story.
Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced/unfinished copy and are subject to change in the final version.
TL;DR: The Keeper of Night was an engaging, well-paced and terrifying horror debut by Baker! Japanese mythology is not for the weenies but I was equal parts scared and intrigued by the stories of Yomi, the Japanese underworld, and the Shinigami and Yokai. As much as I wanted to look away I also couldn’t stop reading! This is a story about identity and belonging and relationships. The characters have complex relationships and the story takes a turn that I didn’t expect and I’m already keen to see what happens next!
Before I dive into my review, I have to mention the stunning art that is this book cover! The first time I saw it, I was convinced I needed to get my hands on this book before even knowing what it was about. Then I found out that it was dark fantasy with demons and I almost chickened out of reading it but the premise kept piquing my interest so I decided to pick it up anyway and I’m glad that I did! This won’t be for everyone so fair warning to those who don’t like dark scary stories and those who are squeamish because things get pretty gory; I mean, it’s a dark fantasy for a reason! However, if you’re curious about Japanese mythology and are eager to read from a unique perspective, I would give it a try because, in my opinion, that’s where the story shone!
“I was trapped in a dreamscape where everything felt tangible, but if you reached out to touch something or focused too closely on any one detail, the whole picture dissolved.”
The world-building was exceptional and if I was rating this based on that alone, it would be a solid five stars. I don’t know anyone who isn’t at least a little familiar with the concept of reapers but I still found the grim world that Baker creates for London reapers fascinating; from the personification of Ankou, the God of Death, to the High Council of Reapers, the High Reaper lineage and the hierarchy—everything was well developed that despite spending minimal time in that setting, I had no trouble picturing it. The world-building only got better when our characters move to Japan! I don’t think I’ve read a book set in Japan in the 1800s before, so it was engaging to see how the country had only just started opening up to outsiders and how much of an influence local folklore still had on people’s lives; they were very superstitious (and well, it was definitely for good reason! 😂)! The story is split into two main settings in Japan: Yomi, the Japanese underworld, and the ‘real world’, however, it was Yomi that stood out to me most because this setting almost felt like a character of its own at times; for the land of the dead, it felt so alive! The depth of the darkness in Yomi felt like an oppressive and almost suffocating weight and it was palpable (and frankly terrifying)! Even the ritual of collecting souls isn’t a pain-free or bloodless process. Baker also seamlessly incorporates Japanese mythology into the real world and as much as I was scared by the tales of the Yokai, I was also intrigued and wanted more!
“I was not a hero with a tragic backstory, I was just a girl nobody wanted.”
My issues with the story relate to the characters and the romance. I have quite some mixed feelings about Ren, our somewhat complicated protagonist. I admired her grit and tenacity to prove herself worthy of being a Shinigami (and even a Reaper at first) in the face of centuries of bullying and scorn with no one but her brother to support her. Being half British and half Japanese, she’s constantly seen as an outsider no matter where she goes and as someone who grew up outside of my home country, her struggles and feelings were something I understood very well. Although I haven’t experienced it to her extremes, I’m often made to feel too foreign to be local but I’m also much too local to be foreign, so I really sympathised with her on this. That said, Ren was difficult to root for as the story went on and I started to find her attitude became more bratty and entitled, and I disagreed with many of her actions. I did enjoy the way she evolved though because it fits with her character’s near manic desire and desperation to become Shinigami, so to see her go from being morally grey to quite villainous wasn’t an unexpected trajectory. I think I was more disappointed with how her relationship with Neven devolved as a result. It was obvious she loved and cared for him in her own way so it hurt to see the change.
“But how could I not relish the feeling of being able to crush bones like biscuits when all of my life it had been my bones breaking?”
Maybe I’m biased though because Neven was the softest reaper who should never have been one. He takes in strays, hates horror stories, cries when he sees someone get hurt, even if they weren’t necessarily “good” to begin with, and he’s scared of the dark. He loves and cares for Ren so much that he leaves everything behind in London to support her. He was just the SWEETEST BOI and I wanted to protect him at all costs. I really loved the sibling dynamic between Neven and Ren at the start because it was obvious they would do (and had done) everything for each other and they balanced each other well as he’s like the yin to her yang and vice versa. Their dynamic became more complex further into the story but sadly, it took a turn for the worse (imo) and honestly, Neven just deserved so much better than what he got and I came to hate how he was treated by someone who claimed to care so much for him.
“But the man before me looked like the protagonist of an exquisite nightmare, his face as haunting and magnificent as the dead of night.”
This brings me to the romance which was insta-love and that’s one of my bookish peeves and least favourite tropes! 🙈 It was worse here because of how it affected the other infinitely more important(!) relationship that I was heavily invested in. It was heartbreaking and frustrating! Hiro might’ve been handsome and he was helpful on Ren’s quest but I didn’t trust him at all and didn’t understand Ren’s all-in googly-eyed trust in him. He kept too many secrets and if there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that is never a good sign! I was able to predict part of Hiro’s arc so it wasn’t all that surprising when things went down the way it did, but I was pleasantly surprised with the direction the book took after that—it was definitely a darker turn and it was great but my gut was also churning with even more dread the whole time, haha!
I initially thought that this book was going to be a standalone and I think the story wraps up well enough for it to be one as there’s not really a cliffhanger. BUT I’m curious to see where Baker will take Ren’s character in the sequel and even though I have a feeling whatever happens next is gonna probably break my heart, I’m still keen to read on!
Have you read The Keeper of Night or is it on your TBR?