Title: The Keeper of Night
Author: Kylie Lee Baker
Published: October 2021
Publisher: Harper Collins
Readership: Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Content warnings: Ableism, racism, bullying, (mentions of) cannibalism, violence, murder, death, gore, ‘monsters’
I received a copy of the The Keeper of Night from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
A girl of two worlds, accepted by none… A half Reaper, half Shinigami soul collector seeks her destiny in this haunting and compulsively readable dark fantasy set in 1890s Japan.
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.
A short while back I was approached to review this title and I hadn’t heard of it prior – it’s been a while since I’ve actively read young adult fantasy, but I was intrigued by The Keeper of Night because it not only feature Japanese folklore, but also appeared to be quite a dark fantasy. It certainly delivers on both.
Set in the 1800’s we meet Ren, who lives in London and is a Reaper. Half-Japanese, half-English, she doesn’t quite fit in and the other Reapers don’t let her forget it. When one incident goes too far she flees London and travels with her brother to Japan where she hopes to join the ranks of the Shinigami. Tasked with killing three Yokai demons to prove her worth, Ren must navigate a new world, expanding powers, and her relationship with both her brother, and the mysterious Hiro, who are both helping her with her quest.
I was not expecting this book to be quite as dark as it was, and I loved it for that. Add in the historical element, and it gave this book the perfect, spooky feel for October. The entire book has this theme of darkness – and what that means to each character – woven through it, and the exploration of who and what makes a monster was fascinating to read.
Ren is a delightfully complex protagonist. She never quite fits in wherever she is and this causes a lot of internal (and external) conflict for her. She spends a lot of time trying to fit herself into the definitions of what she believes she should be and that gives her a lot of room for growth… especially given the ending. In contrast, Neven (her younger brother) is a very peaceful soul. Despite being a Reaper himself, he’s never really had a taste for hunting down souls and he acts, in many ways, like Ren’s conscience. Add in Hiro, another complex character with a hidden past who may or may not be who he appears to be, and you have a trio of characters who are dynamic and interesting to read about.
I loved the themes explored through the Reapers, Shinigami and Yokai demons. When I reflect on my reading experience, the notion of ‘does being a monster truly make you monstrous‘ stands out (along with ‘everyone’s the hero of their own story’, because not all Yokai demons are monsters, and our protagonist is willing to do some monstrous things to be accepted. It’s a great conflict to read about.
The pacing was a little inconsistent in places, however, for a debut this holds up pretty well. It’s the first book in a duology – the ending certainly confirms this, so be aware of that going into it – and it’s one I wouldn’t mind reading the sequel to.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the review copy.