ARC Review: The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker | Folklore, Death and Identity in a Brilliant #Ownvoices Biracial Historical Fantasy set in 1890s Japan

Hello friends!! How has everything been going?

I’ve been busy the past 2-3 months with school, and finally my end-of-year exams start next week with a duration of a week and a half, which explains my inactivity. To everyone else taking their finals, all the best too!!

Anyway, it’s been 3 months since a book wrecked me so much to the edge of insanity (thanks The Burning God and oh by the way, my therapy bills are 3 months and still running just to let you know) and now my pain has been exacerbated with The Keeper of Night coming to claim my soul, truly leaving a hollow, empty shell, devoid of any essence apart from a downward spiral into nothingness.

THE KEEPER OF NIGHT by Kylie Lee Baker

Genre(s): Fantasy, Historical | Age: Young Adult
Series: The Keeper of Night #1

Published: 12 October 2021 | Read: 7 September 2021
No. of Pages: 400

Trigger Warnings ↴ death, racism, sexism, ableism, bullying, emotional neglect of a child, mentions of child abandonment, violence, murder, blood, gore

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.

Thank you to the author: Kylie Lee Baker, as well as Inkyard Press for an ARC of TKON in exchange for a sincere review. All quotes in the review are from the ARF and may differ upon publication.

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REVIEW

“The world will fall silent and the Reaper will knock three times on your bedroom door.”

Don’t let my melodramatics earlier fool you for The Keeper of Night was a very, very good book. It follows Ren, a half British Reaper and a half Japanese Shinigami, who for the past few centuries has been collecting souls in London, under the tyranny of the Reaper hierarchy with many discriminating against her because of her heritage. When she makes a dire mistake, she flees to Japan to prove herself to serve the Goddess of Death through killing three deadly Yokai demons.

You may have scrolled down to view my rating first out of curiosity so I shall just proclaim that yes, The Keeper of Night has established itself a new favourite book of mine, the most prominent reason being how balanced it was in the exploration of the story, as well as themes. Let’s talk about the story first. We’ve got a bit of London at the start, but are quickly whisked away to the Land of the Rising Sun, none other than Japan.

“From between his lips, a cloud of gold mist rose in the air, speckled with bright lights that moved in tandem like a chain of oncstellations. i’d seen souls made of black tar and bile, others of pale pink candy floss, and even ones that sizzled and bust like fireworks. Just like every human life, souls were unique and beautiful for a single moment, and then they were nothing but dust.”

The world created was rich, intricate and immersive, not to mention alluring as we ventured deeper into the dark underground den of death. Japanese folklore and mythology were weaved into the story but also taking a darker turn. This story is also not for the faint of heart, the underworld and the darkness being deeply compelling, but also haunting and eerie at times. The darkness felt pervasive and coupled with the lyrical prose full of vivid imagery, the atmosphere was *chefs kiss*. In short, I was completely immersed.

The world was weaved so well into the plot for it was truly a fast paced and engaging read. Plot devices such as the time bending element, and of course the exploration of the underworld enriched the story to no end. We have the quest to kill 3 demons, though it may be a bit banal in its overuse, the Japanese mythology, as well and rather unique characterisation was refreshing. The stakes were high and the climax especially was dramatic and cinematic to my delight, it was akin to watching an Avengers movie but darker and more gripping. All the build up, plot points and foreshadowing finally made sense towards the ending, and I was breathless.

But perhaps why I loved The Keeper of Night so deeply was because of it keen exploration of themes, fleshed out especially through our main character: Ren.

Preorder Art Credits to @cosmikbread

“Everything I saw was a story that had been stolen from me… I shouldn’t have returned to Japan with the eyes of a tourist but of a native. I would never truly be native to nowhere in the world, because my father had stolen this world from me and shoved me into another one.”

As mentioned, Ren is half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami and often being targeted at because of her mixed heritage, some characters in the book even having the audacity to call her a “half-breed”. She flees London, to go to Japan, a homeland she was stripped of, to find acceptance and a place where she is valued. Yet when she goes to the land of her dreams, she is still viewed as a foreigner, the lack of acceptance as a Shinigami nor a Reaper leading to an identity crisis unravelling. I can’t speak for the #ownvoices rep in this book (please check out some meaningful ones on the GR page), but this book gave me so much insight and emotion towards the importance and journey towards a concrete sense of identity and belonging.

“I was not calm and impartial, the way Reapers were supposed to be. I was not skilled and precise, the way Shinigami were supposed to be. I was nothing but Death that bled from every organ and anger so vicious that it would tear the sky to shreds, drain the oceans dry and crack the universe into two.”

Ren”s story sounds like one of identity, with a hint of poignancy, that would inspire hope in others. While I agree wholeheartedly, in my eyes, Ren was written to be an antihero (forgive me, but the first think I thought of was how Rin and Ren are now both my favourite antiheroes with such similar names!!) Throughout the book, Ren is faced with many terrible decisions to be made. She’s deeply flawed, and her past of powerlessness, drove her to embrace the darkness and her internal conflict was definitely a war waged against morality that was both haunting. She’s written as such a stark juxtaposition to her empathetic brother, Neven, one who seems to act as a complex moral compass to the story, but harbours his own darkness, and this area of multi-layered side characters was one I deeply appreciated as well.

“Descendant of darkness, this is your fate.”

Furthermore, there is the underlying of fate and destiny in The Keeper of Night which I was in awe of and how the story set up so well for book 2, and I’m hyped. In The Keeper of Night, a pre-ordained prophecy of death and destruction was hinted at and Ren’s struggle raised so many insightful points such as the impact of intentions on fate, if carving one’s path is even possible in the first place, or will one’s ill fate always prevail. Ren’s character arc, one that steered her towards the darkness, with regards to these two themes of identity and fate that highlighted the dichotomy between her core and the self she was becoming and trying to project, was just stunning in its execution.

Overall, you guys need The Keeper of Night in your life, or er death when it comes out in less than two weeks. It was such an atmospheric read filled with Japanese mythology, a fast-paced plot as well as such a compelling antihero that brought out themes of identity, morality and fate! This historical fantasy in 1800s Japan definitely makes it to my top 10 of the year!!

rating // ★★★★½

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How has everything been going? Are you going to pick up The Keeper of Night? What are some books that deal with death, or identity that you have loved?

15 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker | Folklore, Death and Identity in a Brilliant #Ownvoices Biracial Historical Fantasy set in 1890s Japan

  1. I’ve been seeing this everywhere and debating whether or not to add it to my TBR, but I think you’ve convinced me. Thanks for the great review Cherelle ♥

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  2. Great review, Cherelle! This book sounds so amazing – I love antiheroes and complex characters and the quest sounds so good and I can’t wait to read it!

    Like

  3. started reading this and just saying that we need books with women who are insanely powerful and just as dark, also I’m loving your review, it’s so well written, me just here admiring the poetic quality of your writing

    Like

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