Book: “The Keeper of Night” by Kylie Lee Baker
Publishing Info: Inkyard Press, October 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I won an ARC in a contest run by the author.
Book Description: 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.
Review: Thank you to Kylie Lee Baker for the ARC she sent me through a contest!
As well all know by now, for the most part fantasy as a genre isn’t my jam. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule: “The Lord of the Rings” is my favorite book series of all time, and if there are dark elements or things that have to do with creepy things in the story, I am definitely all in. And this brings me to “The Keeper of Night” by Kylie Lee Baker, a dark fantasy novel about demons, death collectors, and the trauma of being rejected due to one’s identity. When I read the description I knew that this would be one of my exceptions. And given that I had recently read another book that talks about Yokai and Japanese folk lore (and wanted more), “The Keeper of Night” was a great follow up to “Nothing But Blackened Teeth”.
First and foremost, I loved our main character Ren. Right from the start she’s a bit rougher around the edges than I was expecting. Since she grew up being targeted by other Reapers due to her Shinigami heritage, and since her father has merely tolerated her but favored her half brother Neven, Ren has dealt with constant Othering and emotional abuse. It makes sense that she is desperate to find a place where she fits in, so going to Japan in hopes of allying herself with the Shinigami is a logical choice. Of course, Ren soon realizes that in Japan she is also out of place due to her Reaper heritage. It makes for a protagonist who has to internalize a lot of self loathing, and as her journey to find acceptance goes on she makes harder and harder decisions, which push her more and more morally grey. I liked seeing this progression, and I felt that Baker was careful to show the reasons why someone who has dealt with so much oppression, pain, and harm could turn to violence and cruelty, without necessarily condoning some of the darker choices Ren made. And without spoiling anything, the place that she ended up not only set up for the sequel in a really well done manner, it also took me by surprise in where it went, I will DEFINITELY be picking up the next in the series to see where Ren is going to go next.
The one constant better angel with her is Neven, whose genuine goodness has two effects on Ren: the first is that she wants to be better, because she loves her brother and he’s the only person who has shown her true warmth and kindness. The other is that she resents him, because his naïveté is not only hard to deal with, but it also reflects the comparatively privileged existence he has had compared to her. Things become more complicated when they meet Hiro, a disgraced Shinigami who offers to help Ren prove her worth to the Goddess of Death to serve her. Ren feels connected to Hiro due to their heritage, and this causes tension between her and Neven, as he can’t understand some of the things Hiro, as a former Shinigami, does. And this of course, makes Ren feel judged by the one person who never judged her BECAUSE it’s based in cultural differences. It’s no surprise that a lot of this can serve as allegories to sexism, racism, and privilege, and while I think Neven probably could have used a bit more of a dressing down from Ren on occasion, overall the dynamic was enjoyable. And treaded towards heart wrenching in some moments.
As for the fantasy elements, Baker uses a lot of Japanese folk lore, exploring Death mythology as well as a litany of Yokai, from fox spirits to fish spirits to very disturbing and threatening creatures. We got to see these things act out within the story, as well as got some actual folk lore stories to give the various characters Ren meets along the way context. And a lot of it is very dark and creepy, which made it all the more enjoyable for me, as someone who does love dark fantasy within the fantasy realm.
I definitely enjoyed “The Keeper of Night”, and will be waiting on pins and needles for the next book. And if you like dark fantasy, you should definitely seek this one out.
Rating 8: A unique and dark fantasy that threw me for a loop by the end, and makes me excited for the next in the series!
Find “The Keeper of Night” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!