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Book: “A Thousand Steps into Night” by Traci Chee
Publishing Info: Clarion Books, March 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat
Book Description: In the realm of Awara, where gods, monsters, and humans exist side by side, Miuko is an ordinary girl resigned to a safe, if uneventful, existence as an innkeeper’s daughter. But when Miuko is cursed and begins to transform into a demon with a deadly touch, she embarks on a quest to reverse the curse and return to her normal life. Aided by a thieving magpie spirit and continuously thwarted by a demon prince, Miuko must outfox tricksters, escape demon hunters, and negotiate with feral gods if she wants to make it home again. But with her transformation comes power and freedom she never even dreamed of, and she’ll have to decide if saving her soul is worth trying to cram herself back into an ordinary life that no longer fits her… and perhaps never did.
Review: I’ve had really good luck recently with Asian fairytales (see: “The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea”). Not only have the stories been knock-outs, but the covers have been to die for! And this cover is right up there with the rest; just lovely. And while it didn’t quite hit the highs I was looking for, it was still a solid read and a definite recommendation for those looking for fairytale-like stories not based on Western myths or set in the West.
While Miuko has never fit into her small, dying village (too loud, too honest, too willing to push the limited boundaries given to women), she has resigned herself to life as an innkeeper’s daughter. Her father, at least, is loving if a bit bemused by his extraordinary daughter. However, when she comes across a demon one late night on the road who curses her to slowly turn into a demon herself, Miuko is forced to flee in search of a cure. On the way, she picks up a magpie shape-shifter friend and learns that she may not be the only one suffering a detrimental curse.
While this book wasn’t quite what I hoped it would be, it was still a fast, fun read. What stood out to me immediately when starting this book was just how funny it was! I wasn’t really expecting that at all, but the book had me laughing out loud at times. What was especially clever about these amusing aspects were that they were strewn across the story and characters, not simply restricted to dialogue, something you often see with authors who rely on their characters’ sarcasm to carry the comedy load. Instead, the narration itself was funny, and you would even find jokes imbedded in the footnotes.
Yes, footnotes. That was a very unique aspect of the story. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the style choice to include footnotes in an otherwise fairly straightforward fantasy story. But in the end, I think they really worked. For one thing, they allowed the author to use much more of the original language without worrying that readers were not picking up on important aspects of the story or nuances between concepts. Some readers may find them distracting, but for me, they worked very well. And, like I said before, the author was smart enough to continue her light-hearted tone even into these parts of the story.
I also really liked our main character, Muiko, and her pal, the magpie shapeshifter, Geiki. Muiko was immediately relatable, but it was really when Geiki came onto the scene that the characters fell into place for me. The two had a great rapport, and Geiki himself was the funniest part of the entire book. There’s no romance in this book (something that I always want to see, but that’s purely subjective). But I do think that these two and their friendship served as a solid stand-in for a romantic plotline. And it’s always good to see books that focus on different relationships as their central relationship, like friendships and sibling relations.
My main critiques of the story comes down to the pacing and some of the choices made in the middle of the book. It does take a bit for the story to get going, but I found that I was invested enough in Muiko to wait out this slow start. On the other hand, towards the middle of the book, the story started to feel a bit formulaic and predictable. Muiko and Geiki seem to go on a near-endless number of side quests essentially. Not only did these begin to add up, but the theme of them all began to feel a bit too predictable at times, with capital “L” lessons. I get that the society found in this book is very patriarchal and the author was looking to explore the various ways that women and others suffer under such a limited culture, most particularly in their very ability to live safely. But at a certain point, it began to feel like the author had a checklist that she was working through, so much so that the plot began to feel more like a device than an organic story that explored these concepts in a natural way.
Overall, however, I thought this was a really fun read. Even if I had a few critiques about it, it’s very likely that other fantasy fans will find it perfectly enjoyable as is. Honestly, the footnotes will probably be the biggest controversial item in the book, with some readers loving them and others hating them.
Rating 8: A fun, unique fantasy novel with an excellent leading character and one of the best side-kicks I’ve read in a while!
“A Thousand Steps into Night” can be found on this Goodreads list: 2022 Book Releases by Asian Authors