Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa
Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has given up the final piece of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers in order to save everyone she loves from imminent death. Now she and her ragtag band of companions must journey to the wild sea cliffs of Iwagoto in a desperate last-chance effort to stop the Master of Demons from calling upon the Great Kami dragon and making the wish that will plunge the empire into destruction and darkness.
Shadow clan assassin Kage Tatsumi has regained control of his body and agreed to a true deal with the devil—the demon inside him, Hakaimono. They will share his body and work with Yumeko and their companions to stop a madman and separate Hakaimono from Tatsumi and the cursed sword that had trapped the demon for nearly a millennium.
But even with their combined skills and powers, this most unlikely team of heroes knows the forces of evil may be impossible to overcome. And there is another player in the battle for the scroll, a player who has been watching, waiting for the right moment to pull strings that no one even realized existed…until now.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED MARCH 31ST, 2020
Night of the Dragon has the air of a final boss fight.
This is the thing that struck me most, here at the series’ end. I can’t help but think of the Ōkami games, not only because they share a great deal of Japanese mythology in their world-building, but because of the growing scope of the danger. Every time one big bad falls, another rises in their place, until there is nothing less than an ultimate, deadly battle at the end, one destined to come about all along. Plus, imagining all the action in Ōkami’s sweeping, elegant art style does wonders for upping the ante.
And this is what a finale should be! Engaging and exciting, and at the same time nerve-wracking as all the final pieces fall into place. I was so dang nervous about how all this would shake out, given the rising odds against our cast, and that’s how I want high-stakes finales to make me feel. The roaring action and towering obstacles delivered with aplomb on this count, and I have to applaud that.
“There are hearts and souls in this world that are worth saving.”
Possibly one of my favorite things about the entire Shadow of the Fox series has been Yumeko and her insistence on trying to do the right thing. She’s inclined to mischief, sure, but at the end of the day, her focus is on making sure that she’s done the right thing, not the easy thing. So many times, she could have given up on this journey and insisted someone else take it up. She could have thrown in the towel so easily. Of course, that wouldn’t make for an interesting story if she did, but it makes her an interesting character. And we all know I have a soft spot for characters who just insist on being good.
And with Night of the Dragon, I found myself appreciating Tatsumi even more. Conflicted about his changed relationship with the demon Hakaimono, and uncertain of how his own existence has changed, he’s showing more emotion and confusion than ever. It really drives home the fact that he’s a teenage boy who has been used all his life as a pawn in the service of dangerous powers, and that this is the first glimpse at freedom and individuality that he’s had in a long, long time.
On top of that, you get a classic dose of “I’m a monster, I’m pushing you away to protect you” in opposition to Yumeko’s sheer compassion and trust in Tatsumi, and it makes me soft.
And yet today, we end up with a rating lower than any other book in the series.
It pains me to give it 3 stars, too. I wanted so badly to see this as the shining capstone of the series, for it to go out on a soaring high note.
But in the last fifty or so pages, Night of the Dragon dropped the ball.
It is incredibly difficult to discuss this part without spoilers. I’ll do my best, but if you don’t want to have even a glimmer of the details, I recommend you skip this section. Despite being vague, I do have to give some sense of the ending to adequately express my frustration.
Last chance, folks.
Are you sure?
You must be if you’re still here, so here goes: the Shadow of the Fox series finale had two problems that spoiled the ending. The first is how the only queer characters are treated. Not only do we see their relationship almost exclusively through a third character spying on them, but their destinies are inherently tragic. Instead of taking a route that could address class disparities and give queer characters a fulfilling arc and a shot at a happy ending, Night of the Dragon took the tired, easy way out. It disappointed me deeply to see their character arcs resolve in such a sensationalized, tragic way.
Of even greater disappointment, however, is the fact that everything Yumeko has worked for over three books feels like it was for nothing.
Maybe that’s a melodramatic claim to make, but all the relationships she’s built, all that she’s learned about the world, all that she’s come to love, all of these things are thrown on the pyre in the name of a dramatic, shock factor finale. And while she gets answers about her past, that’s no substitute for the found family she’s built over three books. Couple that with an epilogue that screams to me of restlessness and emptiness over triumph and satisfaction, and I genuinely feel betrayed by the ending.
Why did I invest myself in an entire trilogy for this? Why did everything and everyone I came to care about in this series have to be treated that way? How can I believe in the ability of Yumeko’s compassion to save the world when this is the cost?
I believe a finale, while filled with sacrifice, should come with resolution. This, however, was not resolution. This was kicking the reader while they were down. It was, in my eyes, a rush job, cutting arcs short to reach a conclusion.
I wish I loved this series as much at the end as I did when it started.
Shadow of the Fox was the first ARC I ever received. It holds a special place in my heart because of that. But here, at the series’ end, I feel like I invested a lot of love into something that only let me down.
Three stars feels like an appropriate rating as a result. Up until those last fifty or so pages, I was entirely in love. Secrets were revealed, characters found their purpose, and it was coming to a close. Plus, the fight scenes were dynamic and vibrant in a way that captured my heart.
The simple fact of the matter is that the ending undid a great deal of hard work. I certainly hope some changes have been made in the final copy, and I’d be willing to read it again to find out. But my experience with the ARC was well and truly soured by the conclusion as it stands.
If you want to know how Yumeko’s story ends, Night of the Dragon releases next week. On March 31st, it will be available for purchase. What with everything going on right now, perhaps this will be a good time to support your local indie or even Barnes & Noble, last bastion between Amazon and indies. I hope you find more joy in it than I did, and that you find the series worth it.
CW: violence, suicide, body horror, gore, loss of a loved one