I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In The Keeper of Night, Ren Scarborough has been trying to prove herself as a Reaper in 1890s England, though she has never been accepted among her fellows. This is because she is also half Shinigami, or Japanese soul collector. But when an incident with a fellow, better-connected Reaper leads to Ren being disgraced and disowned, her only option is to flee England and make her way to Japan, her younger loyal brother in tow. There, she submits herself to Japan’s goddess of death, but to become a true Shinigami, she must complete a nearly impossible task. It is during this quest that Ren has to grapple with just how far she is willing to go to find a place she belongs.
I’ll be honest, I initially wanted to read this book simply because of the gorgeous cover, before I even read the description. I mean, look at it!
This is one of those books where the protagonist isn’t that likeable. Ren is pretty ruthless and can be quite selfish, and a lot of her decisions were therefore frustrating. I liked her brother, though, and I liked that he was the one thing in Ren’s life that she truly cared for (it reminds me a little of Katniss and Primrose’s bond in the Hunger Games, if Katniss were even more intense).
As for the other main character, Hiro, he was… interesting. I don’t think there was enough depth to his character for me to feel as much emotion during his story arc, though it was certainly compelling anyway. The plot twist wasn’t entirely shocking, but where the story went after that was startling.
Speaking of the story, I think this was a little slow to start, but once Ren’s quest got properly going, it was fascinating. The lore and seeing the Yokai monsters was pretty cool, if often gruesome. This gets slightly gory at times, so if that’s not something you’re interested in reading, probably don’t read this, or at least be warned.
Beyond the dark tone of this and the violence, though, there is an intriguing theme explored here: what it can be like to be biracial. In Japan, Ren is too white to be considered Asian enough; in England she is too Asian to be considered white enough. This strange duality drives Ren through a lot of the story, and much of her internal conflict was fueled by the question of if she isn’t fully anything, does that make her nothing? This is moving, and in some ways relatable for me, though I still wish Ren were more likeable overall.
In the end, The Keeper of Night was dark and intense, but I didn’t love it. Most of the characters are hard to like due to their questionable morals, although the settings and lore is really pretty cool. The imagery is vivid, which is good and bad depending on how violent a particular scene is. The love story, if that’s the right word for it, was not my favorite, but it sure went interesting places. I can’t decide, despite the gut punch of an ending, if I want to read the second book in this duology, but Baker definitely shows promise as a writer!
The Keeper of Night is now available!