As an Amazon Associate and Bookshop affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Book Description:

A girl of two worlds, accepted by none… A half Reaper, half Shinigami soul collector seeks her destiny in this haunting and compulsively readable dark fantasy duology set in 1890s Japan.

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.

The Keeper of Night, Kylie Lee Baker’s young adult fantasy debut novel, is the first book in a duology that will be concluded in The Empress of Time, scheduled for release this October. Though the story is set in the 1890s, it has very little to do with the human world of the time: it follows a non-human protagonist dealing with the two supernatural worlds she inhabits due to her Reaper father and Shinigami mother, starting in England and then moving to Japan.

With inspiration from Japanese folklore and Shinto mythology, it’s largely about protagonist Ren’s quest to destroy three Yokai so that Izanami, the Goddess of Death, will accept her as a Shinigami. It’s also about her relationship with her younger brother—a Reaper who didn’t fit in well because of his unusually gentle soul—and a stranger she meets in Japan—a former Shinigami with a deformed foot, cast out for being physically imperfect. But most of all, The Keeper of Night is about Ren’s desire to belong, and what she’s willing to do to earn a place among the Shinigami after being rejected by the Reapers.

Although this is a good story, it did take some time for The Keeper of Night to draw me in. The first 25% or so felt rushed as it gave an overview of what Ren’s life as a Reaper was like, and as a young adult soul collector, that meant it had to cover nearly 200 years of backstory in that time. It basically shows a (rather eventful) day for her with her collecting one soul; being sneered at and abused by the other Reapers, who consider her a Shinigami; making everything worse with her inability to control her light powers; and then fleeing with her brother, who refuses to leave her side.

That was certainly sufficient for making the point that being part Shinigami in a Reaper world was terrible, but I believe it would have benefited from further fleshing out the relationship with her brother that is important to this story. Ren’s first-person perspective conveys that she’s more accepting of her sibling’s softness and fears than her father and that he tried to compensate for his parents’ indifference to his sister, but it mainly tells about their bond: he’s not even introduced until Ren tells him she has to leave and he chooses to accompany her. Beginning with a clearer sense of why he was so determined to stick with Ren by showing more of their bond beforehand would have strengthened all that came later.

Ren’s first two centuries as a Reaper seemed to be glossed over in a hurry to get to Japan, but I also found the part set there far more engaging the start set in England. Her encounters with a variety of creepy supernatural beings and time in the underworld is entertaining, and I loved the legends involving the three Yokai she was supposed to defeat. There is a twist that is probably predictable to those familiar with the novel’s inspirations, but I don’t think it needs to be surprising: what’s important is Ren’s reaction to discovering the truth and all the devastation that ensues.

And there is devastation. My favorite part of The Keeper of Night (other than the mythology) is just how DARK it’s willing to go. Ren is one of those “morally gray” protagonists: one who is not as “bad” as the most villainous characters she meets, but also one who is often cold and selfish, driven by her obsession to be accepted by at least one of her supernatural cultures. Despite caring for her sweet-natured brother, she is also dismissive of him and unkind to him many times, and she ends up making some terrible decisions. But even while I was internally screaming “Ren, what are you DOING?!” at her latest bad choice, I understood her perspective and why it made sense to her. And in the end, Ren does have to face the consequences of her actions with a tragic-but-fitting conclusion that I absolutely loved.

Though this had an amazing ending and other strengths, it wasn’t more than a “good read” for me since it lacked nuance and characters with depth. Despite being the most fleshed out and gaining more dimension near the close of this story, Ren is still rather one note a lot of the time given so much of her narrative revolves around getting her heart’s desire. The only other prominent characters are her brother and their eventual traveling companion, the aforementioned former Shinigami, who wishes to aid Ren in her quest in hopes of gaining some favor with Izanami. These two bring out different sides of Ren, and this is not at all subtly done even though I did like where this went, as well as her brother—a kind soul, but also someone who is fierce when it comes to doing what is right.

It takes time for The Keeper of Night to build to its phenomenal conclusion, and this is a book I appreciated more when I reread a lot of it for this review with the knowledge of how it would all come together. But even before that, I still liked the darker aspects and the mythology—and had a lot of fun with all the creepy supernatural beings I met along the way.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from The Keeper of Night