Seven Deadly Shadows
“Kira is a heroine that readers will root for as they explore the world of Japanese folklore, YA-style.”
Fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Holly Black’s urban fantasies will eat this one up with a spoon. Borrowing liberally from Japanese folklore and Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, Seven Deadly Shadows tells the tale of 16-year-old Kira Fujikawa, a scholarship student at the prestigious Kogakkan Academy in Kyoto, Japan. She feels out of place among the rich kids at the school, but not just because she’s an outsider. It becomes apparent early on that she’s no ordinary high school student when she sees evil ghosts, or yokai, possessing the rich girls who bully her.
As a Shinto shrine maiden, cleansing evil is part of Kira’s job at her family’s shrine. She can see and converse with the yokai, oni, kitsune, and other supernatural creatures that most people, including her parents and sister, are oblivious to. Her grandfather runs the shrine and is mentoring Kira to take his place when she comes of age. The yokai she sees are not all evil, but they’re described by the authors in a delightfully creepy way, as in, “She looks like a scream made flesh.”
Two kitsune yokai (fox spirits) help guard the shrine, and despite herself, Kira develops a crush on the younger one, Shiro, who seems straight out of Japanese anime. Kira takes her job seriously and longs to learn the art of controlling spirits from her grandfather. But then tragedy strikes. Demons attack the shrine, seeking the last shard of the Sun Goddess’s sword, broken centuries ago when the demon king Shuten-doji was defeated. Now the demon king is rising again, and his minions are gathering the fragments of the sword to forge it into a weapon for him to kill the Sun Goddess.
In the battle at the shrine, a demon kills Kira’s grandfather while she and her sister hide beneath the floorboards. Nevertheless, the demons leave frustrated, without having found the sword shard. Devastated by the loss of her beloved grandfather, Kira tries to cope with her grief while raising defenses for her shrine. For the fight isn’t over. Shuten-doji will return at the Blood Moon, locate the last piece of the sword, and kill the Sun Goddess, plunging the world into darkness.
To forestall this, Shiro and Kira journey to Tokyo to ask his death goddess mother, Lady O-Bei for help. Throughout the nicely rendered action and realistic descriptions of Japanese life, the book abounds with tasty turns of phrase, like: “My fear has grown through my feet and rooted me to the ground.” Kira’s emotions, too, are those of a recognizable teen, while she struggles to find her inner hero and rise to the challenges that face her.
Lady O-Bei agrees to help them fight the Demon King if Kira will assemble a seven-member team to fight the demon and his forces. A difficult task, as most of the supernatural creatures she and Shiro approach want nothing to do with what they see as a doomed mission. Slowly, Kira builds her team, including Oni-chan (a demon cat) and Shimada, a sort of grim reaper with a shadowy past. The odd flash of humor relieves the action’s rising tension as in this observation: “It’s the last day of school before winter break—at least I won’t have homework while I’m trying to save the world.”
Kira desperately trains in swordplay and magical mudras as the deadline approaches. She even takes a dangerous trip to Yomi, the hell world, to steal the rest of the sword that Shuten-doji has been piecing together. But will her efforts be enough to stop the coming of darkness at the Blood Moon?
Throughout, Kira is a recognizable Japanese teen, concerned about honor, family, and saving face, but also about boys. She’s culturally different from most of the American teens who will read this book, but still more individualistic than real-life Japanese teens. The hybrid works in spades, and Kira is a heroine that readers will root for as they explore the world of Japanese folklore, YA-style.