The first book in a creative new series about Japanese yokai… supernatural god creatures and the human woman who helped save them… read more about why you should read it too…
Red Winter Trilogy #1
by Annette Marie
Published October 21, 2016
by Dark Owl Fantasy
Emi is a kamigakari, the human host of an immortal goddess called Amaterasu. Since the age of 8 she has had to carefully sacrifice to become the pure vessel Amaterasu needs to descend and walk the earth once more. A few months before Emi will become Amaterasu’s receptacle she becomes aware of what she is giving up for this honor… and it is not okay! Then she meets Shiro, a yokai and enemy of the kami, who is tied to her since she saved his life. How will Shiro change Emi’s future?
I was so pleasantly surprised by this book. Admittedly Shiro does not come on the scene until the 25% mark but the setup was well done. We meet Emi a regular girl put in a rather extraordinary position. She doesn’t really know what is going to happen to her or how her life will change due to the goddess but she has lived for 10 years basically as a good girl. She has been sheltered and has kept it out of her mind all the regular human things she’s missed out on. I liked that she is a calm girl who doesn’t loose her head easily. I like that even though she has an even temperament she isn’t perfect but does her best. She goes about learning the truth using what she knows of her situation. And she uses the resources she has available – Shiro.
Meeting Katsuo, Emi’s sohei protector, was an intriguing way to start our knowledge of Emi’s past. He is a good kid that causes her to question her role in the goddess’s descension. He is a friend and a contrast that works well in Emi’s story. He gives her depth and actually supports her in a very loving way.
While I like Emi and even Katsuo, it is Shiro that makes this book so fun! Once we hit the 25% mark the story goes into high supernatural gear and it never lets up! I love their first meeting and the fact he doesn’t trust her. I love his ears being fox ears and his foxishness personality/nature! The onenju were super cool and such a great part of the plot!
“Wrapped several times around his leg, from just above his paw up to the elbow joint, was a string of onenju. The prayer beads, glossy red and the size of small marbles, blended into his bloodstained fur so well that she hadn’t noticed them before.”
Later his weapons come out and we get some really awesome fight scenes! These fight scenes showcase what I love about this book! Balanced gender roles (which have been on my mind as something we need more of in YA fiction!) Emi is no special snowflake and while some may call her a Mary Sue because she’s a nice girl she didn’t roll over for Shiro and Yumei when it would have been really tempting to. Emi is in a super extraordinary position though that may cause her to become special. Aren’t we all regular people who may rise to an extraordinary position due to our actions?! YES! And Shiro is also special in his own way. We aren’t told exactly his role in all of this tension between Yokai and Kami but we know its there and that there is more to learn about who he is.
Yumei the Tengu was very cool! I loved the drawing of him… in fact, all 10 of the special character drawings were super cool and really added to the story. Yumei was pretty harsh on Emi… I liked that though… no special snowflake treatment for her, they treated her like the human they believe her to be… I like that she develops a relationship with the Tengu that is due to but separate from their common ground with Shiro. His supernatural crows were a great aspect of the world building and showing us what the yokai are about. I sure hope there are more characters like these to come in future books…
“Kami and yokai are onmyo to each other,” she explained, referring to the yin-and-yang concept of opposites balancing—heaven and earth, darkness and light, good and evil. Even the elements were balanced. The Amatsukami balanced one another as well as the Kunitsukami, keeping the world in harmony. “They are the same yet opposite, and neither is better or worse. But I … had a bad encounter.”
The end was super strong to me as I didn’t see any of that coming. A test, fights, revelations and growth plus an appearance by Emi’s goddess. The romance is a pretty slow burn as these two really can’t be together, but you can see that all they have gone through has forged a bond. Emi has stayed true to the girl we met in the beginning while also coming a long way and not being filled with so much doubt as to what she should do.
BOTTOM LINE: Japanese mythology like I’ve not seen in the YA genre.
There is a lot of Japanese words used through the book. There is a nice glossary and pronunciation in the back. I liked them, it felt an integral part of the world building. The Japanese countryside is not overtly different from any other countryside so it is subtle details of the mythology and things like word usage that add so much to the incredible world…
Thanks to Xpresso Book Tours and Dark Owl Fantasy for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.