By: Kylie Lee Baker
Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has spent two centuries collecting souls around London under the watchful eye of the Reaper hierarchy. Despised for her mixed heritage, Ren avoids contact with everyone but her brother Neven, the only person to ever love her. In her limited spare time, she studies ancient Japanese mythology and practices the language in the hopes of being closer to the mother she never knew.
One night she is brutally attacked and tormented by a group of High Reapers only to lose control of her Shinigami abilities. Her transgression drives Ren out of London where she flees to the country in which she was born to seek the acceptance always denied her. Accompanied by Neven, 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 is a depressing, angry, and lonely story. This is not a pick-me-up novel or a satisfying fantasy/mythology tale. Ren is an unlikeable, selfish, and frustrating main character who falls in love with a man she barely knows. The only likeable character is Neven and the treatment of his character throughout the story is particularly tragic.
I want to get into spoiler territory so that I can rant about all the injustices of the last 30 pages, but a lot of reviewers seem to enjoy all the negative emotions this narrative creates. I clearly didn’t, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t.
I would argue that the beginning of the story through to about the halfway point was boring. Then the halfway point to the last 50 pages or so was slightly less boring as Ren ramped up to being her worst self. By the end of the book, she’s become the antagonist rather than the sympathetic hero (if she was ever that sympathetic to start). You will have no reason to like her or cheer her on in her quest because everything that led up to that point was her fault. Particularly frustrating for me was how much of the story and writing style was juvenile. It had all the classic hallmarks of a YA book including angst despite the main character being of 200 years old.
One of the hardest parts in reading from Ren’s perspective is the repetitiveness of her thoughts. Perhaps that’s accurate given we all get trapped in cycles of thinking especially in times of stress, but we don’t really want that from a narrator. Ren’s thoughts were dark and self-serving. I admit that the circumstances of her upbringing shaped her to be spiteful, but she doesn’t have a single positive thought…ever. That’s a lot to deal with when the expectation of the story is built up to be an awesome quest.
To me, the most shocking part of this reading experience is that I may read the sequel despite my low star rating. Why? It probably has something to do with the fact that the ending left me feeling horribly hollow inside and I want to know that it somehow gets better. I’m going to be playing roulette with myself because there’s always the potential that the second book could resolve nothing and be just as bad or worse than the first. I almost wish that the story was a standalone novel because the effectiveness of the ending could have put it in the same category as Glow for me. But I don’t think the author had the intention of leaving her readers feeling hopeless as that probably wouldn’t bode well for her future career as a respected author. Especially not in the YA genre where the heroes are always supposed to prevail and rarely do anything indecent. Smart move given I would probably never have read anything by her again.
I hate when I get myself into these messes. I saw a book about Reapers and Shinigami and said, “hell yeah!” I think maybe I should just stick with Terry Pratchett for my Death fix from now on.
Overall rating: 2