The Keeper of Night is a twisted and engaging horror/fantasy tale of a half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami. Reapers and Shinigami are both soul collectors who serve their respective God/Goddess of Death by facilitating a soul’s passage into the afterlife. Simple enough. However, Ren does not fit seamlessly into either society as she is bi-racial. While Ren was raised solely by her father as a British Reaper, her peers see her as much too Shinigami and do not accept her into their society. Not only do her physical attributes favor her mother who was Shinigami, but her abilities also differ from other Reapers which leads her to be mercilessly tormented.
After a particularly harsh confrontation with her peers, Ren loses control of her emotions and her powers leading to her severely injuring one of the other Reapers. Ren knows that this will mean the end of her life, and decides to flee to Japan in search of her mother. While quickly preparing to leave, her younger half-brother, Nevan, convinces Ren to allow him to accompany her on the journey. While Nevan is fully Reaper and widely accepted among the other Reapers, he too is a bit different in that he is very empathetic and sweet – unlike the stoic and emotionally-detached Reapers.
The pair successfully flee Britain and make their way to Japan, but quickly realize being accepted into Shinigami society won’t be easy either. They make their way into Yomi, Japan’s underworld, encountering several terrifying spirits on the way. However, they also meet Hiro, an outsider like Ren, who has inexplicably been banished from Shinigami society and who promises to act as a guide for the pair. Finally, Ren is face-to-face with the Goddess of Death. But instead of being welcomed with open arms as she had hoped, the Goddess tasks Ren with killing three exceptionally powerful Yokai, which are demon-type creatures.
Ren, Nevan, and Hiro set off on their quest, facing a myriad of challenges along the way. Ren must navigate this new society and decide how far she’s willing to go and what she will sacrifice to be accepted. But what Ren actually wants and what she’s willing to risk might not be what she thinks it is.
This book is a must-read to those who love Japanese mythology or anyone fascinated by death customs. Baker does a fantastic job guiding readers through the underworld and introducing them to the various spirits and gods. Yomi itself is reminiscent of the world of Kami portrayed in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away – except maybe more terrifying. As readers dip their toes into the story, each supernatural introduction becomes more and more dark and intense with each spirit turning more vicious than the next.
Baker’s writing is fluid and detailed without being superfluous and after an initial introduction, the plot moves quite quickly. However, if you are looking for a witty, light-hearted, character-driven book, this is not what you should read.
Throughout the book, Ren really struggles to find her place in the world. She lacks acceptance from any person except Nevan and especially lacks self-acceptance. Her inner monologue is constantly measuring herself against others and pointing out perceived shortcomings. She’s fiercely determined to not only fit in and be accepted but to be a renowned Shinigami valued for her contributions to serving the Goddess. Because of her blind need to prove herself, Ren lacks a lot of critical thinking skills leading to some dicey situations. However, Ren is a relatable and overall likable character despite being morally gray and having a somewhat gloomy outlook.
On the other hand, Nevan is an incredibly sweet, empathetic, and pure character who is not only sure of himself but also sure of Ren. He offered a great juxtaposition against Ren’s character and played the voice of reason many times throughout the book.
Finally, we have Hiro. Ren and Nevan meet Hiro on their initial descent into Yomi. When they meet him, he is currently acting as a river and fish spirit, and he is not forthcoming about his past. While his history is a bit of a mystery for most of the novel, but it becomes apparent quickly that he is extremely disliked in the Shinigami community. Ren immediately gravitates toward him as he is not only very attractive but can relate to Ren’s struggles. His character is a complex one with reveals being drawn out throughout the book.
The ending is sure to leave readers immediately begging for more and we cannot wait for book two!