In the realm of Awara, where gods, monsters, and humans exist side by side, Miuko is an ordinary girl resigned to a safe, if uneventful, existence as an innkeeper’s daughter. But when Miuko is cursed and begins to transform into a demon with a deadly touch, she embarks on a quest to reverse the curse and return to her normal life. Aided by a thieving magpie spirit and continuously thwarted by a demon prince, Miuko must outfox tricksters, escape demon hunters, and negotiate with feral gods if she wants to make it home again. But with her transformation comes power and freedom she never even dreamed of, and she’ll have to decide if saving her soul is worth trying to cram herself back into an ordinary life that no longer fits her… and perhaps never did.
I received a digital advanced readers copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
For years I’ve been searching for a book that captures the spirit and feel of my favourite film of all time, Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke. Friends also looking for such a book, you would be delighted to know that I have finally found such a book: A Thousand Steps into Night by Traci Chee, a young adult Japanese-inspired dark feminist fantasy that follows a young girl named Miuko who is cursed by a demon and is forced on a journey to reverse the curse – before the curse takes over – and become human once more.
A Thousand Steps into Night takes its reader on a sweeping journey across the land of Awara, a land with Japanese-inspired folklore and culture where powerful beings, a pantheon of gods, demons, and humans exist side-by-side. The worldbuilding is rich and immediately immersive. Footnotes at the end of each chapter provide definitions and pronunciation guides, in a way that doesn’t otherise its world but feels more like a storytelling tool, almost like a pocketbook ‘Guide to Awara’ that readers have on their journey.
The feminist lens of A Thousand Steps into Night and its thematic exploration of power go hand in hand. The story explores what it means to be a girl in a patriarchal society where girls are expected to be quiet, obedient, and escorted by their male family or husbands. Powerless yet defiant to the whims of these oppressive norms and expectations, Miuko’s quiet rage is fuel to the demon voice within her. Yet, as her curse turns her more into a demon than human, Miuko must grapple with what it means to possess power – does she relinquish her humanity to her demon curse and be powerful, or will she choose to be a human girl and relinquish herself to a life of powerlessness?
But this is not just a story about what it means to be powerful. At the midpoint of A Thousand Steps into Night, the story subverts its own trajectory, wherein Miuko herself must confront that what matters is not possessing power but what one does with the power that we do possess. How the story culminates, particularly in how Miuko wields her power juxtaposes with the antagonist’s approach to power, elevates the story to a fantasy adventure with welcome complexity that challenges readers and their own perceptions of power.
Despite its oftentimes dark and solemn themes, the character-driven nature of A Thousand Steps into Night will spark joy as Miuko discovers a world beyond her ordinary, no-where village. Geiki, a magpie spirit who can’t help but steal every shiny thing, is a shining star of Miuko’s story, and her unexpected allies are delights in their own way. Indeed, A Thousand Steps into Night highlights that journeys are not simply about the destination but also about the people that we meet along the way.
Indulgent in its worldbuilding, magnificent with its storytelling, and thoughtful in its questions about power, A Thousand Steps into Night is an incredible fantasy adventure that has no parallel. An effortless fantasy favourite of mine not just 2022 but of all time.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: Cursed by a demon, a girl sets off to undo her demonic curse, calling into question whether her humanity is worth saving.
Perfect for: Readers who love Studio Ghibli’s fantasy films; readers who love fantasy adventures; readers looking for a feminist story.
Think twice if: Readers who don’t like stories with complex fantasy worldbuilding.
Genre: young adult, fantasy, adventure
Trigger/content warning: sexism/misogyny themes, death and murder themes.