*I received an ecopy of this book via NetGalley. This has not influenced my review.*
This book was basically about Asagi’s life as a slave, then not really a slave but not really free either, then a vampire, all the while dealing with past trauma and inner demons and trying to protect the boy they thought of as a son whenever possible. This is a story with a lot of emotional pain and trauma. It’s about a slave trying to protect a fellow slave who was an orphaned child. It’s about how hard or impossible it is to escape that life, because even when Asagi became a vampire and technically wasn’t a slave anymore, he was still in different figurative chains. It’s about how inaction is still a choice and often the wrong one. It’s about the struggle of being a monster and taking lives and having to live with that, while also knowing the chance to keep living was as much a gift as a curse. It’s about how even good things have a price to be paid.
The pacing was a little odd. The book was meandering and slow without a clear goal, making it hard to figure out how far into the story I was and surprising me when all the sudden it was over (perhaps to be continued in the next book?), and I kept waiting for the things mentioned in the description, some of them didn’t happen until over 50% in. All of which is not necessarily bad, but it threw me off a bit, and it might help other readers to know what to expect.
What really drew me to this book when I read the description was the mention of gender, of a main character who didn’t fit neatly into a male or female checkbox, and it was a significant aspect of the story. (Pronouns are never given in the book, but the description uses both “he” and “they,” so that’s what I’m using.) They never used a label for themselves (though that’s maybe because there was no word for it at the time). He was assigned male at birth but had a feminine face and enjoyed being seen as a woman. I’m not sure if he ever quite thought of himself as a woman though, and he also chose to present male sometimes. If asked whether they were a man or woman, their answer was, “I am Asagi.” They said at one point maybe they were both, or neither. I have similar feelings, so I loved finding a character I could relate to in that way, and it made me happy to see them actually get the chance to be themselves, to present how they wanted when they wanted, and to find people who loved and appreciated them for exactly who they were.
The other thing that drew me to the book was the mention of blood-drinking youkai. They were essentially vampires, but this wasn’t really a romantic, sexy portrayal. They got immortality, healing, and some mind-related abilities (Asagi could sort of read people’s minds to view their lives, and both Asagi and Mahiro could affect emotions of their victims), but no other abilities or drawbacks as far as I could tell. The price for it, having to drink blood, was a steep one for Asagi though, and dealing with his new life as a monster, and the consequences of it, was also a significant element of the story.
Asagi themselves was a character with a lot of inner strength and guile, but also a lot of emotional struggle.
There was a romantic relationship in the book, but it was kind of vague. The focus was very much the parent-child-esque relationship between Asagi and Tsukito, which was refreshing.
I believe this took place in a historical Japan setting, and I enjoyed the Japanese elements.
Overall this was a slow-paced, heavy sort of story that somehow kept me at a bit of a distance, but it had a unique combination of elements, including Japanese culture, blood drinking youkai, familial love, and gender exploration, and I enjoyed it. Well, if *enjoy* is the right word for a such a heavy, melancholic tale.
Trigger/Content Warnings: Physical abuse. Rape (off-page). Implied rape of a child. Self-harm (one instance, on-page).
Anyone who likes youkai/vampires, nonbinary characters, heavy stories, slow-paced tales of a character's life, and parent-child-esque love.