From New York Times bestselling author and National Book Award finalist, Traci Chee, comes a new Japanese-inspired young adult fantasy adventure that is perfect for fans of Hayao Miyazaki and Disney films like Raya and the Last Dragon.
Enter the realm of Awara, a land where gods, ghosts, demons, and humans all reside together side by side. Meet Miuko, an extremely clumsy, outspoken, but otherwise ordinary girl who lives with her innkeeper father in a small village that is on the border between the living and the dead. One day, Miuko is sent on an errand to fetch a set of newly mended drinkware from the local pottery shop when she crosses paths with a death-bringer demon. Before she can even react, she gets kissed by this demon and is cursed with its power to bring death to whatever she touches. To return to being human, Miuko embarks on a journey to not only save her soul, but also risk it to save all of humanity.
A Thousand Steps Into Night is a fast-paced fantastical read that is heavily influenced by Japanese mythology and traditions. Traci Chee also dives into her worldbuilding and creates a language for the people of Awara. A feat that is not easy to do, but was not successful in this case. Her “Awarian” language (not to be confused with the actual Awara language in Papua New Guinea) is a combination of phonetic sounds that resemble the Japanese language and other East Asian languages. While it is unique, it unfortunately bogs the entire narrative down with footnotes on almost every other page. Those who are familiar with the Japanese language and culture will find it extremely difficult to separate this work of fiction from its inspiration.
Despite its heavy use of footnotes, the book is an easy read based on its adventurous nature. The pacing is quick: chapters are extremely short, and there is constant action on every page. Some readers, however, may find this pacing to be more appropriate for a middle grade novel. Miuko barely spends time in each area throughout her entire journey. She meets numerous characters that are only there to help her get from point A to B, and everything happens within such a short amount of time that there’s not much that is memorable except for some plot devices like the introduction of time-travel that remains wholly unexplained.
One thing readers won’t forget at least, is that Awara is a patriarchal society where women are considered less than a mound of dirt, even if they have powers that can destroy the world. Everywhere Miuko goes, the readers are told and graphically shown how male humans hate females. There isn’t any backstory to why this is other than that all the humans seem to hate anyone with two X chromosomes. The resolution to this issue is also underwhelming. Everything including Miuko’s own struggles gets wrapped up a little too quickly and nicely. For a world with deep-seated issues, this realistically would take generations to fix, but in the end, I guess it is fiction with a required happy ending.
Essentially, A Thousand Steps Into Night is a story about an insecure girl who goes on a journey, where she learns to love and accept herself. Despite the book’s shortcomings, it’s a slightly dark, and whimsical voyage to follow Miuko, her plucky raven-boy companion, and other characters she meets along the way to save her land. However, the book requires a suspension of disbelief to enjoy it, as it’s riddled with plot holes, cringy language, problematic representation, and somewhat frustrating character choices. As a young adult novel, it fails to entertain, but perhaps if it had been marketed or written for a middle grade audience, it could have been better fit.