"Everything about this book is fantastic. It never bores me. The totality of the whole "Anime - inspired" novel makes me want more of Kira's story.
Entertaining and action-packed." Gelowmichael, Goodreads
Published: January 28th, 2020
Kira Fujikawa has always been a girl on the fringe. Bullied by her peers and ignored by her parents, the only place Kira’s ever felt at home is at her grandfather’s Shinto shrine, where she trains to be a priestess.
But Kira’s life is shattered on the night her family’s shrine is attacked by a vicious band of yokai demons. With the help of Shiro—the shrine’s gorgeous half-fox, half-boy kitsune—Kira discovers that her shrine harbors an ancient artifact of great power . . . one the yokai and their demon lord, Shuten-doji, will use to bring down an everlasting darkness upon the world.
Unable to face the Shuten-doji and his minions on her own, Kira enlists the aid of seven ruthless shinigami—or death gods—to help stop the brutal destruction of humankind. But some of the death gods aren’t everything they initially seemed, nor as loyal to Kira’s cause as they first appeared.
With war drawing nearer by the day, Kira realizes that if this unlikely band of heroes is going to survive, they’re going to have to learn to work together, confront their demons, and rise as one to face an army of unimaginable evil.
Kōgakkan High School
I am a girl surrounded by monsters and ghosts from an ancient world. Most days, they scare me less than people do.
“Baka!” Ayako-senpai snaps, shoving me to the ground in the school’s courtyard. The contents of my messenger bag scatter across the asphalt. Some of my books fall open, their pages tearing and flapping in the wind: Chemistry. History. English. Colorful pens, pencils, and erasers flee from the girls who have trapped me. Do you really think I’m the idiot here, senpai? The baka? I’m supposed to respect the upperclassmen at my school, but Ayako-senpai treats me like trash. She no more deserves the honorific of senpai than I do the insult of baka. While her parents have the money to buy her a spot here at Kyoto’s prestigious Kōgakkan High School, I had to earn my way. Of course, being a newer student at Kōgakkan makes me an outsider, a girl on the fringe.
When I try to rise, Ayako puts a foot on my back. The girls circle tighter. Their shadows fall over me, surprisingly heavy in the hot sun. My cheeks burn. No matter how much shame I feel, no matter how violent their bullying may get, I will not cry.
I. Will. Not. Cry.
I clench my teeth and repeat these words like a mantra. From the ground, all I can see are the graceful stems of the girls’ legs and the whiteness of their socks, styled fashionably loose and scrunched over their shoes. Their pleated skirts make jagged lines above their knees.
“You understand this is for your own good, don’t you, Kira-chan?” Ayako says, removing her foot from my back and crouching down. She keeps her legs pressed together and clasps her hands in her lap. Her patella bones look like birds’ skulls, white and fragile. Of course you believe that, I think, wishing I could say the words aloud. But I know better than to talk back to an upperclassman— not only will Ayako make my life more hellish, but anyone I might complain to would tell me I was a fool for picking an argument with her.
“We’re your big sisters, your senpai,” Ayako continues. “We want you to fit in . . . but that might be difficult for a girl who’s hardly more than a scholarship student. I’m surprised your parents can afford the tuition here.”
The other girls snicker. Ayako slides a finger under my chin and turns my face toward hers. Movement draws my gaze left, where a ghostly tentacle curls over her shoulder and slides its tip into her ear. My heartbeat picks up. The bracelet I wear around my left wrist grows warmer, the protective metal charms reacting to the demon’s presence. It’s an old heirloom my grandfather gave me, one that has been passed down through the Fujikawa family for generations.
As a Shinto shrine maiden—a miko—cleansing evil is supposed to be part of my job. Few people can sense the yokai: the demons benevolent, malevolent, and everything in between. Yokai thrive on the energy created by extreme human emotions, which means it’s best to try to avoid or ignore them. Most days, similar tactics work with human bullies: Keep your head down. Don’t antagonize them. Ignore their insults. They feed on your embarrassment and your shame.
|Giveaway - Grand Prize|
Physical abuse, however, is more than unusual—it’s almost unheard of, at least among female students.
Another tentacle slithers out of Ayako’s mouth. I can’t be certain that she means anything she says or if the yokai speaks for her: “Kōgakkan prides itself on its excellent student body, and we don’t want anyone putting a mark on our sterling reputation. Especially not some priestess who works in a beat-up old shrine. Did the priests have to take you in because no proper after-school program wanted you?”
“I chose to work at my family’s shrine, Ayako,” I say, intentionally omitting the honorific.
The girls around me suck air through their teeth. “That’s Ayako-senpai to you,” one of Ayako’s girls snaps, spitting on the ground. “Apologize!”
I let the command hang in the air, unanswered. The wind whistles through the school’s courtyard, making the girls’ skirts swing like bells. Ayako doesn’t move.
Neither do I.
“Well?” another girl says. “Go on!”
“No,” I say coldly. There are many ways to say no in Japanese without offense, but I’m done calling Ayako senpai. “My family has tended the Fujikawa Shrine for almost a thousand years, and I am proud to be a miko there. All your family’s money couldn’t buy a legacy like mine.”
There’s a beat, a moment of pure silence, before Ayako rises and kicks me, driving her shoe into my sternum. Pain clatters through my ribs. Choking, I collapse to the ground. The asphalt’s heat bakes my cheek and reeks of burned rubber. Pebbles bite into my flesh. I curl my knees into my chest to protect my stomach.
I can’t think. My lungs feel like they’ve deflated, making it difficult to breathe. I can’t focus enough to push myself up from the ground.
“Ayako!” someone gasps. “You said you weren’t going to hurt her!”
“Shut up,” Ayako says, grabbing me by my hair.
My breath hisses through my gritted teeth. “Let me go—”
A shout rises from the other side of the yard. Ayako straightens, and her pack of girls turns toward the sound. Their legs tense.
Someone’s coming our way.
“Go,” Ayako snaps at the other girls. They stampede around me, fleeing and hiding their faces. Relief and embarrassment wash through me in equal amounts. I push up to a sitting position, wincing and rubbing my chest. My heart sinks when I see my younger sister, Ami, and one of the school’s office secretaries hurrying toward me.
I’ve already lost enough dignity today. My little sister’s pity is the last thing I want or need.
“Kira!” Ami’s voice bounces across the courtyard, bright and high as a ball.
I don’t want my sister to see me this way—my skirt is hiked up, exposing the tops of my thighs. Blood bubbles from the scrapes on my knees. My books and things are scattered around the empty courtyard, papers and assignments rolling in the breeze. Ayako’s shoe left a large, dirty skid mark on the front of my white dress shirt.
Ami’s pigtails bob as she runs toward me. I rise, squeezing a pebble out from under my skin and dropping it to the ground. It patters on the asphalt.
“Kira! Are you okay? Did she kick you?” my sister asks, almost crashing into me. She balls her fists in my blazer to keep her balance. She looks like she’s about to cry.
I put my hand on Ami’s head, refusing to make eye contact with her. “I’m fine, it was . . . a misunderstanding.” My voice strangles on the last few syllables. I take a steadying breath. If I didn’t cry in front of Ayako, I’m certainly not crying in front of my six-year-old sister.
“What happened, Fujikawa-san?” Miss Oba asks, calling me by my surname. “Are you all right?”
No, I’m not “all right.” I wish people would stop asking that question—if someone needs to ask it, the answer is almost always no. I’m bruised down to the quiet, dark places of my soul. I tug my skirt into place and beat the dust off the pleats, succeeding only in smearing blood across the fabric. I curse mentally, knowing it will stain.
But I’d rather have blood on my skirt than evil slithering across my skin.
“Who were those girls?” Miss Oba asks. “They don’t attend Kōgakkan, do they? Surely our students have more decorum than that.”
You saw their uniforms. “I didn’t see their faces. They knocked me down and wouldn’t let me up.”
Miss Oba purses her lips. I’ve never been a good liar, but neither is Miss Oba. She knows those girls were Kōgakkan students. I know who they were. It’s easier for us both not to admit it and avoid the messy details. Neither of us wants Ayako making the consequences worse for us on Monday morning.
Besides, I can’t tell Miss Oba about the yokai. Adults don’t handle the inexplicable very well. Even my own parents refuse to believe that Grandfather and I can see and interact with yokai. Despite my mother’s upbringing at the Fujikawa Shrine, the yokai exist only in the realms of pop culture and manga to her. And while Shinto is the cultural backbone of Japanese life, many people don’t identify as religious. Not in the strictest sense, at least.
Miss Oba helps me gather my things off the ground. “Would you like to make a report?” she asks.
I shake my head, trying to shove my books into a bag too ripped to carry them. “I’m already late for work. I’ll get some bandages at my family’s shrine, it’s not far.”
“I’m fine, thank you. Have a good day, Oba-san,” I say with a short bow. With that, I usher my sister away from the courtyard before Miss Oba decides to ask any more questions.
Ami and I are fifteen paces away when Miss Oba calls out, “Fujikawa-san, wait!”
I pick the last rock out of my palm and pretend not to hear her.
About the authors:
COURTNEY ALAMEDA - A veteran bookseller and librarian, Courtney Alameda now spends her days writing thriller and horror novels for young people. Her debut novel, SHUTTER, was nominated for a Bram Stoker award and hailed as a "standout in the genre" by School Library Journal. Her forthcoming novel, PITCH DARK (Spring 2017), is a genre-blending science fiction/horror novel in the vein of Ridley Scott's 1979 film ALIEN.
Courtney holds a B.A. in English literature with an emphasis in creative writing. She is represented by the talented John M. Cusick of Folio Literary. A Northern California native, she now resides in Utah with her husband, a legion of books, and a tiny five pound cat with a giant personality.
VALYNNE E. MAETANI - (pronounced Vuh-lin Mah-eh-tah-nee) grew up in Utah and obtained a Bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In a former life, she was a project manager and developed educational software for children with learning disabilities. Currently, she is a full-time writer. She is a member of the We Need Diverse Books team and is dedicated to promoting diversity in children's literature because every child should grow up believing his or her story deserves to be told. Her debut novel, Ink and Ashes, is the winner of the New Visions Award 2013, a Junior Library Guild 2015 selection, and Best Fiction Book in Salt Lake City Weekly’s Best of Utah Arts Award for 2015. She lives in Salt Lake City.
Grand Prize: Win a signed copy of SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS, a signed copy of Courtney Alameda's SHUTTER, and a signed copy of Valynne Maetani's INK AND ASHES; anime portraits of Kira and Shiro; a stuffed fox omamori charm from the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Japan; an origami fox hand-folded by Valynne Maetani; a yokai mini sticker sheet; and an assortment of Japanese Kit Kats (not pictured) [INT]
Second Prize: Win (1) of (2) A signed copy of SEVEN DEADLY SHADOWS with anime portraits of Kira and Shiro (INT)