In Traci Chee’s first work of fantasy since her wonderful The Reader trilogy, we meet the “unremarkable” personage of Miuko, an innkeeper’s daughter who tries her best to be everything she is not: meek, quiet, tidy, and acceptable. But when a sudden kiss from a shaoha sets Miuko on the path to becoming a demon herself, she must journey through Awara to restore her humanity before it’s too late. And with a monstrous possessed prince now on her tail, she’ll have to be much louder, more reckless, and more unacceptable than her comfort, and society’s, have ever allowed.
Recounted by a witty narrator who insists upon footnotes and flanked by a whimsical world filled with sprightly gods and vivid spirits, A Thousand Steps Into Night nails a balancing act I haven’t seen pulled off in YA in a long time. While it follows a teenage protagonist, I could easily see this book being adapted into a gorgeous animated film poised to become the future favorite of school-age kids, teenagers, and adults alike. It’s fun and lighthearted without being afraid of substance; ready and willing to challenge Miuko exactly where it hurts; and confident enough in its tone that extremes of all kinds––joyful, violent, ironic, wondrous––never feel out of place.
What Traci Chee nails most in this YA fantasy standalone, though, is a sense of scope. We may hop from place to stunning place a little quickly, but it’s with intention that a litany of striking magical palaces, temples, and forests parade through the pages of A Thousand Steps. Chee chooses scenes for her settings, and not the other way around; each setpiece with its sequence is as well-matched and memorable as any written for a film of fantastic proportions. I find myself recalling “the Kuludrava Palace scene,” or “the gambling parlor scene,” or “the library scene,” each filled with (hilarious!) antics that couldn’t have transpired anywhere else. As a quest fantasy, A Thousand Steps Into Night manages a broad and highlight-studded sweep of the world of Awara, and whatever it lacks in concentration, it more than makes up for in delightful variety.
A couple missteps emerge, though, in the form of characters. A lot of them, in particular, are introduced and then exit very quickly once their role is finished, which is worse for the less-cartoonish human characters than it is for the instantly lovable, over-the-top supernatural ones. Also, there’s a Villain With A Point™ lurking in this book that’s just a little too easy for Miuko to confidently refute: I would’ve loved for him to bring out more conflict in her!
All told, though, A Thousand Steps Into Night is an impressive show of range from the marvelous Traci Chee, and wherever her books go next, I’m following them there 💙