Miuko lives with her father, an innkeeper, in a quiet village in the realm of Awara, a place where women must abide by many rules and expectations. Miuko tries hard, but she’s clumsy, loud and opinionated—all of which violate how a respectable Awaran woman should behave.
While running an errand one evening, Miuko finds herself on the road during the verge hour, the time each day when the veil between the mortal and spirit worlds is thinnest. There, she is cursed by a demon and begins to transform into a demon herself. When the curse is discovered by the village priests and her father, Miuko must flee, setting off on a quest to reverse the curse.
Aided by a mischievous magpie spirit who can take the form of a boy and a quirky cast of supporting characters, both human and nonhuman, Miuko doggedly seeks to preserve her humanity and evade a vengeance demon bent on using Miuko’s budding powers for his own destructive ends. But as her journey continues, Miuko finds that there are benefits to the power, strength and autonomy that demonhood offers. Will she be able to keep herself and her new friends safe from harm while maintaining a grasp on her humanity? And if Miuko does manage to break the curse, will her old life—with all its restrictions—be enough for her?
National Book Award finalist Traci Chee’s A Thousand Steps Into Night is an enthralling fantasy adventure that draws deeply on Japanese mythology and spirituality. With surrealism and charm reminiscent of Studio Ghibli films, the story unfolds in short chapters that are more sequential and interconnected than vignettes, but with demarcations that make each beat feel like a small folktale of its own.
As she travels, Miuko crosses paths with the spirits of clouds, trees, monkeys and more, and these spirits help and hinder her in often unexpected ways. Although the spirit world can be frightening, many of Miuko’s most dangerous and upsetting scrapes result from interactions with the human world and its vengefulness, fearfulness and bigotry. But Miuko rallies delightful companions to her side, and they show her loyalty, compassion, bravery and kindness in the face of what seems like a hopeless fate.
Filled with moments of sweet humor, gruesome realism and mystical excitement, A Thousand Steps Into Night is dreamy and thrilling. Teen readers will find its themes of discovering independence, building community and creating change inspiring.