51 pages 1 hour read

A Thousand Steps into Night

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide


Traci Chee’s 2022 A Thousand Steps into Night is a Japanese mythos-influenced, feminist-inspired fantasy novel depicting the epic journey of a young innkeeper’s daughter to undo her demonic curse as she bargains with gods, battles with evil spirits, and saves the world along the way. Chee is a full-time novelist and has currently written and published five books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Readers series, and one of her previous novels, We Are Not Free, earned her a Printz Honor and Walter Honor as well as a finalist nomination for the National Book Award. Dealing in spirits, myths, and the power of family and friends, A Thousand Steps into Night is a story that reflects on the nature of monstrosity and the cost of compliance with societal expectations.

This study guide refers to the 2022 HarperCollins e-book edition distributed by Google Books.

Content Warning: This novel contains descriptions of physical assault and abuse.

Plot Summary

When 17-year-old Otori Miuko breaks the last unchipped cup in her father’s inn in the dilapidated village of Nihaoi, she thinks little of her trip to the potter. Instead of hurrying home in the waning light, Miuko finds a magpie spirit being bullied by fox children and saves him, wasting precious time. She treads quickly home, but in the thick fog, Miuko is accosted and finds herself face to face with a spirit whose skin is a brilliant indigo. Too late, she realizes the creature is a demon known as a shaoha, a Death Woman, and before she can run, the demon is upon her, kissing her on the mouth and passing on a curse that will turn Miuko into a demon herself.

The curse takes the form of a growing spot on her foot, and should any creature touch the blue dot, it absorbs the life force until they wither and die. Branded a demon herself for the unnatural color, Miuko is cast out of her home by her father and the priests of her village. As she runs to the nearby forest, she finds herself confronted by a horse rider who is none other than the doro, the sole heir of the Omaizi clan and future ruler of Awara (the realm in which the novel takes place). But the doro is not who he seems. As Miuko looks closer, she sees a second face behind the doro’s handsome one, an eyeless skull with ridged horns and flames—the face of Tujiyazai, a malevolent demon who seeks to destroy the Omaizi clan for having annihilated his clan, the Ogawa, 300 years ago. He believes Miuko can help him with this plan and wants her by his side, but Miuko refuses, as her only wish is to get rid of her curse and become human again.

Geiki, the magpie spirit she saved, comes to find her, and offers his assistance. Together, they travel to Udaira, the country’s capital, where they discover Miuko’s only hope is the House of December priests. Following Geiki’s lead, they bargain with other spirits to make it to the Ochiirokai, the Thousand Step Way, the path that will lead them to the farthest point of Awara, where the House of December is located. As demonic desires begin to manifest along the way, Miuko has more occasions to encounter Tujiyazai—or the doro yagra (Demon Prince), as she calls him—who comes to show her the cruelty of other humans in the form of an abusive father and a serial killer. He pushes her to use her growing powers, to compromise her morals, and to feed her demonic impulses so that the curse may consume her more quickly. Yet despite him, Miuko retains her humanity and saves a crane spirit from domestic abuse and lays to rest girls who lost their lives to a serial killer in the village of Koewa.

When Miuko’s curse is discovered in Koewa, however, a mob tries to capture her, and she and Geiki lose sight of one another as they run away. Miuko finds herself at the mercy of Tujiyazai, who brings her back to his castle, locks her in a tower, and again tries to convince her to stay by his side. With the indigo creeping to her fingers, Miuko knows she has little left before the curse consumes her entirely, and she dares an escape—one that only succeeds because Geiki finds her and catches her before she falls to her death. When they finally make it to the House of December, the priests attempt all they know, but are not able to stop her curse. Soon, the doro yagra comes to claim her once more, and finding no other alternatives to save her friends, Miuko allows herself to become a demon in full. The doro yagra explains that when one summons a demon, the nearest one must answer, so Miuko summons herself by carving Tujiyazai’s name on her arm so she can kill him.

Her efforts, however, do not have the desired effect; per the rules of summoning, Miuko is brought to her victim—but 12 days in the past. As she battles her demonic instincts to absorb other people’s lifeforce and kill them at every viable opportunity, Miuko takes advantage of her return to the past to try and undo some of the tragedies caused by the doro yagra. She attempts to stop the fire at her father’s inn, to save the House of November, which the doro yagra destroyed, and to provide tools and safety for Geiki and the friends she made at the House of December. Miuko’s efforts, however, are not successful: Her father’s inn still burns down, she is cast out of the village for a second time, the House of November is destroyed, and the priests are slaughtered. Still, Miuko acquires binding and exorcising spells as well as bespelled sashes that she believes will allow her to overcome the doro yagra. But time is running out, and as she refuses to absorb anyone’s life force, her body begins to fade. Relying on other spirits like the forest spirit, Nogadishao; the cloud spirit, Beikai; and the monkey spirits, Miuko reaches and bargains with Afaina, the God of Stars, and the only being who can send her back to her time. Through his power, she is sent back to her confrontation with Tujiyazai, where she and the priest of December temporarily repel him. To fully exorcise him from the doro’s body, however, Miuko must find the spirit of Omaizi Ruhai, the true doro whose body Tujiyazai inhabits. Through a ritual and with the help of her friends, Miuko discovers him trapped in the old mayoral manor of Nihaoi and liberates him. Together, they corner Tujiyazai, and though he tries to survive by stealing Miuko’s demonic power, Miuko pulls him out of the doro’s body, and he dies, withering away. Now no longer quite human nor quite a demon, Miuko helps resettle Nihaoi to its former glory before going off on another adventure with Geiki in tow.

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By Traci Chee