What It’s About
The life story of an abandoned girl, protected by a fox spirit during the fall of the Qing dynasty.
Why I Think You’d Like It
It’s a beautiful book that hits all the marks. The characters are interesting and even the ones with dark sides are, for the most part, deeply sympathetic. While the magical elements are imaginative, the history is also detailed and accurate. It’s simultaneously one of the best fantasy and one of the best historical fiction books that I’ve ever read.
I admire the way it handles female agency in the setting. Most of the important characters are women, and most of them live lives where someone else makes all their decisions for them. These kinds of disempowered characters can make for momentum that drags, but Janie Chang creates tension by focusing on the small moments. She has her characters put all their efforts behind the minute influences they do have on events, and the few decisions they can make. This keeps the tension high, the failures painful, and the successes jubilant.
For all the pain these characters go through, there are more than enough moments of joy, love, and beauty to balance it out. Every piece of hope feels all the more powerful for how intensely it was earned. This book feels like a healed soul, and I highly recommend it.
Sexual content, including survival sex work, a few deaths and many instances of abuse. Mostly these scenes are not graphic, but they are heartwrenching nonetheless.