The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo: Expect romance, a gripping adventure and a shadow-filled mystery – book review -

The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo:  book reviewThe Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo:  book review
The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo:  book review
‘Humans and things are different species, and foxes lie between humans and things...’

The rich, dark and dangerous essence of centuries-old Asian fox folklore wraps itself around readers like an all-enveloping blanket of mystery and imagination in a stunning new novel from American-Chinese author Yangsze Choo whose outstanding debut, The Ghost Bride, was filmed for a Netflix series.

Choo has always been fascinated by the concept of shape-shifting fox women, and the tales written down in ancient Chinese literature of these ‘vixens’ who were often accused of wilfulness, strong emotions and licentious living.

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The Fox Wife, a lush and atmospheric tale of supernatural foxes who can transition between human and animal form, provides the thrilling backdrop to a superbly woven tale of love, loss, identity and deadly revenge set in Manchuria in 1908.

It was a perilously unstable period when the 300-year-old Qing dynasty was in terminal decline, the Russians and Japanese were busy carving up the northeast of China, and old traditions and beliefs were jostling with the slow dawning of a new and very different world.

Harnessing the alluring legends of the fox spirits – regarded as both celestial beings and life-devouring demons who tempt and beguile humans – Choo sweeps us into the lives and narratives of two parallel characters whose destinies are linked by supernatural fate... and death.

‘Some people think foxes go around collecting qi, or life force, but nothing could be further than the truth. We are living creatures, just like you, only usually better looking...’

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When a young woman is found frozen in the snow outside a restaurant in the icy city of Mukden, the ancient capital of the Manchu dynasty, her death is clouded by rumours of spirit foxes, believed to lure people into peril by transforming into beautiful women and men.

Bao, a 63-year-old detective, who is hired to uncover the woman’s identity, has a reputation as a ‘fixer,’ known for smoothing feelings and arranging deals, but his true ability lies in being able to spot a lie, a strange gift he knows is safer kept secret.

Since childhood, Bao has been intrigued by the fox gods. Whenever he hears them mentioned, ‘it’s as though his chest is the hollow body of a lute, whose strings vibrate to an invisible breeze.’ But fox spirits have remained tantalisingly out of his reach... until perhaps, now.

In Manchuria, meanwhile, Snow is a creature of many secrets but, most of all, she is a mother with an ache in her chest that will never go away, and seeking vengeance for the death of her baby two years ago.

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Snow is hunting the murderer – a photographer called Bektu Nikan – but first the trail will take her to a famous Chinese medicine shop where the owners can cure ailments, but not the curse that afflicts the family... their eldest sons always die before their twenty-fourth birthdays and now the only grandson of the family is twenty-three.

From northern China, Snow travels to Japan, with Bao following doggedly behind, and as their paths draw ever closer together, both of them will encounter old friends, new foes... and yet more deaths.

Choo’s exquisite prose is perfectly matched to an enthralling story that is filled with magic, beauty, cruelty, and the slow unwinding of a double-layered mystery, but also comes star-dusted with an unexpected exuberance and flashes of dark humour.

As she explores the enchanting and yet unsettling world of mortals and spirits, humans and shape-shifting beasts, and the consequences of their spectacular intersection, there are also reminders of the very real and complex human emotions that emanate from old loves remembered, the ‘hollow, bloody darkness’ of grief, second chances, and the depth of maternal bonds.

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Painted against a vast, mesmerising and freezing landscape, and overlaid with the intriguing superstitions, curses and supernatural beliefs of Chinese fox histories, The Fox Wife brings together the unforgettable characters of vengeful white fox Snow, and Bao, the detective in search of his destiny.

Expect romance, a gripping adventure, a shadow-filled mystery, and a sprinkling of special Chinese magic that will leave readers longing for more!

(Quercus, hardback, £20)

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