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The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo

Historical fantasy

The Fox Wife

Repeat author

Yangsze Choo is back at Book of the Month – other BOTMs include The Night Tiger.

by Yangsze Choo

Excellent choice

Excellent choice

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Quick take

Taking inspiration from Chinese folklore, this winter tale follows a fox seeking revenge in the dangerous world of men.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, 400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Multiple_Viewpoints

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Nonlinear_Timeline

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, International

    International

Synopsis

Manchuria, 1908.

In the last years of the dying Qing Empire, a courtesan is found frozen in a doorway. Her death is clouded by rumors of foxes, which are believed to lure people by transforming themselves into beautiful women and handsome men. Bao, a detective with an uncanny ability to sniff out the truth, is hired to uncover the dead woman’s identity. Since childhood, Bao has been intrigued by the fox gods, yet they’ve remained tantalizingly out of reach―until, perhaps, now.

Meanwhile, a family who owns a famous Chinese medicine shop can cure ailments but can’t escape the curse that afflicts them―their eldest sons die before their twenty-fourth birthdays. When a disruptively winsome servant named Snow enters their household, the family’s luck seems to change―or does it?

Snow is a creature of many secrets, but most of all she’s a mother seeking vengeance for her lost child. Hunting a murderer, she will follow the trail from northern China to Japan, while Bao follows doggedly behind. Navigating the myths and misconceptions of fox spirits, both Snow and Bao will encounter old friends and new foes, even as more deaths occur.

Content warning

This book contains mentions of death of a child.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Fox Wife.

The Fox Wife

1

MANCHURIA, 1908

Perhaps you know this story: Late one evening, a beautiful woman comes knocking on an unsuspecting scholar’s door.

“Who is it?” the young man asks, peering out into the neglected garden where flowers and shrubs bend into strange shapes in the moonlight.

“Let me in.” She has a bewitching smile and a jar of his favorite rice wine.

And he does, hesitant at first because he’s supposed to be studying for the Imperial examinations. Why is she alone outside this remote country villa, and why do her eyes gleam strangely in the rain-wet darkness? But he tells himself it’s all right; she’s likely a prostitute sent by his friends as a joke. They drink the wine, one thing leads to another, and despite her blushes and his untouched pile of books, he has one of the most enjoyable evenings he can recall.

Except he can’t really remember it. The details are misted in lamplight and laughter. But he must see her again; he seizes her hands (such long-fingered, sharp-nailed hands) and won’t let her go.

“My home is over there,” she says, pointing at a curious little hill. “If you follow the road, it’s the fourth house from the top.”

The next night, he sets out after his old servant has gone to bed. If he paid attention, he’d see that the road peters out until it’s barely a trail through overgrown grass, but he doesn’t notice, so besotted is he. There are many curious houses along the way, all with darkened windows like empty sockets. Fine mansions, little hovels. Each with the name of a family prominently written on its lintel. The fourth house from the top of the hill is an imposing mansion; the name on its gate is Hu.*

Again and again he visits her, neglecting his studies while a pile of unopened letters accumulates from his angry parents. His skin shrivels like a withered leaf, his tonsils swell, and his spine curves. Finally, the worried old servant brings in a monk to exorcize evil spirits. When the spell is broken, the scholar howls and weeps in humiliated fury, tearing his clothes with trembling hands. A raiding party is made up of local peasants who swear there are no houses or grand estates on that crooked little hill. Only a long-abandoned graveyard. The fourth grave from the top is constructed, as Chinese graves are, like a little house half sunk into the hill. Using hoes and spades, they break into it to discover that it has become a fox’s den.

*Fox.

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Why I love it

From the very first pages of this novel, when I met the lovely, enigmatic—and clearly dangerous—Snow, I was entranced by her and her mysterious quest. The setting is fascinating—a winter-gripped Manchuria in the beginning of the twentieth century, being carved up by the Japanese and Russians. It is not a world I had encountered before, and it is portrayed vividly, interweaving history, myth, and magic beautifully.

Snow’s adventures will keep readers glued to the page as she works as a maidservant in the home of a rich Chinese medicine-seller’s family. She exudes a magical attraction that causes the wrong people to fall in love with her, and this lands her, as you might imagine, in heaps of trouble. All the while, she is being pursued by a tenacious detective, Bao, who is hot on the trail of a mysterious murder—and who has long been fascinated by the tales of supernatural foxes. But he’s not the only person following her. Who are those two handsome, mysterious men that Snow is trying to avoid?

Yangsze Choo is a consummate storyteller. When she finally reveals the secret behind Snow’s vengeful quest, I was shocked and deeply touched. I am convinced that readers, even those coming to Choo’s work for the first time, will be fascinated and satisfied by this unusual novel, at once human and magical.

Member ratings (3,912)

  • Alexandra O.

    Honolulu, HI

    What a well thought out story! I loved every moment of it. From the premise to the history to the fantasy of it all, and even happily surprised with suspense! The characters are lovable too ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Zaria M.

    Dade City, FL

    This has a slow start to it but it is such a great book!! The way everything began to piece together and make sense was literally perfect and I grew to love these characters so much 🥹⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Isabella P.

    Hudson, OH

    4/5 ⭐️ Somehow this book had multiple murder mysteries, mourning a child, and a lost love while also having funny, charming, and magical moments throughout the story and I loved every part of it 🩷

  • Stephanie K.

    Commerce Township, MI

    Just like she did in “The Night Tiger,” Choo brilliantly weaves together history and fantasy. Her writing pulls you into another world, making you want to believe that the magical elements are true.

  • Elowyn C.

    Framingham, MA

    I don’t normally like magical realism. I struggle enjoying fantasy. But this… this was fantastic.. The word choice is fascinating; the characters delightfully toeing the line between human and not.

Historical fantasy
The Fox Wife
The Familiar
The Invisible Hour
Circe
Gods of Jade and Shadow
The Kingdom of Back
Historical fantasy
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The Fox Wife
The Familiar
The Invisible Hour
Circe
Gods of Jade and Shadow
The Kingdom of Back