Review: The Fox Maidens

Illustrated cover for The Fox Maidens. A Korean teenage girl is shown from the shoulders up. She has her black hair in a center part and pulled back, and she is wearing a white jeogori. It is the night of a full moon, and in the branches of a tree behind her, you can see a white fox.

Title: The Fox Maidens
Author: Robin Ha

Publisher’s Summary: Kai Song dreams of being a warrior. She wants to follow in the footsteps of her beloved father, the commander of the Royal Legion. But while her father believes in Kai and trains her in martial arts, their society isn’t ready for a girl warrior.

Still, Kai is determined. But she is plagued by rumors that she is the granddaughter of Gumiho, the infamous nine-tailed fox demon who was killed by her father years before.

Everything comes crashing down the day Kai learns the deadly secret about her mother’s past. Now she must come to terms with the truth about her identity and take her destiny into her own hands. As Kai desperately searches for a way to escape her fate, she comes to find compassion, and even love, in the most unexpected places.

Set in sixteenth-century Korea and richly infused with Korean folklore, THE FOX MAIDENS is a timeless and powerful story about fighting for your place in the world, even when it seems impossible.

My Thoughts: Kai is a character that readers will not soon forget. It’s not just that she crosses paths with Gumiho, though that plays a part. Beyond that, it’s Kai’s persistence and belief in herself that is remarkable. The rules of the society are strict when it comes to class and gender and Kai has to fight against a lot, but she refuses to back down.

Before the story begins, the author provides background information about Gumiho. There is also an overview of the societal roles which have an effect on everything that follows. Throughout there is plenty of action, stealthy creatures that hunt, multiple violent deaths and a lot of other things going on, but readers can’t help but constantly notice how pervasive the gender and class structures are in this time and place. Women–poor women especially–have very few options. While this is a grim truth, it’s not the only truth. Kai and other women do sometimes find ways to work around or through the system to get what they need or want.

There is a young woman who has noticed Kai and it is interesting to watch that unfold. The love interest is not the main part of the story for a majority of the book, but becomes increasingly important over time. I would have liked there to be a little more attention to developing the relationship because it feels a little abrupt, but it’s still a nice element of the story.

Along with an intriguing storyline and relationships both familial and romantic, the illustrations are gorgeous. The design is striking and the colors are used very effectively. When scenes are in the present timeline during the day, the five traditional Korean colors are generally used–red, blue, yellow, white, and black. A slightly brownish monochrome is used for scenes that take place in the past and sometimes a single pop of color is included in a panel or two. The night scenes are usually grays and blacks with one or two accent colors. This helps the reader easily transition from one scene to another. The chapter divisions kind of break this pattern. They may have colors beyond the traditional palette and generally have a softer, more romantic look to them.

The book is a feast for the eyes and the storytelling both through text and images is compelling. I can tell I will be reading and re-reading this one many times.

Recommendation: Get it soon especially if you enjoy historical K-dramas, Gumiho, and/or thrillers with a dash of love. Check out the peek inside below to get a taste of the story and art.

Extras:

Peek inside the book at Epic Reads (first 17 pages)

Book Trailer on Instagram

Robin Ha shares her drawing process, talks about her first two graphic novels and then shares a brief bit about THE FOX MAIDENS in this video.

Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Pages: 320
Review copy: Digital ARC & final copy via publisher
Availability: On sale February 13, 2024