Review: Fox-Hat and Neko by August Li
I was provided a copy of this book to review by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Fox-Hat and Neko, by August Li, follows the tale of a "chosen one" born in Japan, and his journey from accepting his special powers to the final defeat of the antagonist. Along the way he befriends a fox spirit, a cat demon, a cheerful artist, a determined archer, an impoverished baker, a heartbroken antique dealer, and a enthusiastic English teacher.
Not everyone is as they seem, and many of his acquaintances have secrets they would prefer to keep.
The book is interspersed with manga-esque black and white sketches, and the book takes on the feel of a manga in some capacity. While a lot of the book takes place in Japan, due to the nature of Ayumu Tsunkino's power to walk in an manipulate dreams, the book also takes on a dream like feel. The reader could easily become lost in these dream sequences, where the action can jump and characters can randomly be somewhere else.
It is in these dream chapters that a lot of the character development happens, as people's darkest fears are exposed in a nightmare sequence. The artist, Chou, fears being trapped in a dull office job; Ikehara, the baker, feels trapped by his younger siblings and his obligations to his family.
I feel it prudent to point out that many of the characters are somewhere along the spectrum of queer sexuality. There is no push-back from any of their friends or family about this. This novel did not address homophobia and what LGBT teens might go through in terms of bullying or parental anger. None of the characters experienced any trauma for being queer, specifically. This was incredibly refreshing. There was one short conversation where a lesbian expressed fear to her bisexual girlfriend over losing her to a boy. Her girlfriend very firmly pointed out how awful that was, and why it was unfair. The lesbian listened, believed her, and apologized. Again, incredibly refreshing to see the stigma of bisexuality addressed and have a character apologize for engaging in it. As a queer woman, I already know what homophobia is, I experience it every day. I don't need to be shown it in fiction, too. My experiences aren't a plot device.
Another thing about this book that made me happy was it very briefly addressed polyamory. It might have been unintentional, but a character expresses a sentiment that she loves two people at the same time and wants them both. While this isn't acted on, I felt it appropriately handled how poly feels.
Despite the amazingness that was good representation that let queer characters stand as their own people, this book was at times slow. There was a lot of telling in place of showing, and due to the dream-like nature of the battles, it became hard to follow at times. There were a few false-starts with figuring out who the Big Bad was, and it took, in my opinion, an incredibly long time for all of the back story to be fleshed out. It was teased for a long time, and it felt really drawn out.
Overall, pick this up if you want to read thoughtful representations without all the homophobia laid bare. Also, maybe read this if you want to hear about Usagi Tsukino's cousin? I don't know about that, but it's really all I could think about. Maybe don't buy this if you are looking for either queer tragedy porn or don't like queer people?