Rating: 3.5 stars
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Huli is a nine-tailed fox shifter, or yaomo, beings who are considered demons and hated by many. As a yaomo, Huli’s qi, or life force, is dependent on sex. It’s not easy to stay safe, as Huli’s powers of seduction make it easier to find partners, but often lead to grumpy bedfellows when they learn the truth about him. Huli doesn’t know much about his past, other than having vague memories of living in the palace with his mother, who died when he was young. Huli was mostly raised by Shushu, who helped train him in his magic, but since the man died, Huli has been mostly on his own other than his best friend, Ling Ling.
When Huli goes too long without replenishing his qi, he becomes so weak that Ling Ling is worried and calls for a healer. It turns out that the man who comes to help, Xiao Ying, is the same man who helped Huli out when he was fleeing some dogs after seducing the wrong man. While Xiao Ying is able to help Huli regain his strength, it comes at the expense of his own, and Xiao Ying needs to recuperate with Huli until he can travel again. It gives the men time to get to know one another, and an attraction forms between them.
Xiao Ying has a similar story to Huli in that he too has lost all his family. In his case, they were all murdered and he is determined to get justice for them. When Xiao Ying’s quest takes him out of town in search of more information about his family, Huli and Ling Ling go along. Along the way, the men begin to learn more about each other, as well as about each of their pasts. What they discover surprises both men and helps them learn more about some unexpected connections between them, some political intrigue involving both their families, and a destiny that will shape their lives to come.
The best way I can describe Foxy Tails is as a cross between fantasy and fairy tale, mixed with the mythology of the nine-tailed fox. Based on a quick online search, it appears that the names and other key terms in the story are Chinese in origin, so I am assume that culture is the inspiration for this story (this also syncs with some author notes from the end of the book). While we are in the characters’ POVs (mostly Huli’s, but occasionally Xiao Ying’s as well), the tone here very much evokes being told a story or legend from a narrator, rather than being immersed in the characters’ viewpoints. I think in some ways this works, in that it really develops the tone of this fantasy world, but it also left me feeling a little removed from the story. I also think the way the book uses not just the characters’ names, but also refers to Huli as “Fox” and Xiao Ying as “Healer” also had me feeling a little separated from them. These titles are used in place of their actual names; it’s not just in the narrative portion, but they also use these titles when they speak to one another (as in “Healer, how are you today?). So I think this style is either going to work for you, in terms of sinking you into the vibe of the story, or feel a little jarring, which unfortunately it did in my case.
The other piece where I felt some dissonance is with regard to some of the language. The book’s genre very much feels like historical fantasy, as there appear to be no modern elements. The story also feels firmly set in its Asian roots, in terms of names, places, food, use of Chinese words, etc. So I found it strange then when the story sprinkles in modern and anachronistic terms that felt out of place. Just as a few examples:
“Thank you for covering my butt out there.”
What kind of cockamamie excuse was he going to give them now?
“So there’s no danger of us getting hot and heavy in this bed.[…]”
“Don’t get your undies all in a twist, woman.[…]”
In one case, we even get British slang: “Do you really think I want to witness you shagging Healer?”
This happens throughout the book and it just felt weirdly dissonant with what is a very strongly established tone and setting to the book.
The story begins by bringing Huli and Xiao Ying into each other’s orbits and the men spend some time getting to know one another before embarking on their journey together. I wished I could have felt the connection between them developing more clearly, as the declarations of love felt a little unsupported by the story. But I did appreciate giving the characters time to get to know one another before Huli just follows Xiao Ying off on his quest. I enjoyed the way the backstory unfolds for both men and I think the pacing is good in that regard. We slowly learn not only both of their histories, but how things intertwine, as well as some revelations that neither man expects. However, overall the story pacing felt off to me, in that we spend a lot of time with the men before they start traveling, then a good deal of time on the road as they try to learn more about Xiao Ying’s family. Then, the ending just comes up super fast and major conflicts and storylines are left unresolved. The short, non-spoilerly version is that over the course of the story, the book sets up this conflict surrounding the current emperor and national politics. The men learn about their pasts and about a prophesy that affects them and what actions they are supposed to take — but then we don’t actually see them do any of it and the book just ends with no resolution. I am trying not to give away details here, but it feels like this book is telling the first 25% of the story and then we are supposed to get the rest where we see them actually DO all the things prophesied. But the story ends without that happening and, from everything I can tell (including this book indicating in the back matter that it is a standalone), this is not a continuing series.
I have a few other random notes here. First, I did enjoy Huli’s best friend, Ling Ling, and having a strong female character (one of the only women in the book). However, I wish there had been more development to this prominent side character beyond being told she is beautiful and strong. Also, Ling Ling is constantly referred to as the “female warrior,” which makes me feel like the story is making a distinction between a “warrior” and a “female warrior.” Not to mention that she is referred to as the “female warrior” so often (26 times by my Kindle’s count), it became distracting to me. Also, some things in the world building didn’t feel clear or consistent to me. We learn early on that both Huli and Xiao Ying have the same mentor, and in fact that Xiao Ying was specifically trained to train Huli. So then, what has he been doing all this time since their mentor died? Why hasn’t he ever come to meet Huli, to train him, to introduce himself? The only reason they really meet is because Xiao Ying happens to be the healer that Ling Ling calls. Even when Huli runs into Xiao Ying’s hut at the start of the story, Xiao Ying never identifies himself or makes the connection. I was also confused on this whole replenishing qi element. We see Xiao Ying help give Huli more qi through a non-sexual means early on. It drains him for weeks, so we know that he is susceptible to getting weak through the qi transfer. We are also told that when Huli has sex with other people, it weakens them as well, and they are “a shadow of themselves for a while, too weak to work, too feeble to even defend themselves should the occasion arise.” But then when these guys have sex, we never see Xiao Ying get weakened, and it just felt confusing as to why.
Overall, I think this is an interesting story that could appeal to readers who like fantasy, particularly with an Asian mythology bent. There are some elements here that worked well for me, particularly the reveal as to both the men’s pasts and how little information we have learned along the way interconnects. But the quest itself didn’t have the energy I expected, given how much of the book it covers. There is just a lot of telling us what is happening, and it didn’t give me the immersive feeling I wanted for the story.
Note: Many of the names and terms used in the story appear to be of Chinese origin and often use accents or other symbols in the English-alphabet spellings that I couldn’t figure out how to reproduce into text on the web site. I absolutely mean no offense for their omission and acknowledge that these are non-English names and terms and I have used short cut spellings here in this review.