Monday, July 4, 2016

REVIEW: Fox & Wolf (e-book) by Eugene Woodbury

Fox & Wolf is YA (?) urban fantasy. It's 43,470 words long.


Note: This work is currently available for 50% off at Smashwords.

Yuki is a werewolf who's been kicked out of three schools in the past four years for getting into fights. She has a habit of acting without thinking first, and her amber eyes and  brilliant white hair do an excellent job of attracting bullies' attention.

She's determined to do better at Sumiyoshi Girls Preparatory Academy, but blending in suddenly becomes the least of her concerns when she spots a kitsune, a werefox, in her class. What Yuki doesn't realize is that Ami, the werefox in question, has no idea what she is. Ami, for her part, just wants to keep her head down, graduate, and become a veterinarian. Being friends with an enthusiastic weirdo like Yuki is definitely not part of her plans.

I'd been reading Eugene Woodbury's Twelve Kingdoms fan translations and decided I should buy one of his original works as a sort of unofficial “thank you.” Fox & Wolf seemed like the one I'd be most likely to enjoy. That said, the excerpt made me think of anime and manga related fanfic, so I wasn't expecting much. Thankfully it turned out to be pretty decent, although I'd still hesitate to recommend it to someone who wasn't already an anime and manga geek. There were a few Japanese words and cultural details that weren't explained – readers either had to figure them out from the context, already know them, or google them. For example, the context mostly helped me figure out “o-furo,” although I ended up googling it for further details.

I should probably mention that I'm a white woman who has never been to Japan and whose knowledge of Japanese culture is mostly derived from anime and manga, which I realize provide a skewed view. I can't say much about the accuracy of how Japan (specifically Osaka) was depicted in Fox & Wolf. A lot of it, like Yuki needing special permission from her school for her part-time job as a dog walker, fit with what I knew from movies, TV, and books, although there were a few other things I wondered about.

Anyway, my favorite thing about this book turned out to be Yuki and Ami's budding friendship. I had expected Yuki to be more hotheaded than she was, considering her history, but she turned out to be surprisingly mature. I loved that she both recognized that Ami was better than her in some areas (like academics) and that she wasn't the slightest bit jealous of Ami because of that. All she wanted was to be friends with someone she knew had a hidden supernatural side just like her. I wasn't sure whether Fox & Wolf was aimed at a middle grade or high school audience but, if it was YA, it was unusual in that there was absolutely no romance – Yuki and Ami's story was purely a friendship story, with Ami realizing her true nature due to Yuki's influence.

Unfortunately, the story wasn't just about Yuki and Ami's friendship. I wish it had been. Their supernatural abilities and complicated family lives could have provided plenty of story fodder all on their own. Instead, Woodbury introduced a storyline in which Ami's mother's family was involved in a tobashi scheme and tried to get Ami's mother to help them using Ami's trust fund as an incentive. Yuki's father, who she hadn't seen since she was too young to remember, was the special prosecutor leading the investigation. This could have put Yuki and Ami at odds, except Ami was pretty cut off from her mother's family and her mother had no intention of doing anything illegal, especially not for the family who threw her out after she fell in love with Ami's father.

I'll just say right now that the whole thing with the tobashi scheme bored me. I had trouble following exactly what was going on, and I found myself wondering how a middle grade or YA audience was expected to do any better.

Confusing aspects aside, I hope Woodbury one day writes a sequel for this. I most enjoyed the parts where Ami and Yuki got to know each other and worked together at Osaka Dog Doctor. It'd be nice to see more of them and their families, and there's still so much I'd like to know. I mean, what about Ami's dad? How much does Yuki's stepmom know about Yuki and her mother? How long had Yuki's uncle and dad been in contact?

Additional Comments:

There were a handful of typos, some repetitive phrasing, and one or two incorrectly used words. For example, I'm pretty sure that it's supposed to be “knock the world off its axis” rather than “knock the world off its axels” (27) (and, even if it had been correct, wouldn't it have been “axle”?). I had noticed these kinds of errors in Woodbury's fan translations but had figured they were just “I'm only doing this for fun” sloppiness. It was disappointing to see it in his “for pay” fiction as well.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Spice and Wolf (book) by Isuna Hasekura; Spice and Wolf (anime TV series) - The shapeshifting aspects and the tobashi scheme stuff made me think of this series. Warning: this series contains a bit of fanservice (Barbie doll nudity) as well as a tiny bit of romance. I've written about the first two light novels and seasons 1 and 2 of the anime.
  • Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - Those who'd like more fantasy with shapeshifting and family secrets might want to check this series out, although it's heavier on romance than on friendship. I tend to prefer the anime, although it doesn't have a true ending. However, the manga will give readers the full story.
  • Inu x Boku SS (manga) by Cocoa Fujiwara; Inu x Boku SS (anime TV series) - Although the anime feels like a complete work with a true ending, it barely shows anything covered in the manga. I'd recommend this series to those who'd like more family secrets and shapeshifters and who are okay with more drama, fanservice (lots of it), and not-exactly-healthy romance. I've written about the anime and the first two volumes of the manga.
  • Zootopia (CGI animated movie) - One of the few stories I can think of that features a close friendship with no hint of romance (unless you're looking at the fandom output). A con man fox and police officer rabbit become friends while investigating an otter's mysterious disappearance. I've written about this movie.
  • Mindtouch (e-book) by M.C.A. Hogarth - Another friendship story, although I admit that I prefer to think of this one as an asexual romance. It's basically slice-of-life sci-fi starring a humanoid empath and a centauroid being. One warning, though: there are kids with terminal illnesses, and one does die. I've written about this book.

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