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The Fox Woman

(Love/War/Death #1)

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  1,647 ratings  ·  186 reviews
Yoshifuji is a man fascinated by foxes, a man discontented and troubled by the meaning of life. A misstep at court forces him to retire to his long-deserted country estate, to rethink his plans and contemplate the next move that might return him to favor and guarantee his family's prosperity.

Kitsune is a young fox who is fascinated by the large creatures that have suddenly

Paperback, 384 pages
Published February 3rd 2001 by Tor Books (first published 2000)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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 ·  1,647 ratings  ·  186 reviews

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Mar 01, 2011 rated it liked it
so this is a story about a fox who falls in love with a married human man, and in order to get his attention, she uses secret ancient fox magic and she and her family become human, or illusions of humans, and trick the man into falling in love with her and believing that their illusory world is real, as he lives and eats and mates with them and time stands still for a little while.

the setting is ancient japan, and the story is full of details of the expected behavior of men and women in civiliz
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Mar 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
I have always been interested in fantasy with oriental flavor and in haiku poetry, so this book is right up my alley. Basically, this is an expansion of a classical japanese fairytale, a three character study about love, relationships, aspirations. Plot-wise nothing really happens, basically a nobleman, his wife and a magical fox note down in their diaries everyday impressions and spend a lot of time gazing at their navels. This is an extreme simplification of the book, for behind these apparent ...more
Some kitsune, the Japanese word for foxes, have magic—can shape-shift into human beings. But that choice has costs, as all choices do. The Fox Woman weaves three diaries into a story about a kitsune who falls in love with a human. First, there’s the fox woman herself, whose love of Yoshifuji drives her to become human. She forces her family to become human with her and creates an entirely magical world in order to seduce Yoshifuji. Yoshifuji’s entries describe his growing fascination with the fo ...more
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Kij Johnson's first novel is an expansion of her Sturgeon-award-winning short story. It is a quiet, rather slow-moving story of three weak, unhappy people. It's based on the Japanese folk legends of "kitsune," foxes, which are rumored to have the ability to turn into people, especially beautiful women.
Yoshifuji, finding himself out of a job for the season, decides to move back to his country home, taking his wife, Shikujo with him. Once there, a young fox, Kitsune, sees Yoshifuji and falls in lo
Sep 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
I think this would have been a five star read had I not read "Fox Magic" from Johnson's short story collection first. This was elegant and beautiful, quiet and slow, full of pain and magic. I loved the themes of humanity and love. At first Kitsune's point of view was my favourite, but I came to really enjoy Shikujo's, which I had not expected to. I'm so pleased I read this and eagerly look forward to Fudoki. ...more
Dec 29, 2014 rated it liked it
The Fox Woman is a book I found more interesting than enjoyable. The writing is beautiful and the narrative voices of the three main character's journals are quite fitting to their personalities, but their accounts can also be bogged down by minutiae. It takes about half the novel for it to seem like it's going somewhere, and Kaya no Yoshifuji is so morose I don't understand why multiple individuals were in love with him. Though slow and occasionally tedious, I did think this was a very artfully ...more
Cathy Douglas
Jun 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book because I read one of Johnson's short stories, The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change [all those capitalization choices are hers – don't ask me!:], and enjoyed it. I wound up liking her longer work even better. This lyrical, layered mythological story won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I loved it. At first I found the pace so slow that it was easy to put the book down, but once things got rolling, there were enough delightful momen ...more
Nov 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read the short version of this story before but this novel gives it more depth in the characters and the atmosphere of the story.
Elliot Jackson
Jan 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Really not sure how to rate this one. I mean...the writing was beautiful and the story was intriguing (fox spirits in 10th-century Japan?! That's cool!). The world-building had obviously been undertaken with great care, so that even someone like me, whose level of knowledge about medieval Japan tends to come exclusively from Kurosawa movies, couldn't get too lost. Plus, the way I read these days, I appreciated the break-up into tiny little chapters that I could take a few pages at a time and not ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
I liked this book, although I liked Fudoki, Johnson’s later novel, better.

This one is a fairy tale retelling set in medieval Japan, about a fox who falls in love with a man and turns into a human (or an illusion of a human) in order to have him. It’s told in epistolary form, through the diaries of the three main characters: the fox, the man, and the man’s wife. Multiple narrators are the curse of the ambitious debut author, but while all three voices clearly come from the same writer, this didn’
Sep 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous retelling of a Japanese fable about a fox who falls in love with a man and transforms herself into a woman to earn his love - a little slow-moving in parts, but that's part of its charm: it's a reflection on what it means to be human, and therefore the slower pace is entirely appropriate. And Johnson's language is spectacularly evocative! ...more
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
« "Are you upset?" he asked me.
A good wife is never upset, never unsettled, and I was, in truth, both. And a good husband never corners his wife in this fashion, forcing her to decide between what is correct and what is true. "Of course not," I said.
His unhappiness affects us all. »

The Fox Woman is the story of three people : Kitsune, a young fox who longs to be a human woman, Yoshifuji, a man whose recent failure has him fleeing for his country home and it's simplicity and feeling inadequate co
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A new favorite, really like this setup focusing on actions and their feelings for the 3 involved parts: the man, the wife and the fox. You follow the fox getting in love with a humen and their life rich with inspiration of Japanese traditional culture (who seams very boring and suffocating for some, especially the women).
I liked the fox narrative best true the whole story but you could feel the lonelyness and the sorrow wibrating true the pages.
Dec 15, 2017 added it
Shelves: dnf
I’m really not in the mood for this rn but i May try it again when I want something quiet and slow and traditional Japanese
Mar 29, 2009 rated it really liked it

There are two stories playing out here.

The first is the story of three people chasing each other: The Longing Heart, the Jealous Heart, and the Indecisive Heart. It’s a story as old as the Bible and as recent as today’s soap opera episode.

In this version, it is a man and two women, the man indecisive about what he wants, one woman longing for him, the other woman jealous that he is indecisive about who he wants. I have seen this played out many ways – a boy and two girls, and girl and two boys,
Jay Z
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: speculative
This book is like wandering through a dream. It's so well-written I COULD DIE. The story is very simple. It's about a little fox and her family, and about how she falls in love with a man and does a whole lot of crazy magical shit to make him fall in love with her. (Obviously, no good can come of this, but our little fox wants what she wants and she's a fox and they don't really think about consequences.) The genius is all in the writing.

A lot of people seem Upset about this book because of two
Feb 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: chick-lit, fantasy
This book was not for me.

The author is very talented. She has a beautiful poetic quality to her words, fitting for a fairy tale. You can tell she has done a lot of research to capture this historical period accurately, as well as the life of a fox.

However, to me the plot loses strength as it goes along. I stopped reading about halfway through and skimmed the rest. The romance was not believable to me, and less enjoyable because the male love interest is married. I didn't buy the idea of a fox fa
Joy Pixley
Jul 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating, beautiful fantasy story unlike any others I've read. The setting adds a good deal of novelty for me (being pretty bored with quasi-Medieval Europe at this point), as it is set in Heian Era Japan. I don't know nearly enough about Japanese culture and history to judge how accurate the book is, but wow, the level of detail in these characters' everyday lives was amazing. The focus is narrow and personal: everything revolves around the humans in a country home in rural Japan a ...more
Jan 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019-books, book-club
This was a book I received at a book club event (thanks Beth!).

This was an interesting one - I liked the writing a lot and didn't find it as slow in the beginning as most other reviewers seemed to. I think that's mostly because I've read many books like this before so I was a little more used to the style. This had an original plot and took place during a time period I don't read much about. Our three main characters are also all very distinct and have their own problems - no one is perfect and
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fairy tale and poetry, joined into the form of a novel. Beautiful! I felt enchanted by fox magic while I was reading it.
Jan 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fox falls in love with a human and does everything in her power to win him for herself, no matter what. The biggest problem, other than her being a fox and him human, is that he's already married to a woman he loves. She ignores her grandfather's warnings and the numerous times she's chased off or outright attacked by the humans. She's in love and doesn't care the cost. But Yoshifuji, the object of her love, is equally fixated on the foxes. And his wife, Shikujo, who believes that foxes are ev ...more
Elizabeth Spencer
Aug 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, favorites
"Man, this is slow," I thought. "I don't know how I'll get through this. It's very pretty, but I have no idea where this story is going."

It took me weeks to read the first half of the novel. Then I read the rest in a day.

The Fox Woman is set in ancient Japan. It's about Kaya no Yoshifuji and his wife, Shikujo, who move to his rural estate when he fails to get a court placement. Yoshifuji is deeply depressed and desperate to find some sort of meaning in his life, but this drives him and his wife
Oct 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a beauty of a book, a mix of myth, fairy tale, love story, and cautionary tale.

The kitsune, the fox-woman, is a well-known figure in Japanese folklore and myth; here, Johnson places the story of a fox who wishes to become a woman against that of a young couple whose marriage is faltering under the weight of artifice and constraint. Above, in the house, Yoshifuji and his wife Shikujo communicate by writing each other haikus open to multiple interpretations, neither knowing what the other
Aug 26, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: historical, myth-folk
Kitsune are fox spirits of Japanese mythology. Able to hone their magical abilities and in time, take human form; they appear in folktales as trickers, helpers, lovers, friends, guardians...

From this tradition comes The Fox Woman, a historic fantasy of a fox who falls in love with a nobleman. Kij Johnson puts in plenty of detail, both of feudal era Japan and the lives of foxes-- details that provide a generous reality on which the unreality nexus of the two can be explored.

Frankly, given the plo
Karin Gastreich
Mar 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
This is an extraordinary book, poetically written and a very worthwhile read. Based on a traditional Japanese fairy tale, it is the story of fox who falls in love with a man, and the mysterious magic she invokes to be with him.

The book is occasionally bogged down by an excess of introspection. This is to be expected, I suppose, as the story is told entirely through the diaries of the main characters. Also, I wasn't entirely convinced by Kaya No Yoshifuji as a romantic hero; all too often he came
May 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
An excellent retelling of a classic Japanese myth of a man lured away from reality by a fox woman. (Much like Western fairy stories, where men are lured into the faerie realms, where time moves very differently.) The twist is this time, the story is told from three different perspectives, through the diaries of the man lured away, his wife, and the fox woman who fell in love with him. In addition to being an engrossing story, it explores the natures of illusion, reality, perception, and poetry. ...more
Mistiemae1 Downs
Mar 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
A beautiful rendition of one of the Japanese kitsune myths that delves into reality vs. perception, the various forms love can take, desire, and destiny. I was enthralled with it all the way up until the ending, which I felt was a little too anti-climatic (the reason I gave it 4 stars rather than 5). The portrayal of Heian-era Japan was thoughtful and wonderfully spun. I was amazed by this departure into another time and culture. My favorite part of the book, though, was the lovely poetry. I cou ...more
Elysya Scerbo-pasta
Aug 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Right away I fell in love with the writing style of this book. It's absolutely beautiful, and the addition of poetry is a nice touch.
At first I thought the sex portions were really too much; I didn't see the point in them being so gratuitous. But I later realized everything is there for a reason and everything has meaning.

This story isn't just about the events that happen when a fox capable of casting magic falls in love with a human. It's about what it means to be human, what it is to have a
Hannah Stoutenburg
Jul 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book was a beautiful fairy tale in the classic Japanese style. It deals with beautiful topics like the soul, types of love, animals, marriage, family, fate, and so many more things wrapped in a magical package that shifts with the story from fox to woman, sometimes losing the distinction between the two. Almost borders on a Cinderella-esque following as well which is a plus.

Downside to this book is sometimes it got rather slow.
Katie M.
The writing is crisp and beautiful, 11th-century Japan is fascinatingly rendered, and the best parts are compelling and eerie and intriguing. But the plot is SO. SLOW. and the lessons SO. HEAVY. HANDED. that when you throw a bunch of mostly unappealing characters into the mix, you're left with a novel that really falls short of its potential. It took me the better part of a year to slog through... I don't regret finishing it, but I wouldn't regret never having started it, either. ...more
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Into the Forest: The Fox Woman Spoilers Allowed 8 17 Aug 12, 2019 04:43AM  
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Sci-fi and Heroic...: The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson 6 22 Feb 03, 2017 10:41AM  
Endicott Mythic F...: This topic has been closed to new comments. The Fox Woman - Q&A with Kij Johnson -4 56 Jul 08, 2010 08:16AM  

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Kij Johnson is an American writer of fantasy. She has worked extensively in publishing: managing editor for Tor Books and Wizards of the Coast/TSR, collections editor for Dark Horse Comics, project manager working on the Microsoft Reader, and managing editor of Real Networks. She is Associate Director for the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, and serves as a fina ...more

Other books in the series

Love/War/Death (2 books)
  • Fudoki (Love/War/Death, #2)

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107 likes · 72 comments
“I feel strangely free at such times. To behave properly is to be always courteous, always clever, and subtle and elegant. But now, when I am so alone, I do not have to be any of these things.

For this moment, I am wholly myself, unshaped by the needs of others, by their dreams or expectations or sensibilities.

But I am also lonely. With no one to shape me, who stands here, watching the moon, or the stars, or the clouds?”
“Happiness is the pleasantest of emotions; because of this, it is the most dangerous. Having once felt happiness, one will do anything to maintain it, and losing it, one will grieve.” 22 likes
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