Sometimes, I get it in my head that I want a book. Okay, that happens many times. Several times on any given day, actually. But sometimes, I go out of my way to hunt down used copies of a book even if I don’t know the author. The Heavenly Fox just sounded so up my alley and, it was a Mythopoeic Award finalist in 2012 and used copies were actually not that expensive. If you are the kind of person who wants more pages for their money, you should go for the ebook. It is a very short book.
THE HEAVENLY FOX
by Richard Parks
Published by: PS Publishing, 2011
Hardcover: 78 pages
My rating: 7,5/10
First sentence: The main problem with achieving immortality, Springshadow reminded herself, is that you had to live long enough.
“A fox who reaches the age of fifty gains the ability to transform into a human woman. A fox who reaches the age of one hundred can transform into either a beautiful young girl or a handsome young man at will and can sense the world around them to a distance of over four hundred leagues. A fox who reaches the age of one thousand years, however, becomes a Heavenly Fox, an Immortal of great power, able to commune with the gods themselves.”
Divided into three acts, or chapters, The Heavenly Fox tells the story of Springshadow, a fox who has lived to be 999 years old and is now waiting for the final three days until her on thousandth birthday to pass. We are introduced to Springshadow’s character as she lives with a human man, herself having taken the shape of a woman, and extracts some of his life force to keep herself alive. It’s a cruel beginning, demonstrating that, despite her appearance, Springshadow is not a human but a fox with her mind set on one goal – become immortal.
But even foxes don’t live in a vacuum and, having almost reached one thousand years of age, she is visited by the goddess of mercy, Guan Shi Yin and another immortal. The immortal, Wildeye, gained his immortality through trickery, stealing and eating one of the peaches of Heaven. I know very little about Chinese mythology, but I do know Sun Wu Kong when I see him. And personally, I’m always happy to meet the Monkey King in any fantasy story. So major brownie points for Richard Parks.
In the second act, Springshadow has reached her goal and becomes immortal. Except now she faces the problem of what to do with this immortality. She goes to visit Heaven, which is disappointingly a lot like Earth, only with more magic. But what is her purpose? This is the part that reads more like a fable than an SFF story. Springshadow’s search for meaning and for something to do with her power, is as touching as it is frustrating. She didn’t think that far when she decided to become a heavenly fox… But she knows of another who has gone before her, a fox named Sunflash, who has mysteriously disappeared.
I won’t spoil the third act because it is where things come together beautifully, although I will say this much: Springshadow finds Sunflash and is shown a different way to look at life, both her own and that of other creatures in the world. Sunflash’s story, although told on very few pages, was deeply moving.
Although The Heavenly Fox is a simple fable-like story, I had several causes for loving it, Springshadow’s character being chief among them. So many times, anthropomorphic animals, talking animals, magical animals in fiction tend to be too human to be believable. Springshadow is not too concerned with the death of humans but she does have a great deal more empathy than other foxes. The concept of settling a debt, of self-sacrifice, is foreign to her because – well, she is a fox and why would foxes care? I also loved that Richard Parks takes time to give his tale a little humor. Whether it’s in dialogue with Wildeye (I love Wildeye!) or Springshadow’s trouble when dealing with her brand-new nine fox tails that constantly get in the way, especially when she’s trying to sit down, there is a beautiful balance of the serious and the light-hearted.
Most of all though, I like how important questiones are posed and there is no one right answer. As Sunflash’s story shows, every creature has to choose their own way and to do what’s right for them. But listening to others, seeing the world through their eyes, may help you gain more knowledge to make a decision that’s right for you. The Heavenly Fox is a very short, quiet book but at the same time, a highly engrossing one. I think I will read up on Chinese mythology (I am embarrassingly ignorant on the subject) and then definitely revisit The Heavenly Fox.
MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!