Friday, January 31, 2014

Review: Boxers & Saints

Boxers & Saints
By Gene Luen Yang
Published 2013 by First Second

In Boxers, Little Bao is determined to defend his countrymen from the evil missionaries roaming the land. He calls upon the ancient Chinese gods to help him raise an army of Boxers. In Saints, Vibiana finds herself and her calling in Christianity, never imagining that her fellow Chinese will brand her an enemy for this. The stories of Little Bao and Vibiana will collide.

When discussions for this year's Pyrite were just getting started at Someday My Printz Will Come, this book featured prominently (and did throughout the course of discussions). However, many questions of eligibility were raised. Most significantly, the questions boiled down to: is this one book or two?

Personally, I think it's difficult to consider the books separately, as they are clearly meant to be read in conjunction with one another. Back then, I wondered if there was a person who had read Saints before Boxers, as that seemed the natural order to read them in, or if either could be considered on its own. I don't recall if I ever got answers to these questions (surely I did, because I definitely do not know everything), but, for me, these books are two pieces of the same whole.

The same brilliant whole, I should say, as these may have been my favorite books I read last year. I read them as listed, Little Bao's story first, followed by Vibiana's. Over at Someday, I also wondered if the ending of Saints would have the same impact if one hadn't read Boxers first. In my mind, I have doubts - I think Vibiana's story is made stronger by its crossing with Little Bao's and the ending of her story is even more effective having read both volumes completely. I also wondered if the epilogue type bit at the end of Saints would matter to someone who hadn't read Boxers - this I sincerely doubt, but, as I'm not a time lord, I can't travel back and find out for myself.

All that being said, I adored these books. Though I love historical fiction, I was definitely not a history fan for the majority of my life. That being said, I knew almost nothing about the Boxer Rebellion prior to reading these books. Yes, I am fully aware that these are works of fiction, but I think they are rooted very clearly in history and certainly made me aware of my ignorance on the topic.

I think I'd be hard-pressed to find a flaw with these books, unless you consider what I perceive to be their reliance on each other for completeness to be a flaw (which I don't). I loved the characters of Little Bao and Vibiana - they felt achingly real. Their stories broke pieces of my heart. The art is absolutely phenomenal. I loved the incorporation of both the Chinese gods and Joan of Arc. I think these books are just masterful examples of storytelling. So wonderful and highly recommended.

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