Graphic Novel Review: Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Posted October 3, 2013 by Kara in book review, Kara / 5 Comments

Publisher: First Second
Release Date: September 10th, 2013
Pages: Boxers-336/Saints-176
Genre: Graphic Novel-Historical
Source: I received a physical copy of both books for review from the publisher.

 photo bookcover2_zpsf102ad49.jpg photo bookcover3_zpse66934b5.jpg

Publisher’s Blurb for Boxers: China,1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.

Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers – commoners trained in kung fu who fight to free China from “foreign devils.”

Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of “secondary devils” – Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.

Publisher’s Blurb for Saints: China, 1898. An unwanted fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn’t even given a proper name by her family. She finds friendship—and a name, Vibiana—in the most unlikely of places: Christianity. But China is a dangerous place for Christians. The Boxer Rebellion is murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Torn between her nation and her Christian friends, Vibiana will have to decide where her true loyalties lie . . . and whether she is willing to die for her faith.

Boxers and Saints is an innovative new graphic novel in two volumes – the parallel stories of two young people caught up on opposite sides of a violent rift. American Born Chinese author Gene Luen Yang brings his clear-eyed storytelling and trademark magical realism to the complexities of the Boxer Rebellion and lays bare the foundations of extremism, rebellion, and faith.


I read both of these graphic novels in the same night. I had been told the ending for the first book was pretty brutal (and it was) and that it might affect my enjoyment of the story. It did. So I started Saints right after finishing Boxers. That’s right. I read 512 pages of graphic novel in one night. Graphic novels usually read pretty quickly though, and I am finding that reading them is a quick way to catch up on those pesky yearly reading challenges. This one read slower than most, and that’s because it’s one of those stories you just get sucked into and you want to savor every part of what you are reading. 

The artwork is not particularly colorful but the panels make you stop and pause at times because of the characters’ expressions and the emotions the illustrations convey. I just wanted to read it slow and take my time. The story is easy to get lost in, particularly in Boxers. It sucks you in and doesn’t let go until the final pages. I didn’t feel quite the same with Saints as I did with Boxers though, and I guess I’d better explain.

Something about the story in Saints just wasn’t as written as well as the first. It’s very hard to pinpoint, but I didn’t find it as immersive and I didn’t have the same emotional connection to Vibiana as I did to Bao. I felt bad for Vibiana and the unfairness of being painted in an ugly way when she was innocent, but I didn’t really get her character. I thought her motivations for becoming Christian were a little ridiculous, and though I felt for her, I couldn’t get behind her actions. I thought they were  a bit silly.

Boxers, on the other hand, is amazingly written. The mythology and fighting and the way everything comes together is just something to behold. It was also extremely interesting to someone who basically knows diddly sguat about the Boxer Rebellion. They never taught it to us in school, so these days I am learning A LOT from the books I read. Now that I know something about this topic, I would definitely be interested in learning more. I think these novels are a great place to start if you want to learn about the topic. 

Together both books are an amazing experience. I definitely would recommend reading them together. You won’t like the ending of the first one and the second book isn’t very long, so why not?

Also, look at the covers. Isn’t the way the faces match up incredibly cool? The spines also do the same thing so they look pretty awesome on the shelf. 

SO yes, I do recommend reading them. I think they are both incredibly done, interesting, and I think the characters are interesting. The panels are easy to follow, and for the most part they flow well. There are a couple of places where I was confused because the story jumped, but it wasn’t anything to hinder my enjoyment at all. If this is a topic you are interested in, you like historical fiction set in China, and you are looking for a fairly quick read, this is the graphic novel duo to choose.

Boxer’s Rating:


Saint’s Rating:



5 responses to “Graphic Novel Review: Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

  1. So, here’s the thing: I’ve never read a graphic novel. My younger brother is a huge fan of them and I keep seeing them pop up all over the blogosphere, but I’ve never been overly drawn to pick them up. It’s definitely time for me to start, though, so thanks for these reviews, Kara!(:

    • Yes it is! I just started reading them recently and I am really happy I have. The only issue is that they are VERY expensive. But some libraries have a graphic novel section, and you can also contact the imprints of publishers that do graphic novels. They are usually looking for more buzz! And First Second is awesome to work with!

  2. I think I’ve only read 2 graphic novels and they were originally books first then they were turned in GNs. I thought that the books were banners for a while there! Great covers.

    Fabulous review, Kara! <33

    • They are great covers. The spines also match up too. See, I don’t do the graphic novels that were once books. Not that they aren’t good or anything, but I read for original story. These were fabulous for that.

  3. Amy

    I love how the covers match up!! That’s really cool. I enjoy graphic novels once in a while and these sound interesting. I’m glad that you enjoyed them. It’s too bad that Saints wasn’t quite as good, but at least it was still enjoyable for you.

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