My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A thinner, compressed companion to Boxers, Saints follows the side story of Four-Girl/Vibiana, who Little Bao briefly encountered. Four-Girl is the unwanted child of a poor family: named for the fact that she was the fourth child her mother gave birth to and was the only one to survive infancy. She struggles to find her place in the social hierarchy of her community and eventually turns to Christianity as a way for her family to see her as something, as well as to understand the visions of a fierce girl-soldier she keeps seeing. However, the Christians end up giving her a new name (Vibiana) and a haven after she flees her harsh life. Vibiana struggles to follow the dictates of her new faith, as well as remain loyal to her new spritual family. But this struggle is soon outweighed by the attempts to survive the conflicts of the Boxer Rebellion.
Saints, in some ways, is a much more effective story that the preceding book, Boxers. The art is mostly in black and white with occasional splashed of gold and red. I’m still puzzling out why: is it because Vibiana has a harder set of circumstances than Little Bao and never had the same amount of idealism that he grew up with? Or is it because readers who’ve read the previous book know that Vibiana dies while Little Bao survives a little longer? Whichever the reason, the monochromatic style renders some panels more poignant. Two of the most moving panels are a full-page illustration of Little Bao standing over Vibiana as she prays as well as Little Bao and his brother looking at the ruined landscape of Peking as it burns in dull, smudgy colors. Again, I will recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical fiction and don’t mind a YA book. But I will also say that Saints also reminded me of how much I loved The Hundred Secret Senses, because Vibiana’s life is also influenced by the actions of the Heavenly Kingdom of Transcendent Peace that took place years earlier. I might have to do a little more reading on this time in China’s history!