Inspired by Japanese myth, Johnson's ("The Fox Woman") second fantasy follows the wanderings of an orphaned cat, a creature sprung from the mind of Harueme, a Japanese princess who has lived a long, privileged and circumscribed life.
Near death, Harueme begins to fill blank notebooks - a new one for each chapter - with the cat's story, interwoven with her own memories. The young tortoiseshell cat lost her family, and with them, her fudoki - her spiritual lineage - in a terrible fire. She sets out on an aimless journey, bereft of name, family and purpose, and encounters gods and people, none of whom hold any interest for her. But ignoring the gods can have a price and the little cat is transformed into a woman - with enough cat qualities and spirit-aid to help her on her adventures.
Free and alone, she is unlike Harueme who has never been either. But Harueme has her own power, not least of which is her imagination. Harueme absorbs the world as people bring it to her in tales, and the cat-woman keeps the world at bay as she moves through it, defending her life, making friends, acquiring a reputation and a name: Kagaya-hime, woman warrior.
Johnson's writing is fluid and musical, her characters archetypes and real at the same time, and the historical detail is imaginatively, visually realized. But Harueme, though pampered, selfish and captive, is more involving than the cat-woman, whose humorless detachment is, well, too feline, for real identification. But Johnson makes us believe that Kagaya-hime is what a cat-turned-woman would be like, and this tale of love, belonging, freedom and redemption is as rewarding as it is different.