|A lot of urban fantasy is of the plug-and-play
varietyplug in this vampire characteristic and that type of fae and go. While this
type of story can be well-written and interesting, reading too many leads to ennui and a
need for something different.
Dark Heavens is an omnibus of
the first three novels in Kylie Chans series about Emma Donohoe and John Chen, who
starts off as her employer but becomes her sensei and ultimately her
boyfriend/life-partner/husband. (Its complicated.) The books are individually titled
White Tiger, Red Phoenix, and Blue
Dragon. They are all set mainly in Hong Kong, where Emma is an expat
(Aussie) English teacher. After she begins working for Chen, she gradually discovers that
the world contains more than she had ever imagined. Her employer is in fact Xuan Wu, Dark
Lord of the Northern Heavens, God of Martial Arts, and a combination of turtle and snake
is his natural form. She is nanny for his daughter, Simone, who is half-human; his enemies
go after Simone and other members of his household attempting to get to him. And so it
continues for three books.
There is potential for this to become boringthe basic premise doesnt
change, and the books are long. However, I connected to the character of Emma right away,
perhaps because I was once an expat English teacher in Asia. She undergoes profound
changes in the course of the three books, going from normal Australian girl to
kickass energy-manipulating god-consort, but in a way that encourages suspension of
disbelief. (You cant exactly say a way thats realistic, can you?) And
its not plug and playthe milieu is different enough from the norm of urban
fantasy to be of interest in and of itself.
Though there were a few minor points that became annoying (the characters laughed a
lot when they were in groups), the biggest drawback to this book is its size: it is a
trade paperback of over 900 pages. (And as my daughter pointed out, each page holds quite
a lot of text.) In terms of value for money its good, because you get a lot of
interesting reading for you money; however, you cant take it anywhere with you, even
in a backpack, so youre restricted to reading at home. On the dining room table.
Because nothing else can support its weight.
My recommendation: read Kylie Chan, but if you want the omnibus get it as an ebook.
Now this really is a brick; 900+ pages, 6cm thick, and weighing in at
nearly a kilo. But then it is an entire trilogy in one volume (and these days, if the
physical size is too much, theres always the e-book). Chan gives us urban fantasy
with an oriental twist, what you might call Fu Fantasy.
The cover is somewhat misleading because the central character is actually
an Australian woman, working as an early childhood teacher in Hong Kong. She quits working
for the kindergarten and becomes a full-time nanny when the woman running the
kindergartens begins asking too many questions about the father of the child shes
been looking after. Of course, he is far more than just another wealthy Chinese
businessman. Hes a turtle
and hes the Lord of the Northern Heavens.
Its true that Chinese mythology lends itself to this kind of
treatment, and has been doing so for centuries in the traditional wuxia what you
might call martial arts fairy tales. This book is then the literary equivalent of fusion
cuisine, the blending of western urban fantasy with modern wuxia sort of Nalini
Singh meets Jet Li. Now, there are plenty of critics who deride fusion cuisine, and
Im sure that Kylie Chans work has its detractors, but its quite evident
that shes researched both the background and the setting. Her writing is still
somewhat in need of a good editing; "White Tiger" was her first book and it
Be warned that some people will find our heroine irritating; too slow to
figure out whats going on, and too quick in developing her skills. I found it to be
a lightweight and entertaining trilogy, with lots of high-kicking chi-flinging martial
arts battles. Perhaps too many
it got a bit samey after a while. The bad guys are
primarily the demons of Chinese myth, the kind that dissolve into black goo when thumped
hard enough. Which is a pleasant change from vampires and zombies.
The largely unresolved sexual tension is for once given some rationale for
its lack of resolution. And truth is, I looked at the size of the volume, and initially
decided Id read it as three separate novels. But I got to the end of book one, and
just kept going
and that is as good a recommendation as any. Oh
and there is
another trilogy published, and it seems one coming after that.
- Jacqui Smith