Short Book Reviews: Dave Duncan Tackles Chinese Fantasy Right
I’m a long-time and unabashed Dave Duncan fan. I love his literate, compassionate, exciting fantasy novels. He always comes up with fascinating twists and insights into standard themes, and his handling of the material seems effortless. My only quibble is that much of his work is in series forms, three or four volume (or longer) tales, so if I find a book from the middle, I pretty much have to hold on to it until I complete the set. So I was delighted to find this stand-alone, set it Duncan’s inimitably original version of a magical alternate China. Such stories go through cycles of popularity. Barry Hughart published a series (Bridge of Birds, etc.) back in the 1980s and 1990s. More recently, Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings and its sequels have attracted much attention. But Duncan’s vision is all his own, and with smooth mastery of his craft, he draws the reader into his marvelous world. His characters, from a starving orphan to a reincarnated god to the scheming, ruthless mother of the imbecile emperor, are vivid and engaging. While the story lines initially share little except a common culture and time, I had no doubt that Duncan would bring them together in the end; I was not disappointed, for the plot twists and thorny decisions resolved beautifully and with Duncan’s signature gracefulness. A treat for Duncan fans and a great introduction to his work, particularly if you are looking for non-Western settings.