Review: The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

“These days, it is hard to know how to be a person,” she said. “To avoid doing wrong is not easy, never mind doing good. I have been praying for guidance- a light in this darkness. Now the deity has sent you to me. It’s a sign.”

I do love a good found family story and a nice novella to cleanse the reading palette from time to time. I mean when it has a great cover as well, it’s hard not to want to read. Even when it’s pitched to you as; ‘A bandit walks into a coffee shop and meets a nun. Mayhem ensues.’, why would you not want to read it?

Zen Cho returns with a found family wuxia fantasy that combines the vibrancy of old school martial arts movies with characters drawn from the margins of history.

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.

Regardless of any critical rating or review, this was fun. I did enjoy the story and the character banter. I personally have no connection or awareness of wuxia culture, movies especially, which is absolutely shameful. There is a sense of the melodramatic here all the way through the book and it’s used in a way that is meant to entertain the reader. Cho knows how to keep someone engaged with a shorter work like a novella.

The world building failed a little on me and I think, along with my other critiques this is down to the length working against the book. There is hints of an entire Peninsula and a “secret war” at play behind the scenes. While we get a few more details of the Order of the Pure Moon as the story carries on, I feel like all these religious orders that are mentioned in passing would benefit from a bit more detail. The world in general felt very limited to our band of characters but it has so much potential if Cho ever came back to it.

The characters really stood out to me in the story with one small let down that I’ll get to. The opening of the story with a brawl in a coffee house between a bandit and a petulant customer and a nun getting stuck in the middle is great fun. Guet Imm, the titular nun, was a surprise favourite. She has this uncanny ability to confuse both me and the characters in the story with just how resourceful she could really be. Nun or no, she has secrets The second in command to the gang of bandits, Tet Sang, is our main point of view here and he carries his own secrets relating to the Order of the Pure Moon.

Now where these characters fall down for me is the found family aspect of the story. I love this trope a lot. I don’t know a lot of people who don’t to be honest. It’s a very reassuring thing to see becoming more common in fiction since this is the reality for many people. However, to have this work in a book I find there needs to be very well planned writing and a hell of a lot of development of characters that this book just didn’t allow a lot of room for. There is some excellent dialogue, incredible charm but that just wasn’t enough to have me root for this family of misfits.

The plot was the real fall down for me . The pacing is fairly spotty with some great action scenes and a genuinely tender reveal that did bring this story to a higher rating for me in the ned. What the story ends with though is so left of centre I had to put the Kindle down and pause before I read it again to finish. The writing itself is wonderful with moving moments of are for these characters interwoven with some great action but ultimately how it was plotted out killed the potential for me.

Honestly l would still recommend this since Cho has amazing skill with words. I know I tried Sorcerer to the Crown back about 4 years ago and never finished it so I think I’ll reread that. Have you read this? Are you a Zen Cho fan? Tell me all below. Thanks for checking in folks, happy reading!

★★★/5

Review: Prospers Demon by K.J Parker

‘They have them, for sure. It’s a bizarre but widespread myth that only heroes have good qualities, and the only qualities heroes have are good; villains are, by definition, all bad. Bullshit.’

I usually try to keep novellas and shorter works I read to my Sunday Shorts posts that I post as often as I can. Especially since I only started that section of my blog before Christmas. However, sometimes a book needs a review all on its own. This is one of those books.

An unnamed narrator greets us with this one warning, we probably won’t like him very much. A darkly witty voice of an exorcist who has been marked by demons or Them since a child, walks the reader through his methods and how he works with questionable methods. Then he meets Prosper Schanz, a true renaissance man who is determined to lead the newly born prince into the new world of science of sense. Prosper is possessed by a demon. Then he meets the narrator.

This was way too short, I had to take a star from the book for it. It was such a good read and I wanted more of this world. There is no distinct world building here, only that there are clerics, royal families and children left to raise themselves on the lawless streets. The narrator provides us with choice flashbacks to describe his experience with demons, or Them as they are known here, and how this led him to where he is.

Something I thought was great was what we get to learn about Them. Is anyone else slightly frustrated with demonic possession stories and the lack of research in the stories about the demons in that world? Not only do we get to know how many of Them are (narrator is unsure how that was counted) but how they are hurt, how they can possess people and its just handled so well. I think if K.J Parker ever wanted to expand on this world, there is limitless opportunity to do it with what he has built here.

Unnamed and questionable narrators are always tricky too since the writer can easily fall into some very cliche territory. Thrillers in recent years have especially exploited it but Parker handles it very well. We don’t need to know this narrators name, we aren’t supposed to like them. He is willing to do whatever he needs to get rid of Them, but most importantly Him. There is a cat and mouse game stretching across the years between the protagonist and Him. Both of these characters met when when the narrator was VERY young and have been trying to catch and outwit each other ever since.

The way that this is all woven in with the main story of Prosper Schanz and his encounter with the protagonist makes for a creepy, dark tale with a fantastic payoff. I just wish this could have been longer since there was such good tension within the story. This is still a great read, very quick with a great take on the demonic possession tale.

Have you read this? Do you intend to? Please tell me in the comments. Happy reading folks!

★★★★/5

This is How You Lose the Time War- Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone Review

‘ If the planet lasted long enough, the vines that sprout from the corpse’ mouths would grow berries.’

So just a quick note to begin, my heart. It is in pieces. I bought this after seeing it being discussed on Tor.com and intended on reading it in Dublin but I only got round to it last weekend. And for such a short work I have to say it is very powerful.

The world is dying. Among the dead is the two warring factions of the Agency and Garden. On a future battle field an agent of the Agency finds a letter saying ‘Burn before reading.’ What begins as an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents begins to develop into an unlikely friendship that slowly evolves into something that threatens both sides of the war. But could this change both past future? Could a potential love between two enemies save time itself? Wars have to be won, both are willing to die for it, but what about each other?

I have found recently that novellas and other shorter works of both science fiction and fantasy have been better at conveying a larger plot than longer, more epic publications within the genre. This one is no different and proves that a short work doesn’t have to be heavily edited and that a larger plot can definitely function within a tighter narrative. The war we see between both sides and that both our characters, Red and Blue respectively, is not only taking place in the future but also in the past. Agents are sent across ‘threads’ of time to braid and unbraid these strands of time. Both sides seek to gain the upper hand on the other by undoing and changing different actions both take throughout the threads of history, and I really liked that. It is definitely a world we recognise and live in, or at least was with elements from the past definitely being part of human history so it isn’t heavy on world building.

This is a character driven story and we meet very few characters besides Red and Blue and we really don’t need to. This is about them and is driven by their letters to and from each other. The letters begin as a taunt from Blue towards Red and watching them get to know each other was so wonderful. Both characters are discussed using she/her pronouns so this is a queer love story. The names that both the characters call each other at the start of each letter (Red, in tooth, in claw, Blue-da-ba-dee etc) really entertained me and these aren’t your paper envelope letters either. Blue and Red need to hide their letters from both sides and letters are found in lava formations, seeds to be cracked on the receivers tongue and in a birds wing to name a few.

The format of the text really helps keep a steady, busy plot that kept me constantly engaged. The few times I put the book down I was worried for both Red and Blue and kept wondering what was happening. Each chapter changes between both points of view and each chapter has and ends with a letter from one to the other. The imagery and the language are stunning aswell. The whole plot carries one big feeling of paranoia for these two but also keeps the romance the grows slowly between the 2 so private it feels like the reader is almost a voyeur within their world.

Without spoiling the ending, we get to avoid the usual harmful issues that are commonly in queer love stories while also getting a sense that this is a very natural and tender experience for both the characters and the reader. If this isn’t up for the Hugo’s next year I may cause a riot. Now if you don’t mind, I need to go fill the hole in my heart this book left.