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If what follows is slightly more incoherent than is good for it, it is because it was written when I’d lost 2.5kg due to illness in five days. (I’m still recovering.) This is meant to explain, not excuse.
Alyc Helms, The Dragons of Heaven. Angry Robot Books, 2015. Copy courtesy of Angry Robot Books.
This is not actually a proper review, because I did not finish the book. As I mentioned in a post on Patreon a while ago, I was finding The Dragons of Heaven tedious and unappealing fare. This is not to say it is a bad book: in a different season, with different pressures on me, and if I were not ill, I might find it entertaining enough (at least entertaining enough to finish). Then again, I might not.
The Dragons of Heaven is, in this copy, 376 pages long. I have read 130 of them, and find that sufficient to declare it really Not For Me.
I didn’t realise, when I cracked its spine, that The Dragons of Heaven involved superhero narratives married to what feels like a classic urban fantasy tone. The voice, too, feels like the voice of an urban fantasy narrator: edging up on hard-boiled and noir-ish, but not quite, and taking itself a little too seriously for me to really take it seriously. But then, I’ve never quite been able to get the appeal of superhero narratives — and superhero stories in which a young woman (and street magician) from San Francisco goes to China in search of the Chinese dragon who trained her grandfather in the powers that led to him taking on a superhero persona, hoping to find training in turn, are an even harder sell.
*loses train of thought*
*finds it again*
Okay. Right. Missy Masters is the granddaughter of superhero Mr. Mystic. He disappeared — dead or missing. She decided to follow in his footsteps and use the powers she’s inherited to be a superhero herself.
The chapters alternate between past and present: present Missy has taken on her grandfather’s superhero persona and has got herself involved in an ongoing conflict with the local branch of organised Chinese crime, headed up by a bloke called Lao Chan. Which also involves magic. Or superpowers. Or both. Then she interrupts Lao Chan in the middle of a ritual involve the “guardians” of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Shortly after this, some kind of mystical barrier goes up around a) China b) lots of Chinatowns across the world, and Missy figures out these barriers are related to the ritual she interrupted. She has to go to China and figure out how to take the barrier back down, before something terrible happens.
Past Missy is a bit of a wannabe superhero. One night she gets in over her head, intervening in a conflict between a rather better-trained superhero and …someone with excellent training who isn’t a hero. She ends up hurt, and having thoroughly screwed up, decides she needs training. So, off to China, to search for the dragon who trained her grandfather. Along the way, she’s travelling with a tour group who end up trapped by a monster in a teahouse. (I’m not entirely sure what was the point of teahouse monster fight, or tour group people.) And then she encounters the dragon, who seems to be in the form of a young, pretty man. And I’m afraid I rather felt my hackles go up. Oh, yes, I spy a love interest! says I to myself. One who’s probably going to come with all sorts of familial and cultural complications, but I don’t see why a dragon would give any uninvited visitor the time of day, to be honest.
I don’t know if I spied a love interest correctly or not. Flicking ahead to the final pages certainly seems to imply some romantic connection between Missy and the dragon bloke. Who seems to have some kind of family connection to the figure behind the organised crime folks. Or something.
But to be honest, the reason I don’t want to read on? Is that I feel absolutely no emotional connection with the characters. Missy falls flat. In 130 pages, there’s not another significant character who comes across as really interesting. The past-present back and forth of the interwoven chapters? They don’t support each other with tension and thematic argument, not in any way that comes across to me. They confuse and drag: there are too many characters, and not enough connection. I can’t feel any reason to care, because it all seems like meaningless rushing about.
Charitably, this might be more to do with me than with the book: illness and pressure does odd things to my brain. On the other hand, it could just be that I really don’t care about any of these people and their rushing-about.