Master of the Idle Clouds | 闲云公子

%e9%97%b2%e4%ba%91%e5%85%ac%e5%ad%90Title: Master of the Idle Clouds | 闲云公子
Author: Yu Qing
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ | 1.5

Here’s the thing: I really like this novella. I still really enjoy this novella. I plan to make so many edits for this novella that I drown in them. But my god, in good conscience there is no way I can ignore some of its massive problems.

Which brings me to prelude #2: how can something that went so right in the first 3/5 of this novella so quickly take a turn for the worse in the last 2/5th of it? It was meant to be a romantic comedy, so why is the last 2/5th so determinedly unfunny?

Huangfu Yun is the Guardian of the Left in the Baiming Sect, which is known among the mainstream Chinese warriors and gallants as the Demon Cult. Orphaned from youth due to infighting within the sect, Huangfu Yun learned how to protect herself, to avoid attention in order to survive until adulthood. But when she was fourteen, she accidentally crossed paths with Gongsun Yun, a disciple from the Yun Family Manor, who are in charge of compiling histories. In saving his life, she accidentally brought him into her debt and left a deep impression on him. Six years later, she and her slave He Zai enter the Chinese heartland in order to attend a funeral, and her path crosses Gongsun Yun’s again, and this time, he’s less willing to let her go.

Continue reading “Master of the Idle Clouds | 闲云公子”

The Pirates (2014)

The Priates (2014)Title: The Pirates
Starring: Son Ye-jin, Kim Nam-gil
Genre: Historical, Comedy
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 3.5

Give me a historical slapstick swashbuckler about pirates and bandits fighting in a time of dynastic transition against the corrupt court and add to that a whale and imperialism and you have a recipe to make me the happiest girl on the world.

Yeo-wol is a pirate who’s successfully mutinied against a faithless captain, and she’s just been offered a contract by disgraced army captain Park Mo (AKA Ahab): bring back the imperial seal bestowed upon the newly-established Joseon by Ming, which was swallowed by a whale (hi, Moby Dick), and be rewarded with riches beyond imagination. Unfortunately for Yeo-wol, however, former lieutenant-turned-bandit Jang Sa-jung, who had opposed the rebellion that put Yi Seong-gye in power, has also heard about the prize, and he is willing to go to sea to save his failing bandit outpost. Sa-jung and Yeo-wol clash multiple times, but when both their demons come knocking, they’re forced to work together to build a future they want to live in.

Continue reading “The Pirates (2014)”

Comfort Woman

10596Title: Comfort Woman
Author: Nora Okja Keller
Genre: realistic fiction, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, women’s fiction, literary fiction
Rating: ★★★★★

content warning: rape, sexual violence, sexual slavery, child neglect

This was a surprisingly easy novel to read despite its incredibly weighty topic. I’m taking an Asian American lit class this semester, and I was assigned this to read immediately following a really frustrating documentary about comfort woman, and to be quite frank, I expected to have to force myself through this, crying and moaning the whole time. And I did cry––of course I cried, I’m the girl who cried during Madagascar––but there was a sense of effervescence throughout the narrative that made it bearable. The writing was, of course, beautiful, but it wasn’t just that. There was a life to the story, a spirit.

Comfort Woman tells the parallel stories of Akiko, a Korean comfort woman, and Beccah, the daughter she eventually comes to have with the American missionary she chooses to marry in order to leave Korea. After Akiko’s death, Beccah is forced to confront the mother she thought she knew––and the woman who, she comes to realise, she didn’t know at all.

Continue reading “Comfort Woman”

Moonshine

6977329Title: Moonshine
Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Genre: Historical Fiction (Alt/Spec Fic), Mystery, Supernatural, Action, Urban Fantasy
Rating: ★★★☆☆ | 2.5 out of 5.0

Zephyr Hollis has a reputation as a do-gooder. As a singing vampire suffragette, actually. From Brooklyn to Midtown to Battery Park to the LES, she and her bicycle are near-ubiquitous as she runs from protest to meeting to night school, where she teaches. One night, before class, she comes across a young boy, victim of an Other attack, and tries to save him. She’s helped by Amir, a mysterious Other who attends her classes, who in turn offers her a deal: if she will help him track down Rinaldo, the vampire mob boss whom she suspects is behind the attack of the child, he will pay her a much needed $200. The more Zephyr investigates, though, the more she finds herself compromised by her growing attraction to Amir, and by the feeling that something is very, very wrong.

Continue reading “Moonshine”

The Agency Series (Y.S. Lee)

Title: The Agency
Author: YS Lee
Genre: Action, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ || 2.0 stars

In some ways, it’s deeply unfair to rate these books as a series. In others, it’s the only way to rate it at all. As individual books, they were mostly competent, interesting reads. I’m generally a huge fan of revisionist Victorian novels (particularly if there is a mystery element) that feature intrepid girls (particularly if they are intrepid girls of colour), but I found that the more I read the books, the more frustrated and impatient I became with them.

The Agency follows Mary Quinn, formerly Mary Lang, an Irish-Chinese girl who was saved from the noose to be given a second chance at life. She takes this second chance to turn herself into a member of the Agency, a covert all-female private detective agency that utilises stereotypes about women to go undercover as maids, companions, and governesses––all in the name of the case. In each of the four books, Mary is sent on a different case––uncovering the truth behind the smuggling of Hindu artifacts into England while posing as the paid companion of a spoiled young lady, solving the death of a bricklayer at the building site of the Houses of Parliament and the clock tower in the guise of a twelve year old boy, even enjoying a stint in Buckingham Palace as a maid chasing down a string of petty thefts in the palace. This setup allows for an almost infinite amount of permutations––Lee could certainly have extended the series indefinitely if she so chose, so it’s something of a minor miracle that she chose to complete it at four. This is also part of why I found myself enjoying the novels less and less.

Continue reading “The Agency Series (Y.S. Lee)”

Quick Take

Real quick, scrolling down my Kindle Cloud:

 

The Girl Who Played Go (4/5)

warning for sexual violence/threats of rape, murder, wartime atrocities

One of my favourite wartime novels, a must read for me, if only out of nostalgia. I had some minor issues with this novel, particularly about the ending, for one, which struck me as overly grimdark; sexual violence was indeed a large component of the Japanese invasion of China, and that shouldn’t be ignored, but I’m honestly not sure what purpose the ending was supposed to have. In particular this idea that death is preferable to rape, which is a common trope in this genre of literature, makes me worried about what this may say to survivors of rape. Overall, the lyrical writing, the plot structure (set up like a game of go, each piece moving slowly towards one another until they are ultimately so entangled it is impossible to separate them), and the dreamlike anonymity of the characters saves this from being just another exploitative war novel about the Second Sino-Japanese War.

There are also some concerns I hold about consent, and the power dynamics at play in the idea of falling in love with one’s coloniser (particularly one that is currently engaged in a violent invasion of your home), but the relationship between the main characters never progresses far enough for that to be an issue that is really deeply investigated.

Spiritwalker Trilogy (5/5)

At some point, this one is up for a reread. Kate Elliot’s wonderful worldbuilding, her accessible writing, and her complex characters (& the complex relationships they are allowed to have) make this far more than another high-concept alt-universe fantasy novel set in historically-inaccurate whitebread Europe. The novel is convincingly diverse and the (quite frankly) wonderful romance and the sense of the scope of swashbuckling adventure made this a truly unforgettable read.

Though the pace was much slower than what I’m used to (I read mostly YA), it never lost my interest, and Elliot does a beautiful job making the extraordinary seem ordinary, which may not seem like so desirable a quality at first, but the world feels more inhabited because of it.

Girl Overboard (2/5)

I mean, it says something both about me and the book that when I was scrolling through my Kindle Cloud I sort of groaned, because I always mean to review this novel but never get around to it a) because I’ve forgotten most of the finer details of the plot b) because my overall impression of the book isn’t that great and c) the combination of those two and the lackluster writing really makes me reluctant to write anything in-depth about it. So, like, draw your own conclusions about if I recommend this novel?

Okay, no, that’s unfair. The book was passable. It was mediocre. It’s a fun read on a snowy day; it doesn’t do anything particularly new, the characters aren’t likeable or unlikeable, and it hits the expected beats, but if you’re looking for something to get over a book slump or just for the sake of having something fun to read, this is the book. One of the things that I liked most about this novel was the presence of an interracial couple where neither of them were white (RIP Scott x Kira), but aside from that, it wasn’t anything super fresh that I think every single person on the planet should read (for that, I recommend: The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho).

Let it Shine

b01d04cpq4-01-lzzzzzzzTitle: Let it Shine
Author: Alyssa Cole
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction
Rating: ★★★★☆ || 4.0 stars

warnings for: racialised violence/state violence, racial & ethnic slurs

I admit, I’m not a romance reader. I like romance in my books, but romance books themselves don’t tend to be my cup of tea. So when I came across this book on my Goodreads recommendations list, I made a face like I just bit into a kumquat and discovered it was a lemon, primarily because a) it was pitched as an interracial romance set during the Civil Rights Movement, which has the potential to be either really good or so, so awful and b) I didn’t know who Alyssa Cole was.

Well, now I know who Alyssa Cole is, and I can confirm that this was an absolutely well-done novel. It’s not free of flaws (will get to those later), but from the beginning it set my fears about what this book could have become to ease. There’s no shortage of really difficult content––slurs, racialised state violence, sexism and scrutiny of female behaviour, antiblackness, anti-Semitism––but none of it felt excessive or like it was there for shock value.

Continue reading “Let it Shine”