The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo
Zen Cho is a Malaysian fantasy writer living in London, a largely “undiscovered” author whose career I’ve been following with avid interest ever since stumbling across her short story “The House of Aunts.” I think she’s an absolutely massive talent, the Ursula K. Le Guin or Neil Gaiman of our generation. She is eventually going to be discovered by the wider world and become a Huge Frickin’ Deal, but so far she’s mostly published short stories in zines and small press anthologies. I’ve bought them all, and they’re all good, but “The House of Aunts” is the best and if you haven’t read it you must, you must. It’s a vampire love story that’s like no other vampire love story ever written, it’s fresh and powerful and real and wrenching, and her writing is so masterful that you almost don’t notice as it reaches in and disembowels you.
Anyway, Zen Cho is running a free promotion for her self-published e-book, The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, which is a romance set in London of the Roaring Twenties:
Jade Yeo is a very different project from “The House of Aunts.” It’s not really working on multiple levels or anything like that. It’s just a sweet, fun bit of pure escapism, featuring a headstrong literary heroine in an Austenian sort of tradition. If you like stories of smart, artsy heroines who get themselves into trouble with their willful ways but eventually stumble into happy endings (with the help of a smart, artsy hero who is obviously smitten by her charms except she doesn’t quite notice until it’s Almost Too Late)…well, then you will like The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, and you should grab it while it’s free. Or wait and shell out ninety-nine cents, I mean, either way.
I don’t know how useful it is to review the fourteenth book in a series. I could talk about what I feel the place of this book is in the larger scheme of things and what I think of the directions that the characters have taken, but that’s only going to be of interest to people who are already reading the Harry Dresden books.
So instead, let me talk a little about why I’m reading the Harry Dresden books. I can sum it up in one line. At the climax of the first book (Storm Front), the protagonist (Harry Dresden, wizard P.I.) is found hanging off a balcony in a mansion that’s burning down all around him, while giant scorpions snap at his toes. If you don’t think this is rad, I have nothing further to say to you, sir.
The Bible Repairman and Other Stories
This is the first book that challenged my Goodreads ranking schema. Goodreads reviews are done on a five-star scale, with the rankings summarized thusly: One star, “I didn’t like it.” Two stars, “It was okay.” Three stars, “I liked it.” Four stars, “I really liked it.” Five stars, “It was amazing!” I actually find this a pretty useful sorting system. Ambition, execution, characterization, setting, momentum, freshness of plot and invention of style: all books have strengths and weaknesses along different axes, but I don’t have to juggle them against each other because it all comes down to how excited am I about this book? The base measure is a purely subjective one of personal enthusiasm, which generally makes things easy to rank.
And then I finished The Bible Repairman, and had to rank a book I found quite exciting and consistently disappointing at the same time. I really wanted to give it 3.5 stars. The ideas in this book are wonderful and the writing is ambitious, literary in quality. Yet somehow the stories themselves rarely “gel.” To give one example: there’s a story based on the idea that an overthrown angel rips through the fabric of space and time as he falls. Then it adds a time cop agency, a couple of innocent bystanders, and a Lovecraftian sense of creeping doom. (It could almost be a pun: “the angles are wrong,” and so is the angel…) This is all totally awesome, and Tim Powers is a fine stylist, so the result should be a slam-dunk short story. And yet at the end I was left going, “Huh, so I guess that was…Lucifer? Hunh.”
Basically, these are stories that perform dazzling triple Salchows and then don’t stick the landing. I liked them all. I really liked many of them, at points. And so I was left dithering over the Goodreads ranking for longer than was probably necessary. Eventually I gave it three stars, but I just went back and changed it to four. Ambition ought to be rewarded, I think, even when the execution is imperfect.