Yes, it’s the extremely late book log for October, with books read 92 to 101 of 2011. All in one chunk below the cut.
Remember that Chinese-inspired fantasy series I’ve been so taken with? The name on the cover is Daniel Fox, but the man behind the pen name is Chaz Brenchley, noted fantasy and crime writer, and the middle volume, “Jade Man’s Skin”, is now on sale. If you’ve read the first volume, “Dragon in Chains”, you’ll already know why I’m so taken with it, but if you haven’t, that’s still available and you should start with that one first.
Jade Man’s Skin
ISBN: 978-0-345-50304-6 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-345-51911-5 (ebook)
My review of Jade Man’s Skin (volume 2)
at The Book Depository
Jade Man’s Skin at Amazon UK
Jade Man’s Skin at Amazon US
DRM-locked ebook at Fictionwise
Dragon in Chains
ISBN: 978-0-345-50305-3 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-345-51346-5 (ebook)
My review of Dragon in Chains (volume 1)
at The Book Depository
Dragon in Chains at Amazon UK
Dragon in Chains at Amazon US
DRM-locked ebook at Fictionwise
(n.b. — yes, those are Amazon links you see before you. In general, Amazon links are Going Away. However, I received ARCs of these books, and I feel that if I asked for an ARC, I have some obligation to make it as easy as possible for people to buy the book.)
Disclaimer: Daniel Fox is a friend of mine. However, I didn’t review the book just because he’s a friend — I whined shamelessly for an ARC because having read the first book in the trilogy, I very badly wanted to read the next one as soon as it was available in edited form, rather than waiting until it was on sale.
Daniel Fox — Jade Man’s Skin
Daniel Fox keeps up the quality and the pace in the second volume of his fantasy trilogy inspired by mediaeval China. The first volume, “Dragon In Chains”, told the tale of the boy Emperor’s flight from a rebel army, and the stories of some of those touched by the war. Now the Emperor has reached safety on the remote island of Taishu on the very fringe of the Empire.
Taishu may be remote, but no would-be usurper can afford to leave the Emperor there in exile. The island holds the jade mines that are the source of imperial power — and in this world, that isn’t just symbolic. This volume explores in greater depth the subtle magic that underpins imperial rule. And there is more than imperial magic. There are other intelligences in this world, and the human forces which are arrayed against one another are starting to learn just what it means to tangle such creatures into human battles.
It’s hard to review this book in any depth without giving major spoilers for the first one (which I’ve reviewed previously), because this trilogy really is a single novel in three volumes, not a series of three interlinked novels. But what I can say is that it follows each of the major characters and threads from the first volume, developing each strand of the story in a satisfying way. This is no wish-fulfillment story wherein the Hero is noble simply because he is the Hero, but a careful consideration of the cumulative effects of power — on those who have it, whether in name only or in reality, on those who desire it, and on those who are simply in its path. And like the first volume, it neither flinches from showing the horror of war, nor wallows in gratuituous gore.
This is a complex story with equally complex characters, which genuinely needs the three volumes to do justice to the tales it has to tell. But it’s beautifully constructed, and told in stunningly good prose. If you’ve not read the first book, don’t start with this one. It really is worth your while finding “Dragon in Chains” and reading that first, not least because part of the pleasure is watching how the characters are changing and growing in response to the upheavals in their world. But there’s no need to wait for the final book to come out, as “Jade Man’s Skin” offers enough intermediate resolution of plot threads to leave a reader feeling satisfied while still wanting to hear the end of the story. Go buy them now — this series is breathtaking, in concepts, in story and in prose.
This gorgeously written book is the first part of a new fantasy trilogy which draws on medieval China for its inspiration. It’s an alternate universe China, of course, and one of the ways in which it’s alternate is that magic is real, if largely subtle. Subtle enough that some characters do not realise that the magic is there. Even the dragon of the title is a background menace in this first book, thought of as myth by the people who don’t live in her territory, although she’s a key part of one of the main plot threads.
That’s plot threads, plural. One of the joys of the book is that there are multiple plot threads, skillfully balanced by a writer who knows how to use them to create a complex story with several distinctive characters. All of these threads converge on Taishu, a remote island on the edge of empire. On the physical edge, at least. Taishu may seem remote and insignificant to most, but it is the source of the jade that underpins the power of the Jade Throne and the Emperor who sits on it. He who holds Taishu holds the empire, in a very real sense, and Taishu is about to become the centre of more than one conflict.
Scribe’s apprentice Han is enslaved by the raiding party of pirates who kill his master. They are not local men, and their leader Li Ton pays no heed to his frantic warnings against their next raid — upon a monastery whose monks’ magic keeps the chains bound tight about the dragon held under the sea. After all, everyone knows that dragons haven’t been seen for hundreds of years, if they were ever real in the first place. As Han and the monastery’s sole survivor fight to hold the bindings in place, the dragon senses freedom, and Han senses her.
Fishergirl Mei Feng finds her life changed one night, when her grandfather’s boat is commandeered by generals, by the emperor himself. The boy emperor is fleeing from a rebel army, his own loyal troops not enough to stand and fight, or so his mother and his generals say. They have one hope, to hold the Jade Throne and the jade mines that are the true source of imperial power. In the end the Hidden City is wherever the throne is, and so the Hidden City moves to a remote island, along with as much of the army as can find boats to cross the strait. But the Son of Heaven finds one unexpected resource on the fishing boat that carries him to safety — a local girl to be a friend his own age, someone who is loyal to him both as emperor and as lonely, isolated boy. And in particular, is loyal to him, not the mother and generals who see him as too young to be anything other than a figurehead.
The jade miners have heard that the emperor himself has come to their island, and what they hear is a chance to break free of the middlemen who offer them a pittance, a chance to take his jade to him themselves. It is his jade, they know that; but perhaps he will give them a better reward for their work in mining it than do the jademasters. And so one clan of miners breaks the law and sends one of their young men with the fabulous new piece they have unearthed. Yu Shan is prepared for bandits in the hills, but even so he has a more twisted path to the emperor’s notice than he imagines. For he is young and does not know the secret of the jade, why it is so tightly controlled.
These could all easily become a cliched story, but here they are in the hands of a master storyteller. Fox weaves them together to make a multi-layered story where subtle clues are laid well in advance, creating an “oh, of course!” as the hints finally slot together to make the full picture. It’s no surprise that this works so well, as “Daniel Fox” is the pseudonym of an award-winning writer with a depth of experience in both crime fiction and fantasy. The world he has created is strongly grounded in reality, but has magic added, and the consequences of that are woven into the world he shows, rather than the magic being thrown in with no thought for how it might affect things. This world and its characters are described in beautiful and beautifully controlled prose. The result is a richly detailed fantasy that explores new ground rather than treading well-worn paths.
Dragon in Chains is quite definitely the first part of a single story, but there is enough plot, and intermediate resolution of various plot threads, to make the book a satisfying read in its own right rather than merely a cliffhanger designed to get you to keep buying the series. This is a complex and enticing dark fantasy that is well worth the wait for the next part.