Where to start! Another action-packed instalment from Lady Chan hit our combined digital and physical shelves this week. Dark Serpent is the seventh book set in the amazing urban fantasy world Kylie created in 2006, and this is the first book in the third trilogy, Celestial Battle. As usual, the novel has a very concrete sense of location, even though most of this book takes place in wet, green Wales rather than China.
This book – WOW. Without revealing anything, this book finally answers the penultimate question that fans (and characters) have been puzzling over since White Tiger. Yep, we finally find out what Emma is! Rejoice, readers! For anyone who has ever worried that Emma displays some Mary Sue tendencies (myself included, though her stubbornness and scruffiness do ease those worries) the whole history and background that Kylie has devised is so grounded in the reality of the series that I said, “Oh, that works, and that explains why none of the Shen could figure it out either!” These books are both well-written and well-plotted. Nothing worse than a great concept ruined by poor writing and that doesn’t happen here.
A word of warning, however – I know a lot of people were really excited that we were going to get to read from John’s point of view in this book. It doesn’t stay there, and I was quite apprehensive about that as I started reading. Your own mileage may vary, but I think Kylie managed to pull off this technique without too big of a tonal clash (and I usually find it very jarring to read).
A lot of horrible stuff happens in this book. The death and violence gets a lot closer to home. The events run at their usual break-neck speed, so neither characters nor readers get to dwell much on it, but it’s not just vague Celestial Masters and Mountain students dying in the background here. Kylie has finally delved into permanent death, and sexualised violence – something really only touched on before. I have mixed feelings about this – on one hand, it’s realistic to include in urban fantasy and extremely popular in high fantasy (Game of Thrones anyone?) but previously, I had considered this series moderately trigger-free reading. I’ll be interested to hear other reader reactions to this darker tone.
Grimness aside, if you’ve never picked up a Kylie Chan book, you absolutely should. They’re a joy to read if you’re looking for a witty fantasy romp, a treasure trove of facts if you’re a mythology/history buff, and excellent character/lore development for any hard-core fantasy readers. I would even suggest this for non-fantasy readers, as most of the characters are human and wonderfully realistic.
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