Probably 3.5 stars. I liked the premise. I liked the worldbuilding. I quite liked some of the supporting characters. The protagonist was meh-- I didn'Probably 3.5 stars. I liked the premise. I liked the worldbuilding. I quite liked some of the supporting characters. The protagonist was meh-- I didn't mind his sexism because hey, product of his culture-- but.... meh. Perhaps if he'd been more confident and less blindly gifted?
Mostly, though, I didn't like the villain. He was very one-note and, well, villainous.
I would like a book about the convert and her situation at the end of the book. That, along with some other things, felt like a hint of future explorations to come. I guess I can dream?...more
I didn't finish. I made it half-way through and it was just-- boring. The steampunk elements were minimal and the heroine was not the inventrix I wasI didn't finish. I made it half-way through and it was just-- boring. The steampunk elements were minimal and the heroine was not the inventrix I was hoping for. She didn't even really have much in the way of agency-- she was kidnapped and dragged around for the entire half I read. And it turned out by halfway through the book I still wasn't sure what the _plot_ of the book was. What was I supposed to be rooting for? If it was driving the English out of China why were we spending so much time on internal revolt and other random stuff? If it was the mysteries of the opium, why did we leave that guy? Etcetera. And I'm disappointed; I like Jeannie Lin. The setting (other than the lack of meaningful steampunk) and the writing was everything I expected so I'm planning on trying again when the next book comes out....more
3.5 stars. I really enjoy these books. For various reasons I always read them as if they're tragedies, which I kind of hate, and then pleasantly they'3.5 stars. I really enjoy these books. For various reasons I always read them as if they're tragedies, which I kind of hate, and then pleasantly they're not!
I was a bit disappointed in the handling of the mystery's resolution-- I wanted more excitement and the antagonists more distinctly dealt with. But I still enjoyed it enough that I'll read it again. I love Jeannie Lin's voice!...more
I'll be honest. I picked up this book in my examination of Hugo nominees expecting to read a few pages and then give up on it. It was a book 3, and itI'll be honest. I picked up this book in my examination of Hugo nominees expecting to read a few pages and then give up on it. It was a book 3, and it had been nominated as part of a slate of other stories I didn't like, and I don't much like the author as an internet personality.
And I almost did give up. The Prologue is nearly pointless and read weirdly. But the setting interested me. I read a little more. And then a little more. By the time I reached about page 60, I decided I'd at least read 100 pages. And by the time I read 100 pages I knew I was going to finish it.
There's a lot I don't like about it: some of the politics, the loving descriptions of mass murder, the extremely stereotypical scene where the Japanese woman seduces the hero because it was That Time in the pre-climactic checklist.
There's other stuff I'm ambivalent about: the most powerful person in the book is a young woman, and she's written with a clear and distinctive voice and yet as a person she was really boring. I mean, not that many of the characters were better.
However. This is not a character book. This is a setting book.
It's a world where an interdimensional alien fleeing a predator bonds with humanity in a symbiotic way, giving individual humans superpowers in exchange for nourishment when those humans die. It's a world where this happened relatively recently, and our own world's history is still struggling to reconcile with that. And I simply loved reading about the setting, and how the various bits of the setting interacted, and how cleverly the superpowers were described and used. It's a pretty brilliant book in that regard.
I've heard people dismiss the book out of hand as a Hugo nominee just because the other two books weren't nominated and the author _campaigned_. 60 pages in I wasn't sure that was a valid observation. The books that get nominated tend to be a certain _kind_ of book, or from a certain kind of author, in my limited observations. I think it's perfectly possible that this book is just the wrong kind of book from the wrong kind of author, because it was _excellent_ science fantasy with wonderful worldbuilding and an interesting exploration of genre concepts. I think it's a perfectly valid nominee.
If it wasn't for the very brief scene where the Japanese lady offers herself to the brave hero, I might even have given it four stars. It's an extremely cinematic scene in an extremely cinematic book but I would have docked any movie for the same scene, so....more
I tried, but it really didn't work for me. Jumping back and forth between a contemporary combat scene and extended flashbacks and flashbacks within flI tried, but it really didn't work for me. Jumping back and forth between a contemporary combat scene and extended flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks was too distracting....more
I picked up this book because of the setting: a courtesan district in Tang China. It was not exactly the romance I expected; the hero was far more ordI picked up this book because of the setting: a courtesan district in Tang China. It was not exactly the romance I expected; the hero was far more ordinary than I'm used to my romantic heroes being. Still, after I adjusted my expectations closer to 'realistic', I was quite happy with it. It was a genuine and tender love story. The hero is a perpetual student with a managed gambling addiction; the heroine is a clever maidservant and ex-prostitute with a strawberry birthmark on her face. And I really, really liked the mystery and its conclusion. I'm eager to read other books in the setting; the romance in book 2 looks intriguing and I have great hopes for the possible pairing in book 3.
Stylistically the writing sometimes threw me off. Usually I'm very sensitive to that kind of thing but in this case I told myself the stylistic oddities were part and parcel of the 'historical China' aspect and that worked pretty well....more