Is it just me, or are these titles getting more and more generic as the series goes on?
Anyway, if this title makes you think “Big Trouble in Little China“, then you’re on the right track.
Blah blah blah spoiler warning for the ninth book in a series.
So, the last few books have been a bit fragmented and (enjoyably) filler-y, build-up books. This one gets us back on track. It seems to start from where the last one left off, continuing Kitty’s interest in military werewolves and extending the discussion of the supernatural being associated with historical figures. I liked how the discussion was dealt with – it reminded me of the Beethoven discussion, among other things (incidentally, when searching “Beethoven race” my finger slipped and this came up), with plenty of “but what does it even matter” and “but it doesn’t change anything” thrown into the debate, not to mention “what if historical figures didn’t want to be outed/do they have the right to privacy now that they’ve been dead hundreds of years?”
After this introductory debate comes the meat of the book – a quest! Anastasia, the Anti-Roman vampire from Kitty’s House of Horrors, is back with a fetch-quest for the gang, and so begins a race against time and Roman (who is the Big Bad, in case I hadn’t said that before) to find a magical pearl in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
The search involves some of my favourite tropes – guides through impossible mazes, “stay on the path” type stuff, all the bells and whistles of rituals with keys and doors and plenty of threat in the shadows that will leave you alone as long as you do as you’re told. Grace Chen, video rental employee and heir to an ancient magical tradition, is our guide, and for some reason her voice in my head was Heather from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and I don’t know why.
Race Stuff Disclaimer: I’m still a white Brit so my opinion is purely academic. I don’t know how accurate or inaccurate anything was, from the portrayal of Chinese traditions and religions to the depiction of an American Chinatown.
This book was one where my predominant feeling was wanting more. I wanted more talk between Anastasia and Grace – they had a really interesting dynamic. I wanted more of the gods (and honestly less of Kitty around the gods… Obnoxiously talkative and sceptic is absolutely in character for her but there are times and places). There were a few places where English was spoken where I was reasonably sure English should not be spoken.
I really wanted Grace and Anastasia to spend more time together, or at least talk more. And I know why they couldn’t – sometimes when a book doesn’t do all the things you want it to, it’s because of a failure on the author’s part. Sometimes it’s a flaw inherent in the book. This was one of the latter. As the books are first person from Kitty’s point of view, we can only ever see what she sees and know what she knows. I get this, and this is the ninth book in the series, so really there was no way around this. They wouldn’t have spoken about the things I wanted to eavesdrop on with Kitty there. Understandably, given some of her behaviour later.
I also guessed the Sun twist! Not as soon as we met him, but by the second time I knew who he was. And this sort of ties into one of my background frustrations with the series – in general, Kitty is good at approaching the supernatural like any other science, with a healthy amount of scepticism and an open mind, but sometimes obvious things don’t occur to her. Like the Thor thing in the last book. I can understand not thinking “Sun Wukong” immediately or at all I guess (I only remembered his name because I still feel guilty that I’ve never finished reading Journey to the West), but it took her way too long to realise that the maze was one of those weird mazes that don’t follow logic, where retracing your footsteps won’t lead you back to where you started. I get that if it was me in my real life I probably wouldn’t think magic straight away, and I might not be able to get my head around something like that, but I’m also not a werewolf. And I would have expected her to at least think about it – it’s not a rare trope.
Anyway, these are relatively minor nitpicks for the most part. I will say that Kitty’s outsiderness does impact the story by denying the reader more exploration of the Chinese parts of this story, but I can’t think of any way to have done it better. Other things – I felt like the peril was sort of played down? The maze didn’t live up to its threatening promise in the end. Kitty got away with more cheek than she should have.
But for all that, like I said, the story is back on track, and Kitty is now in position to start amassing an army against Roman. The goal is… not quite in sight, but it’s out there.