Downum, Amanda [ stillsostrange
]. The Drowning City
. New York: Orbit Books, in press.
Fox, Daniel [ moshui
]. Dragon in Chains
. New York: Del Rey-Ballantine, 2009.
These are both books that were sent to me in hopes of getting a blurb, and they're both going to get one. What I wanted to say here--aside from recommending both of them--is a comment about how diverse the possibilities are in the genre of secondary world fantasy. Both of these books take place in imaginary worlds. Both reject default-fantasy-Caucasianism. Both are excellent. But they could not otherwise be more different.The Drowning City
takes place in an entirely imaginary city, Symir, which is a point of conflict between the Assari Empire (I suspect the echo of "Assyrian" is not accidental) and its reluctant rain-forest vassal state of Sivahra. The plot involves spies and necromancers and ghosts and demons and a volcano; it's fast-moving and a lot of fun (apparently, it's easier for me to read mysteries than other kinds of plots), and it's very well-written. In particular, the magic system, with its combination of the esoteric and the absolutely down-to-earth, fills me with utmost delight.Dragon in Chains
takes place mostly on the island of Taishu (which is Taiwan in a deliberately minimal disguise) and has dragons and emperors and all kinds of magic. It is written with intense and exquisite attention to language, so that I spent most of it breathless with admiration. It is very much about the effects of "great events" (in this case a rebellion which has hounded the emperor to Taishu) on ordinary people
: the protagonists are a scribe's apprentice, a fisher-girl, and a jade miner, and people in authority are uniformly inscrutable and hostile, except for the emperor himself, who turns out to be a kind of inversion of the powerless ordinariness of Han, Mei Feng, and Yu Shan, for the very extent of his extraordinariness
makes him personally very nearly as powerless as they are. And each of them, in the course of the novel, comes to have some kind of power of their own--although those powers are all different, all limited and contingent, and all as much grief as anything else
. It is an elegiac book, and at the bottom of it all waits the dragon.
As I said, these are both excellent books, and aside from the fact that they happen in imaginary places, they could not be more different.
This is my genre. No wonder I love it.