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A fast-paced fantasy set in a magical equivalent of early China, with a whole lot of extremely delectable descriptions of food and a prose style that escapes clunky by the bare skin of its teeth. I enjoyed this quite a lot, partly because it is enjoyable and partly because I have been reading these Laurence Yeps that feel like outlines for longer novels, so it is nice to have a book with Chinese mythology that does not have this issue.

The atmosphere is good, genuinely eerie at times; the plot works, though there are several important characters I would have liked more backstory on. The characterization does well for the sort of book this is, namely an adventure story with a dash of romance, and the worldbuilding is solid. On a sentence-by-sentence level, the language never sounds good to my internal ear, which would usually be a book-killer for me, and I was surprised that it wasn't; there are a few writers whose subject matter is interesting enough to me, or whose pacing and quality of I-want-to-read-this are sufficiently gripping, that I can handle language I don't find euphonious, and they are always a surprise when I run into them. (The principle other one I can think of is Randa Abdel-Fattah, who has written these two violently interesting young adult novels about being a teenage girl and a Muslim in Australia, and who actively makes me wince on a sentence-by-sentence level and I don't care.)

I'd say this is for a slightly older age group than those Laurence Yeps and a slightly younger one than, oh, Megan Whalen Turner. Twelve or thirteen, maybe? And enjoyable to an adult reader because of things like the three-headed four-armed goddess whom you actually get to see talk and interact with things, which is logistically interesting and unusual, and the valley of the three-eyed people (which I principally know of otherwise from Osamu Tezuka, now there's a compare/contrast), and the beats of the story not being exactly as expected or exactly where you expect them. So yeah, despite this being a book I'd been eying with some trepidation after skimming a couple of pages, I would very much read a sequel. I always appreciate it when I enjoy a book despite its having an attribute I do not or cannot usually enjoy.


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