I am Jan Xu. Mother, ex-teacher, daughter and wolf. My family is all Lang, Mandarin Chinese for "wolf." We live among the human population of Singapore, looking like any ethnic Singapore-born Chinese. We have adopted the culture of our human counterparts, becoming human. Yet in our chests beat the hearts of wolves, our voices the howls of distant hunters.

An urban fantasy by a Singaporean author who may be better-known to you by her real name, Joyce Chng. While A Wolf at the Door had some problems, it was one of the few recent urban fantasies which I've even liked enough to finish. (By "urban fantasy" I mean the modern "hot and/or wisecracking person kicks supernatural ass in modern times," not the Emma Bull/Charles de Lint "magic in the city" books. Damask's book bridges those categories.)

Most urban fantasy, of the "kicks supernatural ass" variety, fails to hold my interest; it feels bland, plasticky, dull. In what I've read, the protagonists rarely have any relationships outside of romances or power dynamics with their vampire clan/werewolf pack/sugar glider flock, the landscapes tend toward generic American cities, and there's nothing going on other than magic spells, politicking among the pack, romance, and fighting: no details of life that make a world feel real.

Damask doesn't follow any of those patterns. Her Singapore feels completely real, and is a character in its own right. The characters have many relationships of different types: familial, pack, friendships. Jan is happily married and has two young daughters/pups. In fact, the best parts of the book involve daily life as a Singaporean werewolf.

Where the book falls down is plot and structure. There are two timelines running in parallel, one in the present and one in the past. They are poorly divided, sometimes marked "past" and sometimes not (and occasionally marked "past" when they're actually in the present). The storyline in the past is underdeveloped, with way too much tell and not enough show, and is not strongly connected to the present storyline. The present storyline is better, but oddly paced.

Five stars for atmosphere, three for character and prose (sometimes awkward, sometimes quite good), two for structure. But like I said: this is the only urban fantasy I've read all year that I actually finished. The world and setting are very, very good. Also, it's only $1.99 on Amazon: Wolf At the Door
ruthi: a photograph of a dormouse eating a berry (Default)

From: [personal profile] ruthi


I've just grabbed this book for the kindle, based on this review.
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)

From: [personal profile] holyschist


Ooh, sounds interesting!

(Have you tried Devon Monk's Allie Beckstrom books? I'm not totally caught up on them, but they have some IMO very interesting worldbuilding, and I feel like it's reasonably grounded in the setting, although I grew up just outside the city rather than actually in it, so I can't say for sure. And IIRC, there were definitely non-romantic relationships involved, although a great deal is complicated by how the magic works in this world. They're definitely the most interesting of the modern UF subgenre that I've read recently, and I don't believe they have any vampires or werewolves or other typical supernatural beasties.)
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)

From: [personal profile] holyschist


Portland, Oregon--still US, but I do feel like she made an effort to capture place. As I said, though, I'm not caught up, so I don't know what the later books do, but I liked the first few a lot, particularly for the magic set-up.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


Ooh, Portland? I love PNW stuff. (Have you read Chelsea Cain's thrillers?)
kore: (books in the wild)

From: [personal profile] kore


OOOH. Well, uh, they're pretty grisly - center around a serial killer. But if that doesn't bug you too much, the Portland setting is great, and there's a profiler type tracking the serial killer who's hunky, and a great scrappy reporter type and her mum, and a lot of good female characters in general. It's one of the few PNW books I've read that isn't all "woo, upper-class satire, teehee" (ahem: Waxwings, or this PIECE OF SHIT http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/no-place-like-home/Content?oid=14396533) (God, I hate people who move here from CA and bitch endlessly about how it sucks and make a bunch of money and then decide oooooh, I loooooove it here. Bah. Ahem! ahem)
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)

From: [personal profile] holyschist


Hmmm, I dunno how I feel about grisly serial killers.

My favorite piece of Portland fiction to date is Virgina Euwer Wolff's The Mozart Season, which is YA about a teenage girl who plays violin, and fantastic in my vague memory. I was not aware of a "woo, upper-class satire, teehee" subgenre, ew.

Er, but anyway, this has wandered rather off-topic.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


Uh, they're pretty damn grisly, sadly.

OMFG, YOU READ THAT? I have it! It's so great! Such a great YA novel, and a great picture of Portland, too. Rache, I think you would LOVE it - the narrator is a Jewish girl coming to terms with mixed heritage, but the Holocaust is not the main focus of the story, and her family is very sharp and funny and real. It's just excellent.

-- Yeah, if novels set here aren't, say, Tom Robbins, or paranormal romances, or historical romances (nothing against them but not what I'm looking for), they're about Microsoft or breaking into venture capital whatever, or the music scene. And I'm just like....man, not EVERYBODY here is either Bill Gates or Kurt Cobain. Not even most people. There's so much else! It's really depressing.

Then there's Cherie Priest's Boneshaker. I was not that impressed by the prose style (I will put up with a lot for good atmosphere, characterization, prose style, whatever. But if I don't like having the author's words in my head, if it's not a class assignment or something, I'm outta there).
Edited Date: 2012-08-22 04:03 am (UTC)
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)

From: [personal profile] holyschist


Yes, as a teenager! And every time I went to the Rose Garden after that I had to thump on the sculpture. I really need to reread it.

I tried reading Boneshaker and got bored. Didn't even notice it was set in the PNW.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


SO GOOD. And it was great how her parents were musicians, too, and there was the freaky musician friend of Mom's and the older brother - and the teacher - it was a really good portrayal of growing up around the arts, without making it all schmoopy and/or horrifying (MISSED CHILDHOODS OMG).

ARGH SPOILER TAG WHY DID YOU NOT WORK (Rache! Don't read the unedited comment notif!)
Edited Date: 2012-08-22 03:34 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


And Boneshaker - yeah, both the characters and the setting just felt flat, to me. I know she did a lot of research, including famously going through the Sanborn Maps or whatever, but all the Wild West and zombie and Civil War and gold rush bits felt like they were stuffed in just because they were AWESOME COOL, and therefore a bit thin. And the story under all the AWESOME COOL trappings was....just sort of ehh. I mean, I find Tim Powers's writing really bland and choppy, but at least when he's writing about vampires and the Romantics and the Year Without a Summer I can see where he gets the historical impetus from and how his theory fits certain facts, it's not just WOO VAMIPRES ARE COOL. Then again maybe that's asking too much from Steampunk as a genre, since it seems to be mainly about aesthetics - I don't know enough about it to say really. It was surprising to bounce so hard off it after I'd heard it so highly praised, but maybe that was Just Me.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


Wow, this sounds neat - and $1.99! I wonder why she used a pseudonym. I actually don't mind clunky plotting as long as the atmosphere is good, so this sounds very tempting.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


Ah, that makes sense in today's publishing world, sure.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


Also hmm, have you tried Caitlin Kiernan's -- middle-period books I guess they would be? Her first novel, Silk, was kind of ehh, but there's a diptych (basically) after that called Threshold and Low Red Moon that I really like -- lots of good characters, the writing's more controlled, and some genuinely creepy stuff. There's also a new comic out called Alabaster Wolves about one character from those stories, that looks quite good.

The next two in the series, Murder of Angels and Daughter of Hounds, fizzle badly (especially the latter one) and with depressing predictability I don't like her more recent books that have been praised to the skies (Red Tree, Drowning Girl). But Threshold and Low Red Moon were quite good - urban fantasy, but in the deep South, with lots of local colour and detail, and a kind of Lovecraftian ethos.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


Yeah, that's Red Tree, basically - one reason why I didn't like it much. That's not either Threshold or Low Red Moon, unless you consider one character in it nuts, which she might be but probably isn't - the text goes back a forth a little on that. (Those books also have things in them that drive you nuts, so....) The Schrödinger-esque aspect was one reason why I liked those books. In Red Tree/Drowning Girl it's more like she just goes off into schizophrenic thinking fully wheeeee, which 1) so not for me and 2) seen it done better elsewhere, frankly.

I dunno what happened after T and LRM - Murder of Angels was iffy, but Daughter of Hounds was just a hot mess, despite some good characterization. I'd probably rank her books thusly:

1 - Threshold
2 - Low Red Moon
3 - Silk
4 - Murder of Angels
5 - Daughter of Hounds
6 - The Drowning Girl
7 - The Red Tree

Bear in mind that probably everyone else who has reviewed her ever has the exact opposite of this ranking, I bet. At least from what I've seen a lot of genre critics raved about the last two. But they were just really chilly and off-putting for me.
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