Tag: tran nhut

Book reviews

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Sightseeing, Rattawut Lapcharoensap. A collection of short stories set in contemporary Thailand, by turns cynical and sharp, sad and uplifting. The opening one, “Farangs”, set on a tourist island and from the point of view of a mixed-race Thai/American local boy, is a very biting look at the industry of tourism and how it distorts local life (and you gotta love the pet pig named Clint Eastwood). There’s a wide range of narrators and experiences, and it all adds up to a lovely atmosphere. It was a very refreshing book for me on two accounts: the first is that those are literary stories, and it’s nice to be reminded once in a while that short stories don’t have to follow the SFF genre conventions to work (few of those stories feature character change, but they still depict poignant and meaningful moments); and the second, of course, is that this is Thailand written by an insider, and a refreshing antidote to White Western writers depicting Thailand as a hellhole of prostitution where Thais abuse and/or sell each other.
The Unicorn Banquet (Le Banquet de la Licorne), Tran-Nhut. Another episode in the ongoing adventure of the Vietnamese sleuth Mandarin Tân, and his sidekicks Scholar Dinh and Doctor Pig. The structure is unusual in that it’s a series of linked short stories told at a banquet held in the midst of a storm–and that the link turns out to be the lynchpin and decision point for the main character. There are mild fantastical elements (underwater naga kingdoms, for instance), but first and foremost, it remains an excellent crime novel, and a sharp look at all the layers of 15th-Century Vietnamese society, on the eve of the Trịnh–Nguyễn war. Also, OMG food porn. I was so hungry reading about the wonderful dishes of the banquet.

State of the writer

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Brainstorming for Jade in Chains continues: I’m now at the stage known as “index cards”, aka, write down my ideas on little bits of cardboard, align them on the big living room table, and stare until drops of blood congeal on my forehead. Hmm.

Reading some UF for research purposes (and for fun): I finished Ben Aaronovitch’s Moon over Soho, and enjoyed it a lot (even though I saw the ending coming halfway through the book). Wonderful voice, and a rather neat take on magic within London that mostly doesn’t feature vampires (OK, I lie. There are vampires, but they’re not at all dark and brooding and handsome).

Also read: Charles Stross’s Rule 34 (kindly donated by the author), and Halting State. They’re both thrillers taking place in an alternate future where Scotland is an independent republic, and struggling to find its place with respects to its British neighbour. They’re also both told in alternating second-person, which is the sort of thing you’re always advised against as a writer, though Stross makes it work wonderfully; and they’re very gritty (especially Rule 34, which has a spate of gruesome murders, and a POV character who is a total psychopath). There’s things I love and things I don’t love about them–the plot crackles along, they’re full of amazing inventive ideas (like, robbing a bank in an MMORPG? awesome!), they have strong main characters, especially strong women characters; but I have to confess they’re a little too gritty for my tastes? (I’m a bit of a squeamish reader. Yes, I know. I write fantasy in which the main character commits blood sacrifices. And I’m squeamish. I never pretended to be coherent) My favorite Stross novels are still the Bob Howard/Laundry novels and short stories, especially some of the short stories (The Concrete Jungle is awesome fun).

And a French book, too, Shadow of the Prince by Tran-Nhut, a detective story featuring the recurring team of Mandarin Tân and his sidekicks Scholar Dinh and Doctor Pork. What can I say? I’m a sucker for historical mysteries, and this one was set in Ancient Vietnam! [1] (and written by a duo of Vietnamese-French sisters) Tân has to deal with a serial killer who may or may not be trying to topple the current dynasty, while facing some of the demons of his past–the dark deeds that led to the death of his school comrade, Prince Hung, more than twenty years ago… Chock-full of meaty details, of plot twists, and (more importantly) of good food. I’ve got the next volume, The Black Powder of Master Hou, which is set in Hạ Long Bay. Sounds nice.

In other news, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and go running, in an attempt to do some sport. I’m learning lots of things about our new neighbourhood–so far, I’m down to three Asian groceries (a mostly-Chinese one, a mostly-Vietnamese/SE Asian one, and a mostly-Japanese one. And there’s a Korean one a bit further down, too), one Russian takeaway (which has the H intrigued), one Picard (they specialise in frozen food), and one dry-cleaner (less interesting on an immediate basis, but very handy). Not only do I get some exercise, but I also discover new things!


[1] I’m a little puzzled as to when it’s set: the scenes that frame the narration tend to indicate that the story itself is set in the Lê dynasty, but the capital is referred to as “Thăng Long”, which is a name Hà Nội hasn’t had since the 11th Century (to be fair, every one in there is a scholar, so they possibly referred to it by its poetic name rather than by the prosaic name of “Đông Kinh”?) Later volumes make it clear that this is taking place in the mid-16th early-17th Century, right before the Trịnh–Nguyễn War, so definitely the Lê dynasty.

Fiction roundup

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Read recently:

-Lian Hearn, Through the Nightingale Floor, Grass for His Pillow, Brilliance of the Moon: awesome YA set in a land much like Feudal Japan before the Shogunate. Takeo, an orphan raised in the forbidden religion of the Hidden, is adopted by Lord Otori after the massacre of his family. But Takeo has only exchangd one set of problems for another: as heir to a great house, he has to compound, not only with the power intrigues of the otherlords, but also with his real family–the Tribe, an alliance of assassins/mercenaries–who will stop at nothing to use him. Add to this his mad passion for young Kaede, heiresss to a powerful domain–and Takeo is just set for more than he can handle. Continue reading →