Cheers to the bibliophiles out there as April marked the premiere of Shadow and Bone. Based on Leigh Bardugo’s enjoyable trilogy of the same name and her outstanding duology Six of Crows, the Netflix series brought the two worlds together to fans’ delight. It is rare that a series would one-up its source, but that was certainly what’d happened here.
April was incidentally also a great time for good reads off-screen. These are my books of the month, starting with one that I’d love to see adapted on film, somehow.
The Library at Mount Char (Scott Hawkins, 2016)
“When he disappeared he was working on something called regression completeness,” Peter said. “It’s the notion that the universe is structured in such a way that no matter how many mysteries you solve, there is always a deeper mystery behind it.”
The Library at Mount Char is an extraordinary place that exists outside the rules of the known universe and harbours all the knowledge of our world. It has been built by a God-like figure, who had adopted 12 orphaned children to inherit his life’s work.
Each child is assigned to their own catalogue and forbidden to venture beyond. But Carolyn is not one to follow. After her adoptive Father’s disappearance, she decides to forge her own path, leaving horrors in her wake.
What seems to start out as a fantasy tale gradually becomes more bizarre and even with the humour, horrifying at parts. It is unlike anything I’ve read before. There is nothing predictable about Carolyn’s journey, and every move she makes only adds to the intrigue.
It is strangely enjoyable to acquaint with her odd siblings and their violent rivalry. It would be futile to attempt a guess at what she has planned for them, and in turn, what Father has for her. One can only be awestruck when all eventually comes to light in this brilliant masterwork.
Interior Chinatown (Charles Yu, 2020)
Unofficially, we understood. There was a ceiling. Always had been, always would be. Even for him. Even for our hero, there were limits to the dream of assimilation, to how far any of you could make your way into the world of Black and White.
It’s funny because the last 3 things I watched before reading this were Mortal Kombat, Wu Assassins, and the trailer for Shang-chi. The Kungfu Guy trope is very real, showing that nothing much has changed even as Hollywood superficially embraces diversity in recent years. Not that there is anything wrong with martial arts. The Asian culture is just so much more beyond that.
Featuring this very trope, Interior Chinatown uses the acting world as a backdrop to critique the harmful stereotype. It is more than just a call for better on-screen representation. The story provokes thought on our cultural identity as Asians living in and beyond Asia. It also takes on the expectations that third culture Asian Americans grow up with.
Of the Generic Asian Men unacquainted with the fist of fury and other minorities who suffer similar stereotype, their stories behind the scenes make for surprisingly emotional chapters that stand out in this memorably and hilariously told satire.
The Searcher (Tana French, 2020)
Trey says, with absolute bedrock certainty, “He wouldn’t do that.” Cal reached the point a long time ago where those words make him tired for all of humanity. All the innocents say that, and believe it to the bone, right until the moment when they can’t any more.
Retired detective Cal has moved to a remote village in Ireland to start a new life, but things don’t always go as planned. 13-year-old Trey shows up at his door over and again, eventually seeking his help with a missing person case that upends his plans to stay low.
Any fans of Tana French may first notice the difference in pace. The Searcher is a dark slow burn, contrasting with her thrilling Dublin Murder Squad series. Expectations of an unpredictable plot may be misplaced, too.
It is however, a beautiful read that is just as well written. The mystery thriller is but a backdrop to the nuanced character-driven story, where clues are secondary. Getting to know the people of the community is the more interesting mystery that unfolds here. Above all, it is the unexpected bond between Cal and Trey that turns out especially moving and unforgettable.