Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Dark Serpent Review Dark Serpent
by Kylie Chan

Supplied for review by Harper Collins New Zealand

Reviewed By: John Toon

Although this is billed as Book One in the Celestial Battle series, it might be better labelled as Book Seven – two other trilogies have preceded this one. Enough information was given for me to figure out who the various characters were, but much of that information came from eight pages of dramatis personae at the back of the book, which is never the best way to get to know your author's cast. Interested readers are advised to start earlier in the series, and while I wish you well, I won't be joining you on your voyage of discovery – in all honesty, I'm not part of the target audience for this book, which is another of those romance novels with fantasy-coloured curtains written by and (one assumes) for middle-aged women.

Emma Donahoe is an Australian woman with an interest in martial arts who's become involved with a Hong Kong national (just like the author – how strange...), only to discover that he's the living avatar of Xuan Wu, the God of the North. They, together with Xuan Wu's daughter Simone, are engaged in a battle with the forces of Hell – they're based in the Jade Emperor's heavenly realm and have some resources to call on, but the Demon King is holding part of Xuan Wu's celestial embodiment (the titular Serpent) hostage, which complicates matters. Over the course of 450 pages, Emma and Xuan Wu fulfil the first part of a prophecy that reassures you, gentle reader, that they will eventually succeed and Emma will be raised to godhead herself and marry the God of the North.

Kylie Chan has made an intensive study of Buddhist and Taoist philosophy (it says here, in the author bio) as well as other myth/belief systems (and she's included extensive research notes in the back, lest there be any doubt) and used them as narrative scatter cushions for a familiar romance-against-adversity tale heavily inflected with an Anglo accent. That the two Demon Kings apparently like to call themselves George and Francis may offer you a clue as to what to expect. That the protagonist's half-Chinese-deity stepdaughter is called Simone (and rides a magic horse named Freddo) probably should have tipped you off first, in fact. I never got the feeling that these characters were anything more than the author's own coterie wearing paper masks, and all of the various councils in heaven and face-offs in hell came across as hip young socialite get-togethers down at the coffee house.

The story itself contains a fair degree of incident and some peril – it is possible to read through the book and feel that you've actually put in some work as a reader, which puts this volume above others of the type that I've read. It's not terrible, but it's not the fantastic journey through Chinese mythology that I was expecting, and as much as I'm not the reader for this book, it's not the book for me.

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