THE DEMON AND THE CITY by Liz Williams
Night Shade Books, 2008, 374 pages, 978-1-59780-111-9, Mass Market Paperback, $7.99
Genre: Fantasy/Urban Fantasy/Detective Fiction
All right, I admit it. As soon as I was halfway through Snake Agent, I pulled up amazon.com and ordered The Demon and the City. What can I say? I’m a sucker for series novels. I mean, you get to know the characters, the universe, and everything else. It becomes like a second home….
Well, sort of.
In any case, I began the second novel in this series immediately after the first. While it did hold some charm, I’m sorry to say that I just didn’t like it quite as much.
Which isn’t to say that I hated it. I didn’t. But there were a number of moments when I put the book down, groaning, because I had to sit through another chapter featuring characters I just couldn’t bring myself to care about. And there were spots where the minor nitpicks of Snake Agent became legitimate problems that I just couldn’t overlook without actually skipping paragraphs.
But before I go on, the premise is this: Detective Inspector Chen has gone on vacation with his wife, which leaves his partner, Zhu Irzh, alone to deal with things by himself. As he begins investigating the murder of an unidentified young woman, he becomes involved with the owner of a powerful pharmaceuticals company. His investigation leads him to find out what she’s up to; but, as time goes on, he begins experiencing a number of strange episodes that call into question the safety of those around him.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that—apparently everyone has a plot against Heaven. It’s the running theme in the series so far, but that’s hardly surprising. Heaven is, after all, supposed to be untouchable, which makes it a tempting target for invasion by other supernatural forces.
But back to what I was saying. It’s not the story itself that bothered me in The Demon and the City. That went as well as you might expect. And the writing was just as good as last time, with the exception of a few more repetitious bits that could have been edited better. No, it was the handling of the characters and the point of view changes that left me a little flat.
First of all, I always take umbrage with blurbs that don’t quite give off the right impression. From the way it’s written, you would think that Zhu Irzh would be a more prominent character since Chen is absent for most of the story. Instead, we end up with changing viewpoints between Zhu Irzh, Jhai Tserai, Paravang Roche (a really annoying guy) and a young woman named Robin (who, I won’t lie, I found dismally boring as a character). What we did see of the Seneschal was, well, watered down. While he was clearly the same character that was introduced in Snake Agent, I just didn’t get that same charmed feeling from him. At first I thought it was because Chen was missing, but then I realized that a lot of Zhu Irzh’s scenes in Snake Agent didn’t involved Chen; which, of course, meant that it was just a matter of the way he was being portrayed. Mind, there were still moments when he had me smiling, especially over certain bits of dialogue, but otherwise I was mildly disappointed that the character I had fallen in love with just wasn’t as interesting to me.
As for the others, Jhai Tserai was all right. She had some good aspects to her, and I liked her surfeit of charisma around her employees. Paravang Roche was a bit on the obnoxious side until toward the end, but that was entirely intentional, I imagine, so I can accept that. I did like Mhara. He didn’t get his own point of view, but I preferred it that way; I enjoyed learning about him through the observations of others. Robin, however—while I do understand her point in the story—just didn’t strike me as very interesting. There were moments when she was sympathetic, but on the whole she didn’t really do much to hold onto my attention. In fact, she sort of repelled it at times. That said, if she were ever to return, I’d probably like her better now that the initial introductions are over.
The badger, though, was great, as always.
I have no doubt that my problem comes from a bias toward minimal pov changes. I like to deal with one character, two at most, for the entirety of the story and, if it’s a series (even an episodic one), I like for those pov characters to be “veterans” that I’ve seen before. I’m sure that doesn’t sit well with some authors, but it’s just the way I prefer things.
So, the setting of the story was pretty much the same, and I liked getting to play in that sandbox one more time. When I was finished with The Demon and the City, despite the issues I had with it, I still kind of missed it, so I have no doubt that I’ll read the other books in the series. Once I get attached to a particular universe and a particular set of characters, I find it hard to let go. I guess that means I’ll be tracking down Precious Dragon sometime soon. But, regardless, I’m going to secretly hope that Williams writes a more Chen/Zhu Irzh/Inari-centric book in the future.
I still like the cover art, by the way—Jon Foster is one of my new favorite artists. I should really go order his art book.