a review by Nalini Haynes
A mythic tale of Chinese gods, Small Shen explores how Gold and Jade met and later came to work for the Dark Lord.
Gold is a minor Chinese god whose natural form is a piece of quartz with veins of gold but he can take human form at will, including changing his appearance. Think Monkey, the TV series. Gold is sexually voracious and capricious, causing trouble in the Celestial Heavens before being forced into slavery. Gold’s sexual preferences are somewhat flexible, aided by his ability to manifest as either male or female. Jade, a princess dragon, also takes human form at will, but when she’s a dragon it seems humans don’t notice her flying around.
John Chen, Xuan Wu, is the Dark Lord who left his exalted place in the Celestial Heavens for love of a woman, Michelle. Wu even summons a flying cloud for celestial travel, squee!
Gold assumes the role of lawyer and ICT expert for Chen while Jade’s draconic affinity with numbers makes accountancy her perfect role.
Small Shen unfolds in 2002 with scenes from various stages in the characters’ history juxtaposed throughout, setting up the ongoing series (this is a prequel) while building the characters.
Kylie Chan lived in Hong Kong for some time, inspiring her to begin the series for which Small Shen is a prequel. The descriptions of Hong Kong and its surrounds – including the harbour – are vividly painted in Kylie’s prose. Small Shen isn’t just aspirational writing inspired by Chinese mythology, it’s a truly cross-cultural product.
What sets Small Shen apart from your average novel or graphic novel is the combination of traditional prose written by Kylie Chan and manga drawn by Queenie Chan. Yunyu performed the soundtrack for the book trailer (below) that’s a free extra when you purchase the book (scan the code to download the song ‘Butterflies’). Small Shen is a truly multimedia experience.
When I finished Small Shen I figuratively rolled up my sleeves thinking ‘Right. Now to get the rest of the series.’ I think I’m hooked. Highly recommended for fans of Eastern-inspired fantasy.