Dark Heavens book 1
a review by Nalini Haynes
White Tiger is the first of Kylie Chan’s two trilogies narrating the story of Emma Donahue, an English kindergarten teacher in Hong Kong. Emma works for John Chen, also known as Xuan Wu, the Dark Lord of Martial Arts, North Wind and right hand of the Jade Emperor.
John’s half-human daughter, Simone, is about 4 when the story opens. Emma teaches Simone part-time but, after quitting her job at the kindergarten, accepts a full-time live-in position caring for Simone.
Leo, a highly trained African American acting as bodyguard and chauffeur also lives in and studies martial arts. Monica, the housekeeper, wants to stay ignorant of the supernatural goings on in the house.
As Emma’s relationships with her new household develop, she learns the truth about Xuan Wu. Emma’s incredible maternal bond with Simone is possibly stronger than her love for Xuan Wu. In order to protect Simone, Emma learns martial arts.
Emma and Leo develop a wonderful relationship caring deeply for one another as friends without flirting. They stir (tease) each other as Australians do, and prank each other repeatedly. Although these pranks felt sudden, I re-read nearly all of them at least once or twice. The stirring and pranking provided emotional release – comedic interludes –for reader interest, releasing tension and developing characters. This was possibly my favourite aspect; if I’m ever asked what fictional characters I’d do coffee with or have dinner with, Emma and Leo are on my list.
The hordes of hell – demons all – are out to defeat Xuan Wu while he is weakened by staying in human form to protect his daughter.
As one who grew up with Monkey, may I SQUEE!
So far I’ve found Kylie’s work to be entirely consistent with what I know of Eastern mythology upon which the TV series Monkey was based. Monkey is an occasional visitor to Xuan Wu’s household – usually spoken of rather than experienced – wreaking absolute havoc as is Monkey’s wont. He even took his staff out of his ear before enlarging it, just like in the TV series. The only thing I missed was the cloud: I don’t think any Celestial beings rode on clouds in this particular book.
Bai Hu, the White Tiger and Celestial West Wind, seems so like the personality of Pigsy in Monkey, right down to his fascination with women and his own facial hair, that I looked him up to see if he’d been Pigsy for the Journey to the West upon which Monkey is based. He is not Pigsy but adds a similar element to Chan’s stories.
The most motivated demon pursuing Xuan Wu and his household is Simon Wong, also known as demon one two two, who has no honour. He even puts his hand up Simone’s dress after kidnapping her. None of the other demons are tarred with this particular brush. Ugh.
As a debut novel, White Tiger is impressive. Kylie Chan understands the art of showing not telling and yet there are times where I’d like more introspection, more emotional depth or feeling. Leo keeps calling Emma cold-blooded; as Emma is the point of view character, this lack of emotional depth is, perhaps, appropriate.
Kylie Chan lived in Hong Kong for seven years; her knowledge of the city and the culture shines through. She inspires desire to visit Hong Kong until she mentions the high prices and the pollution. Then she ruins Hong Kong for me as a tourist destination in book two where she discusses the weather – 100% humidity – at length, before going into detail about what it’s like during typhoon season. Detailed understanding of a culture like this can only be shared after a genuine personal experience that goes beyond the normal touristy experience. [cheers]
Kylie Chan’s style of writing is well-suited to manga conversion as has been done, in part, for Small Shen. I want to see the Dark Heavens trilogy fully converted to manga, preferably in colour and definitely by someone like Queenie Chan who illustrated Small Shen.
I really enjoyed White Tiger: it’s a refreshing change from more European-style fantasies. White Tiger is kinda like the sequel to Monkey [melts]. I totally loved Monkey in high school so I am really excited to read such a well-researched story based on the same culture and mythological concepts.
I’ve already finished the next book in the series but instead of writing that review I might need a break now… I hear a book calling me…
What? I have an assignment to complete. On contemporary Australian fantasies with Asian influences. THAT’S MY EXCUSE AND I’M STICKING TO IT!
The copy I’m reviewing is actually this trilogy-in-one-book: