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Thursday, February 11, 2010

“Jade Man’s Skin” by Daniel Fox (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Daniel Fox Website
Official Daniel Fox Blog
Order “Jade Man’s SkinHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Dragon In Chains

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Daniel Fox is a pseudonym for an award-winning British author of several novels including The Books of Outremer. He’s also written children’s books, poetry, plays, and hundreds of short stories.

PLOT SUMMARY: With the long-chained dragon now free and the rebels’ invasion smashed by her exultant fury, the balance of power has changed. Young emperor Chien Hua is no longer struggling for survival . . . now he is ambitious to strike back. As treacherous General Ping Wen whispers in the emperor’s ear, not even Chien Hua’s beloved concubine or his most trusted bodyguard can reason with him. Worse, prolonged exposure to magical jade is changing him radically: His increasingly godlike powers are making him dangerously rash.

But with the dragon patrolling the skies above and the strait beneath, the emperor’s forces have no hope of launching a counterattack—until a goddess moves to interfere. Yet neither the clash of armies nor the opposing wills of goddess and dragon can decide ultimate victory or defeat. The fate of the war lies in the blood-deep bonds between the dragon and the boy Han, her jailer and her liberator—and in the prices both will pay for their freedom...

CLASSIFICATION: Like its predecessor, “Jade Man’s Skin” is a character-driven, Asian-influenced epic fantasy in the vein of Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price Quartet, Kate Elliott’s Crossroads series and Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 432 pages divided over six titled parts with each part divided into numbered chapters. Narration is in the third-person via several POVs including the slave-boy Han, the fishergirl-turned-emperor’s mistress Mei Feng, Mei Feng’s grandfather Old Yen, the young jade miner Yu Shan, an imperial messenger named Chung, the doctor’s daughter Tien, and the bandit woman Jiao. Minor narratives include the mother Ma Lin, the rebel leader Tunghai Wang, and the imperial general Ping Wen.

Jade Man’s Skin” is the second volume in the Moshui: The Books of Stone and Water trilogy after “Dragon In Chains”, and ends on another cliffhanger. The third book in the trilogy is currently titled “Hidden Cities”. February 16, 2009 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of “Jade Man’s Skin” via Del Rey. Cover art once again provided by Robert Hunt.

ANALYSIS: Thanks to mouth-watering prose, compelling characters, and an oriental-flavored backdrop, Daniel Fox’sDragon In Chains” was one of the better fantasy novels I had the pleasure of reading in 2009. Because of that, I had very high expectations for the sequel, “Jade Man’s Skin”, and the second volume in the Moshui Trilogy delivers with another rewarding reading experience, albeit an experience that is very much like the one found in “Dragon In Chains”...

The reason for this similarity is simple: “Jade Man’s Skin” shares all of the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor. For instance, strong points once again include Daniel Fox’s lyrical prose—“The tiger leaped down like moonlight pouring from a jug, a vivid flow immediate in movement and immediate to halt. When it had landed on the path before them, it was entirely still again. And then it had turned and was leaving, leaping away, and was gone; and its absence was a sudden aching hollow in the world that the night could rush into, rush and rush and never hope to fill.”—and engaging characterization. Of the former, Daniel’s prose is as beautiful as it was in “Dragon In Chains”, but at the same time I felt it was even more graceful. As far as the characters, “Jade Man’s Skin” continues to feature a rich, diverse and fully-developed cast of men, women and youths who all play an integral role in the author’s elaborate web of war, betrayal, and love. Of the characters themselves, I was most impressed with Chung’s and Tien’s increased role in the book, saddened with Han’s diminished one, and disappointed that Tunghai Wang, Ma Lin, and General Ping Wen did not receive more face time.

Weak points meanwhile, range from listless world-building to a story that suffers from sluggish pacing, slow-developing plots, and over-used fantasy tropes (dragons, a divided empire, an impetuous emperor, a goddess who manifests through people, etc), all problems that appeared in the first book. Fortunately, these are minor issues when looking at “Jade Man’s Skin” as a whole since world-building and the story play second fiddle to characterization and Daniel Fox’s prose. Nevertheless, I wish the author had been able to delve further into the history and lore surrounding the Empire, the imprisoned dragon, and the Li-goddess. The story itself is actually pretty interesting despite its familiarity, but most of the novel’s major twists and turns are fairly easy to figure out, including the book’s climactic scenes.

In addition to sharing the same strengths and weaknesses as “Dragon In Chains”, “Jade Man’s Skin” also follows the same formula as the first book, emphasizing character development, telling a story that comes to a stopping point but with unresolved storylines, and ending on a cliffhanger. In fact, apart from the cliffhanger, “Jade Man’s Skin” doesn’t read like your typical ‘middle volume’ in a trilogy. Instead, the book reads more like the continuation of a single novel that was split into three parts, and I expect that “Hidden Cities” will also follow suit.

CONCLUSION: In the end, I had pretty much the same experience reading “Jade Man’s Skin” as I did reading “Dragon In Chains”, which can be construed as either a good or bad thing depending on your point of view. For instance, if you didn’t like the first book in the Moshui Trilogy or can’t stand novels where story or world-building take a backseat to characterization and prose, then avoid this sequel. On the other hand, if you enjoyed reading “Dragon In Chains” and want more of the same, then you can’t go wrong with Daniel Fox’sJade Man’s Skin”...


The Evil King said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed it. Dragon-In-Chains was one of my favourite 2009 releases, and I'm very much looking forward to this one.

Telliot said...

Sounds really interesting. I especially the excerpt you include--very lyrical.

Anonymous said...

Hey. I really like the blog. I submitted it to reddit and digg because i think more people need to read it! Also, I have a blog too if you want to check it out. It's called Zygor Leveling and it teaches World of Warcraft players how to level up to max level in 6 days. If you want you can check it out! Thanks again!

Robert said...

If you enjoyed Dragon In Chains, then I think you'll very much enjoy Jade Man's Skin The Evil King :D

Telliot, the prose is one of the best things about Dragon In Chains/Jade Man's Skin...

Thanks Anonymous for submitting the blog. And good luck with Zygor Leveling!

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