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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

“The Shadow Pavilion” by Liz Williams (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Liz Williams at Live Journal and at Facebook
Order "The Shadow Pavilion" HERE
Read FBC Interview with Ms. Williams HERE
Read FBC Review of the Inspector Chen short stories HERE

Book & author information: This is the 4th book in the Inspector Chen series written by Liz Williams. This series is a bit hard to classify as elements of Urban Fantasy, SF, Noir Thrillers & comedy make a fine mix to culminate into the books which are such an enjoyable read. She has previously published 3 books in this series. The 4th book is also published by Nightshade books & stands at 240 pages divided into sixty three chapters. All the chapters are from the third person perspective.

Series Overview:
This series follows Inspector Chen, a mortal living in Singapore three, and a police inspector who tries to keep the peace while dealing with inhabitants of Heaven & Hell at the same time. The world created by Liz Williams is based on Chinese mythology & is a very crafty one to say the least.

This universe, in which Heaven is not exactly as one prays to & Hell might not be that bad either, is a different one from the usual
speculative fiction ones. In Williams' world Heaven and Hell operate as bureaucracies & both are as inept as the humans over whom they preside.

The series began with "Snake Agent" & was then followed by "The Demon & the City" & "Precious Dragon". While each story can be read as a standalone book, the overall storyline is carried forward by the events in each book of the series.

In "Shadow Pavilion", we are reacquainted with Chen, Zhu Irzh, Inari, Mhara, Badger & many other characters and the book starts after the events of "Precious Dragon".

Zhu Irzh is the representative of the Vice department of Hell currently partnering Chen in Singapore Three. Inari is Chen's demon wife who along with her demonimal, Badger, reside with Chen in his houseboat. Mhara is a celestial from Heaven who has a soft spot for mankind & its sufferings. The novel also features characters from previous books such as Ma, Jhai Tserai & one from the first book as well.
The POV's are from Chen, Inari, Zhu, Mhara, Paulent Go, Badger & Seijen.

After the huge debacle in Heaven & with the shift of the status quo in Hell as well, Mhara gets a lift in his celestial position, not a position he would have preferred but one which he's responsible for. Immediately after his ascension, his policies bring him in conflict with certain persons who decide it would be best that Mhara were to take a hike, courtesy of an assassin.
This is where Seijen the assassin makes an entry and to say that Seijen is a conflicted individual, will be an understatement & to find out more about this, one will have to read the book.

The plot thickens as new schemes are hatched. Zhu & Badger are kidnapped by a deity from the neighboring country's God Pantheon. Chen & Inari are left to fend for themselves & help their friends without essentially knowing where to look for them. Adding to this, Paulent Go is a producer in Bollywood [Indian Cinema] who has had a very successful career thanks to Lara Chowdhirijee, his famous protege whose movies are playing to packed houses everywhere.

However Lara is not just any actress & soon develops starry tantrums. Paulent then decides to make her go away & in the process meets Chen as something goes horribly wrong. Williams takes these various threads & makes a fine tapestry to give the readers another tasty entree in the Inspector Chen series.

In the previous book, Chen was given more of a side role & the main action prominently featured Zhu Irzh & Jhai Tserai[ an Indian business woman of mysterious origins] however in this book all characters get proper footing & also prominently featured is Badger, an "demonimal" who can also transform itself into a kettle. I really liked this character as featured in the first 2 books & I was glad to see it in midst of all the action.

Williams does heighten her story by several notches & has quite a plot twist which will shock readers & especially the ending which has some interesting pointers for the next book tentatively called "The Iron Khan".

I could hardly find any faults in this book as my complaints with the previous title were redressed perfectly in this one with the re-focus on Chen, his wife & her demon familiar Badger. The minor niggle I can point out is that Williams uses the title "Deva" [It means God in Hindi/Sanskrit] akin to "Author" which is applicable to both genders. It is a male title given to a female deity [Serifa] which is incorrect and the correct title would be "Devi"[Meaning Goddess].

Also this book features several Gods of the Hindu pantheon & for readers familiar with the Hindu mythology it will be a delight to spot some of them. For others who aren't so familiar, Liz Williams names them aptly & so it will not be a hurdle for them except for two which she leaves unnamed as they make cameos & do not affect the story much.

I'll clue in the unfamiliar readers to their identity, the Half Monkey half-man with wisdom in his eyes is Lord Hanuman & the Blue skinned God with a crescent moon on his forehead is Lord Shiva.
Liz Williams has proven that one doesn't need to conform with genres' usual conventions to write a good book & by mixing them with some real creative thinking, one can indeed write a rollicking story. The Inspector Chen series is highly recommended for people who are beginning to get jaded by the repetitive storylines in Urban Fantasy & for others who are just interested in reading a different book via a funny, heady mix of many genres.



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