The Red Heart of Jade by Marjorie M. Liu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There is drive-thru paranormal and there is sit down, multi-dish, stick to your ribs and set your taste buds on fire meal eating. Both are good, depending on what you want. As a paranormal fan, I love a book that I can devour in three hours and get my PNR fix. But as a reader who likes to be wowed, I love Marjorie M. Liu's style. I figure if you don't like her writing style, you won't make it past the first ten pages. She writes intricate and textured. Her world-building involves all the fives senses, and includes initial moments that make you wonder where she's going. However, if you keep reading, you'll get your answers. I love that when I was reading this book, I kept asking was this paranormal or urban fantasy. Being a love of both, I'd rather have a paranormal that leans towards UF with the world-building and depth of storytelling, but has a monogamous couple who will get their happy ending together, and love sitting back and reading to see this unfold. This is one of those books where I felt like it was taking a while to read, and I was enjoying myself. When I got impatient, I settled down and experienced the writing for what it was. Again, no fast food here, but a satisfying meal that took some time to consume instead. I wasn't disappointed.
Things that stand out in this book:
* The cultural experiences in this book were to die for. I am a serious armchair traveler. I will tell anyone I know. I haven't had the opportunity to do much world traveling, and so I appreciate doing so in my reading. This book takes place in Taipei, Taiwan, and in Hong Kong and Mainland China. If there is one set of cultures I feel a strong pull towards despite not sharing that heritage, it is Asian cultures. With this book, though I have never set foot outside of the US, I was there, walking the streets of Taipei, Hong Kong, and experiencing the natural beauty of a small town in the mountains of Sichuan. I felt everything as though I was on the journey. Every element tied into the story, and not some random info-dump to proved that the author had done her research on the places she wrote about. I don't doubt that Ms. Liu has been to these places, and I thank her for taking me on a three-dimensional journey along with the characters.
* True love between a boy and girl comes full circle--A strong romantic, I am. I loved the idea that Mirabelle and Dean grew up together, loved each other intensely. Even though they had thought each other dead for twenty years, their hearts never recovered and they never stopped loving each other. When they reunite, the magic is there and although they are older and had different life experiences, their bond is much more strong and richer as adults. I loved that they never doubted each other or their bond, and they didn't try to convince themselves that time had erased that bond. I think friends becoming lovers is one of the most romantic storylines ever written. You know each other so well, that this connection only deepens when you realize that you are each other's happy ending.
* The characters: Dean is tough as nails, sarcastic, quick on his feet, a man who acts more than he talks. From the beginning, I loved him. He was wearing an Optimus Prime Transformers t-shirt, how could I not. And the fact that he loved Mirabelle so much, he'd never gotten over her. Happy Sigh! Mirabelle is a bonafide kick*ss heroine. She doesn't play. Even for an academian, she's not pushover or wilting flower. Although Dean might have saved her a few times, she reciprocates. I found myself saying, "Dang, girl." at the way she handled some of the bad guys. She's my kind of girl.
* I spoke earlier about the impressive world-building, and on top of that, very novel, intricate storytelling, steeped in Chinese dragon folklore with believable archeological aspects.
* Whenever I read Liu, I feel like I am watching action movies, specifically Hong Kong Action movies, where the fantasy elements go hand in hand with the kick*ssery. She couldn't make this movie geek happier. I am sure that she also stayed up late to watch movies like "The Bride with White Hair," "The Heroic Trio," and others. She brings this sensibility to paper so well, it reinforces how much I enjoyed those movies.
* A host of intriguing secondary characters inhabit this book. Good, bad, and somewhere in-between. And ethnic diversity is the name of the game. Thanks for that! Monochromatic UF and PNR is disappointing in so many ways to this reader.
Marjorie M. Liu isn't for everyone. I imagine some readers will lose patience with her writing style. That's okay if she doesn't work for some of those readers. She works for me. What I invest in reading her books, I get back threefold. That's why she's a keeper for me!
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