Wendelin Gray is a US-based linguist, artist, writer and dancer fluent in three East Asian languages with research interest in the development of advanced reading and writing skills in foreign language learning. Formally trained in Russian, she is an independent scholar of East Asian language and culture.
After teaching ESL in the primarily East Asian and Russian immigrant communities for over a decade, she served as a core volunteer on multiple multiethnic committees for the Pittsburgh-based Silk Screen Asian American Arts Organization from 2007 to 2018 and has provided regular programming for the Pittsburgh Japanese Culture Society events since 2011. She also has studied Middle Eastern, Classical Chinese, Korean, and Classical Indian dance styles for many years. Her books are strongly influenced by the literary traditions of these regions and are written for an all-ages audience in mainly the horror genre.
“Much dystopian fiction can be heavy-handed, but Gray...employs a spare, delicate style that’s effective, whether describing an interrogation, quiet scenes, or a huge cat’s rage”
– Kirkus Reviews
A war involving possessed, monstrous dolls heats up in this fourth volume of a series.
In a future world where three repressive superstates control the globe, a rogue faction of enchanted dolls and fox spirits fought back in a guerrilla conflict known as the Doll War. Now, in 2139, although peace has been restored by treaty, the superstates are still wary. Recently, lethal yet beguiling white roses have reappeared in the French Alps. The flowers also have a connection with Chika Ando, who was killed because of her opposition to the government. The secret police travel to Chamonix, where the roses are said to be growing again despite having been destroyed in 2078. But the investigation leads them into a trap, breaking the treaty and providing justification for the dolls to wreak all-out war. Aided by the human resistance Movement, the dolls use their supernatural abilities to attack in the form of gigantic monsters. As in previous volumes, Gray offers a trademark blend, where gory fights and the Japanese monster genre—known as kaiju—are combined with descriptions of subtle delicacy. For example, an enchanted, human-size doll holding a fan is surrounded by the smell of plum blossoms. As she attacks an enemy, “the edges of the fan’s ribs glittered in the dying sunlight, revealing small, dagger-like, silver points.” Similarly, an appealing little maneki neko (beckoning cat figurine) becomes “over 100 feet tall”; although “her fur seemed as fluffy as cotton candy…she would crush and kill anything in her path.” But events can be hard to follow even for those familiar with the series, and Gray leaves terms like kitsune (a Japanese fox spirit) undefined.
Surreal and poetic, this SF/fantasy series installment can be puzzling but still charms.
Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2020
Page count: 304pp
Review Posted Online: May 1, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020
This third volume of an SF series about magical figurines explores a dangerous political faction and a gritty resistance group.
In Chicago in 2075, Shiren Tsai helps his father, Zhengyan, run the Mandarin Duck Lounge. Zhengyan is dismayed by the rise of the Futurists’ Task Force in Britain, but his son is skeptical of any danger. Though this new political faction claims to represent “prosperity, unity, and peace,” it apparently makes strides via drone strikes and AI soldiers that kill civilians. The True Bystander, an underground newspaper, reports the murder of Giséle Guerin, a seer in the Chamonix region of France. The Futurists fear culture, and humanity’s spiritual connections pose the greatest threat to their unified world. By 2079, the Futurists have taken over North America and formed the superstate of Atlantia. To combat this fascist monoculture, an enigmatic woman called the Empress begins contacting those willing to fight through their dreams. In 2101, after the formation of three superstates, Chika Hagiwara lives in the fenced-off village of Tyosha in the Eurasia superstate. She joins the resistance Movement at her local Sleep Clinic. A Lucky Cat supernatural doll named Shanalandra, who comes to life and can change size, eventually brings Chika to meet the Empress at Nambata Castle, where they prepare to attack Eurasia’s leader, Hanxu Xing. In this follow-up to Lucky Cat and the Snow Maiden’s Vengeance (2018), Gray continues to add meticulous layers to her saga of spirit-animated figurines battling for humanity’s freedom. The grisly acts committed by the superstates are numerous, including when Chika “watched the sentinels shoot the burning figure...to make sure the victim was dead.” But as fans of the series know, the author’s portrayal of magic is subtle and rewarding. Within Nambata Castle is a “cloud of swirling snowflakes” in which “the souls of the dead wept with displeasure at their fate.” Yet while grand in scope, the drama often feels diffused across too many jumps in time. The question of whether or not to kill Xing’s son provides a flashpoint in a story that sometimes feels bigger than its characters.
This engaging and complex series installment offers fans more supernatural maneuvering.
Pub Date: March 31, 2019
Page count: 262pp
Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020
In this sequel, humanity remains controlled by three superstates, which come under attack from supernatural monsters.
In the author’s SF series opener (Kumori and the Lucky Cat, 2016), three powerful superstates arose after World War 3. In 2090, they find themselves opposed by statues, figurines, and dolls come to monstrous life. This second outing also includes events around 2090 but skips ahead to 2101 and backward to 2080. In 2101, a young lawyer from New Bangkok, the capital city of the Eurasia superstate, is sent to investigate irregularities at a detention camp, one of several built during the Reorganization to control people left in some “forbidden zones” considered dangerous, such as Japan. She finds a journal from 2090 noting the awakening of inanimate dolls and sculptures: “They are now more than just clay or stone or resin. Something else has entered them, using their empty forms to fight a secret war.” In 2090, Suna Hagiwara and her niece are resettled in New Bangkok, bringing with them a maneki-neko (beckoning cat statue), and Suna is drawn into the resistance Movement. Ten years before that, Suna’s sister, Yuki, is commissioned to make a special set of dolls. One of these, the Empress, enters the dreams of people in a sleep clinic that’s a front for the Movement, and Suna’s awakened maneki-neko promises to become clan guardian of the Hagiwaras. Gray (Magic Hair, 2019, etc.) has a nice control of the tone in these series installments, a delicate precision that helps balance the drama of dystopian fears and supernatural battles: “A barely whispered sigh so unearthly and gentle that it was almost imperceptible to human ears. Let this curse fall upon them.” Her characters are well developed and the worldbuilding feels solid. Things do still feel unresolved by the book’s ending, although the third volume may bring resolution. The jumps between time settings could become confusing, but the author helps readers out with an appended timeline as well as chapter headings with date and place to keep the audience oriented.
Another absorbing, entertaining entry in this one-of-a-kind SF series.
Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018
Page count: 213pp
Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020
In this literary dystopian novel, a young woman’s life changes radically as she listens to the advice of her Japanese cat figurine.
After World War III in 2090, three super-states have gobbled up the globe. The Reorganization that followed reshuffled the masses and worked to erase all memory of their cultural pasts. It’s now 2138, and 30-year-old Kumori Ando of the super-state Eurasia lives in New Caledonia’s dreary southern sector, working a dull but reliable cubicle job. She has a rare memento from the old days, a cat figurine a few inches high with a beckoning paw, red-flecked fur, and gold highlights. Dubbed Lucky Cat, the figurine comes to life and talks to Kumori, often delivering advice. Kumori discovers Chen Wei, a young man sheltering in a dumpster, and brings him home. She learns he’s a member of the resistance movement, which aims to dismantle the Reorganization and give people freedom again. Kumori wants to join the movement as well, but she’s soon embroiled in the machinations of the secret police, whose ranks include her brother, Tsumori. He offers to get Kumori a good job and apartment in the cushy northern district, and she agrees, hoping to work undercover for the movement. Her exposure leads to a violent confrontation in which Lucky Cat shows her supernatural powers, growing to a gigantic size and destroying buildings. The adventure continues in further volumes. Much dystopian fiction can be heavy-handed, but Gray (Magic Hair, 2019, etc.) employs a spare, delicate style that’s effective, whether describing an interrogation, quiet scenes, or a huge cat’s rage: “Lucky Cat tore her way through the top few floors of that building, smashed the glass façade of the police station…with a kick of her hind leg and the whipping motion of her tail…shrieking as she went.” But the romance between Kumori and Chen is so understated as to seem anemic; what draws them together beyond happenstance? Chen’s comment, “Yeah, you’re cute enough,” is typical.
An absorbing, well-written blend of SF, surrealism, and Japanese magical-girl fantasy.
Pub Date: June 14, 2016
Page count: 244pp
Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019
Lucky Cat and the Snow Maiden's Vengeance Trailer
KUMORI AND THE LUCKY CAT: Named to <i>Kirkus Reviews'</i> Best Books, 2019
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