Drawn into a primordial struggle that threatens the balance of the world, Howard embarks on a journey through time and space.
A split narrative, twining from imperial-era Sanxingdui to contemporary Aylford (an author’s note informs readers that Sanxingdui is a real place in China, while fictional Aylford is inspired by American author H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional town Arkham), tells the story of the Golden Mask, an object of immense power. When nefarious forces seek to seize that power, Howard must battle darkness of monstrous proportions. It’s an ambitious story, weaving in ancient civilizations from all over the world. Wilson misses the mark, though, deploying one cliché after another, from the “very important magical object” to the “chosen one.” Howard’s unfathomable importance remains unexplained, and Cate, his friend, exactly embodies the “mystical minority” trope. Cate is one of three characters in Aylford who are specifically and repeatedly identified as Chinese—the rest are presumed white. Small discrepancies riddle the text, and use of Chinese language is inconsistent or simply wrong. Passages of evocative prose appear alongside moments of unbelievably cartoonish description and dialogue (one character uses the phrase, “cool people like me”). With a cast of characters who seem to reappear in various incarnations, the plot feels simultaneously fussy and simplistic—and insufficiently compelling for readers to want to continue on to the next book in the planned series.
Fascinating source material deserves a treatment less reliant on tired tropes. (Fantasy. 10-14)