Ung-Lai’s (The Freedom... Cage, 2012) latest novel sinks teen orphan Sam Sword into deeper water and stranger companionship than he could ever imagine.
When Sam Sword’s mother died, he fell into a fugue that’s revealed in patchy, unpredictable recollections as he juggles two part-time jobs and cares for twin boys he found abandoned on the roadside. Finding the twins snapped Sam back to reality, giving him a reason to live, but apparently, he’s also got a reason to die: Mysterious red-suited men and women are making attempts on his life. Ung-Lai doesn’t explain exactly why the strangers are after Sam, so it’s understandable that he at first thinks he’s losing his mind when no one else visibly reacts to the attacks. He has no idea that he’s surrounded by—and beloved by—ancient, magical beings who can see exactly what’s going on. The ancient ones use their magical talents to protect Sam from some attacks, but they can’t keep him from falling head over heels in love with a coy, mysterious girl he just met. Ung-Lai’s creativity shines as she illuminates a world where reincarnation and the primal forces of sunlight, moonlight and water are the lynchpins holding Sam’s world together—if only he knew. Meanwhile, his new girlfriend isn’t anything she seems, and winged bugs tiny enough to live beneath his fingernail are fierce enough to suck the life out of him. Quirky, enjoyable phrases like “stare-of-war” mark simple, declarative sentences that frame the action. Sometimes, however, Ung-Lai repeats herself and falls into the trap of overstyling the prose—a raised voice is almost always a scream, sighs are unfailingly happy, there are countless smiles—which ultimately dampens her creative expression.
A swirling blend of Chinese mythology and teenage angst, though the presentation struggles to keep up.