A post-colonial fantasy draws on Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Filipino cultures for a multinational tale of political intrigue.
The nations of Sanbu, Shang, and Dahal have thrown off the colonial rule of the Tomodanese Empire. A Sanbuna troop is delegated to escort the captured Iron Prince Jimuro to the vacant throne of Tomoda so he can establish a new, peaceful, and presumably conciliatory relationship with the other nations. The plan falls apart when a splintersoul, a Sanbuna man with the frightening (and believed impossible) power to shadepact (i.e., bond) with multiple animal spirits and to steal others’ pacts from them, attacks the ship carrying the prince. Only the prince and one of his escort survives: Sgt. Tala, who has hidden her own ability to forge shadepacts both to a crow and to her brother Dimangan—a bond considered taboo. Jimuro and Tala struggle toward the Tomodanese capital of Hagane, trailed by a group of Tomodanese noble rebels; the eccentric Shang princess and law enforcement officer Xiulan, who models herself after a fictional Holmes-ian detective and hopes that capturing the prince will lead to her own throne; Xiulan’s new partner and potential crush, the clever but emotionally bruised Jeongsonese thief Lee Yeon-Ji; and the splintersoul Mayon, who has some strange and deadly motives of his own. Like some other contemporary authors, Krueger (Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, 2016), who's Filipino American, eschews the tropes of high fantasy established in late-20th-century novels inspired by European cultures, set during conflict, and expressing a fairly dichotomous morality. In contrast, this Asian-influenced sociopolitical drama explores the complications that ensue after the war, when no one’s hands are clean. Characters face the consequences of the choices they made during the conflict and consider whether it’s possible to rise above deeply ingrained prejudices and forge alliances with former enemies. Such grave matters are leavened by amusing banter, solid action, and two charming nascent romances of opposites.
As tasty as the mushroom adobo that appears in the book both as food and metaphor.