In 2012 Shanghai, a steamy affair turns supernatural.
Naemi Vieno Kuusela has seen a lot in her four-plus centuries on Earth. She hasn’t always had the same name but has always kept her initials—NVK—as a way of grounding her: “There had to be something to hold onto, some faint trace of continuity, or she would fall apart.” Naemi meets Zhang Guo Xing, a married businessman, in a hip Shanghai nightclub; Zhang is drawn to her, a mysterious blonde foreigner who speaks perfect Chinese. The first time they meet, Zhang notices “a light round her, a kind of shimmer” that was “something he could feel, though, rather than see.” Drawn together by desire and something more mysterious, they begin an affair which starts to envelop them both. Naemi lets him get closer than anyone has gotten before, and Zhang begins to realize she isn’t who—or what—he thought she was. Switching between Naemi's and Zhang’s points of view, the novel builds tension through their mutual secret-keeping. Whether it’s NVK’s past as a fisherman’s wife in Finnmark or as a young woman drinking in a 1970s London pub, the portions about her former lives and the ways she navigates immortality are the most interesting in the book. After she escapes a mob without a trace, NVK realizes that “no one would ever know what became of her. She would be a story that was told to children. A cautionary tale. A fable.” A perfect encapsulation of her life. One of the novel’s biggest problems is that it’s the first in a series and is written as such. It has a hard time standing on its own: It meanders too much, gets lost in minutiae, and reveals too little. That said, the ending subverts expectations and provides a perfect springboard for NVK’s next adventure.
A gothic supernatural tale that needs more thrills.