RogerBW's Blog

The Iron Khan, Liz Williams 15 July 2022

2010 urban fantasy. The Book that created the universe is missing, and may be getting Ideas; Detective Inspector Chen investigates. Meanwhile Zhu Irzh is finding himself drawn to the Great Khan.

Really, don't start here. There's no explanation of how a police inspector is on speaking terms with the Emperor of Heaven, or why the Dowager Empress should be significant. This is a complex plot with multiple infelicities overlapping and feeding on each other, not to mention that it includes Nicholas Roerich, Agent of Agartha.

"What you saw was an episode back in the late nineteenth century when, posing simply as a local potentate, he invited a Russian general and his men to dine with him and then had them shot at the dinner table." 

"What did they do — criticize the soup?"

"They did nothing at all," Roerich explained. "The Khan has acted on whim for a long time."

But what Williams also does, as before in this series, is split the narrative into several threads and chop them into short chapters, so that we get only a scene or two with one set of characters before we're jumping to one of the others. (They overlap and exchange members later, too.) I found it disorientating at times; in a visual presentation one has the actors and the scenery to remind one in a non-verbal way about the different strands, but since it's just text and perhaps a character won't be mentioned… where is X again? Weren't they just talking with the viewpoint character here? Am I supposed to care that they're missing, or have they just not been mentioned recently? Never mind, on to the next thing!

"That was — a friend. At least, I think he's a friend. Says he's in a floating moveable city in the middle of Tibet and my fiancé's gone back in time to try and sort things out. We're in trouble."

But it does just about work; the story holds together even though there's time travel involved, nobody is perfect but many of them are trying to be good, and considering the possiblities there is a refreshing lack of sudden deus-ex-machina revelation and problem-solving.

At first glance, he looked like some of the Western backpackers that thronged the streets of Singapore Three in the summer, but they were, on the whole, alive.

Some of the characters get very short shrift and perhaps a smaller cast might have helped, because this ends up being harder work to read than it really needs to be. (Also publisher woes and a switch to Open Road mean a much lighter editorial hand.) But still one I'm glad to have read.

Not enough badger.

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Previous in series: The Shadow Pavilion | Series: Detective Inspector Chen | Next in series: Morningstar

  1. Posted by Gus at 12:46am on 17 July 2022

    Insufficient badger, eh? 'Without the help & support, etc' Who did say that the crown of England (I do know, don't write in) was 'insufficient beauty'? Whoever had clearly got the wrong end of several unsanitary sticks.

    This is a complete digression but to be fair 'Not enough barber's kind of invites that. G

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 08:06am on 17 July 2022

    The previous book (The Shadow Pavilion) had a lot of badger in it, and badger is possibly my favourite character in the series.

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