Yoon Ha Lee
published: 9th June 2020
Dragons. Art. Revolution.
Gyen Jebi isn’t a fighter or a subversive. They just want to paint.
One day they’re jobless and desperate; the next, Jebi finds themself recruited by the Ministry of Armor to paint the mystical sigils that animate the occupying government’s automaton soldiers.
But when Jebi discovers the depths of the Razanei government’s horrifying crimes—and the awful source of the magical pigments they use—they find they can no longer stay out of politics.
What they can do is steal Arazi, the ministry’s mighty dragon automaton, and find a way to fight…
Galley provided by publisher
I want to open this review up by telling you what not to expect from this book. Because I know from the experience of not really getting Yoon Ha Lee’s writing style in Ninefox Gambit, how people might not like this one, his first fantasy novel. (And because I know a lot of people have come to this off the back of his middle grade novel, which is great, but also very different to his adult style, but enough dithering.)
Things not to expect
- An action-packed ride (at least not til closer to the end).
- Very much exposition on the world-building (particularly magic systems here). He’ll trust you to pick it up as you go along, and that does/doesn’t work for different people.
- A light writing style (in that it’s quite detailed and dense at times).
Okay, now we’ve got that out the way, why should you read this book?
Firstly, I am biased, because I read Machineries of Empire and loved it (barring the aforementioned blip of getting into the first book). So, I knew I would like this book at the very least.
The best thing about this novel is Arazi. I mean, who wouldn’t love a snarky sentient automaton dragon? And really, the book gets very good once Arazi shows up. The relationship between him and Jebi was a little reminiscent of Jedao and Cheris in book 1 of Machineries of Empire so of course I was guaranteed to like it.
And then there’s the worldbuilding. I know I warned about the dense writing and lack of exposition above, but for me those are great aspects of it. I love being trusted by the author to pick up magic and politics as I go along, because I’m really not one for reading long passages explaining the world.
There were probably two things I was less enamoured by. The first is that Jebi is a much more passive (for want of a better word) character than Yoon Ha Lee’s previous mains. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but for a lot of the plot they just seemed to go along with things, rather than causing them. But hey! They just want to live in peace, really, so I can see them as a more reluctant rebel type. I also didn’t love the romance, but again, that’s just me. The whole relationship was necessary to the plot, but I didn’t think the romance itself was (if that makes sense).
But overall, this was an enjoyable read. And one I urge you to take up, especially if you want to read more of Yoon Ha Lee, but adult sci fi is too intimidating right now.