My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I finally did it. After re-starting this book about three times, I finally made my way through the whole thing. And it’s…sort of okay?
The good stuff:
The setting: Really well done. I was almost a colonial Malaysian myself by the end. Every detail has been painstakingly researched – the food, the clothes, the customs, the geography, even hell is in depth (no particular pun intended). The mythology is very well thought out and has clear rules, no convenient waffling here. I found the hell currency concept very interesting.
It’s not just fluff: The book gets into darker themes in a sense, especially by the end. There’s a lot of intrigue that’s uncovered and a guessing game that keeps you on your toes. The bureaucracy of the afterlife is tedious and complicated, so naturally extensive corruption is involved. Conspiracies abound in the night. Also, people were people. Not particularly good or bad (except for a couple of hardcore pervy old men).
The stuff that is neither here nor there:
Character development: Li Lan is thoroughly useless at the start of the book. Not gonna lie. She is a typical coddled child with no knowledge of the outside world or how humanity works and it bites her hard when her soul is left to fend for itself in the underworld. But she gets a lot better. By the end she almost manages to do something.
However, her character development is put into question by the hideous love triangle. Initially, her infatuation with Tian Bai is an extension of her naivety, which is understandable. But after (spoiler) Er Lang proposes to her, why on earth does she keep dithering about? Gurl, a celestial dragon who has a stunning human form just asked you to marry him. You have page burning chemistry with said dragon. How often does that happen? He gave you a chunk of his life to keep you alive. There is no debate here. None.
I understand you considering your family, but why is Tian Bai even in the running? Ten pages ago, you thought he was a murderer for goodness’ sake. Just hitch up your sarong and run for the altar with Er Lang.
Equally questionable is the fact that Li Lan needs to be saved. A lot. Again, this okay in the beginning, but there’s no excuse for it at the end. Li Lan never gets to show that she’s stronger now. Sad times.
Finally, Tian Bai’s character development, such as it is, is really confusing. First he’s painted as a would be murderer. When he’s proven innocent, he is also a lovelorn dude pining for some Spanish chick. When Li Lan works around to accepting that (I donno why when there’s an actual dragon who actually loves you), the whole ghost possession thing happens and he starts giving people creepy stares. Sigh. This last one is never explained – was he just suspicious? Cold and cunning? Demented? What is it?
Overall predictability: This is obviously a matter of taste. The setting is pretty much the only thing that’s really unique about the book. Everything else is much a straight trope – speshul pretty girl meets boy, heart flutters, ends up in a world she knows nothing about, meets a shady characters who she bickers with but turns up at every corner to rescue her, realizes everything was a lie, finds a lost parent, discovers original heart throb has secrets, discovers the Mr.Darcy in the picture has a secret, uncovers a plot in the fantasy world, is thoroughly embroiled in a love triangle, is routinely saved by convenience and ends up choosing the second guy.
I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, especially here, where the setting itself is so complex a twisted plot would probably burden the reader. I think the educational value outweighs the predictability.
The bad stuff:
The pacing: Too much in the beginning, too little at the end. The Er Lang romance came literally out of nowhere; she basically falls for him in the last 20 pages. The slow start was why it took me so long to read this book – I have had it for more than two years now. The story drags in several places and all the exciting action bits are stuffed at the end. There’s also a very abrupt ending.
A general mehness: Something about the book felt a bit disinterested. As if it didn’t really care about the characters sometimes. Also Li Lan’s stupidity is nigh unbearable in the beginning. That would be okay if she didn’t occasionally make choices at the end that had me wondering if she learnt anything at all. Don’t just sit there and let the villain marry you! Run! Set fire to things! Anything! Also, why do you believe everything you hear?
It could have been better, but honestly, it could have been much worse too. At least things sort of work out sensibly at the end. And overall, I respected the main character and her choices. So it was just a middle book for me.