Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Demon and the City, by Liz Williams

The Demon and the City
Liz Williams

Liz Williams returns to Singapore Three with the second Detective Inspector Chen novel The Demon and the City. Singapore Three is a future city where the boundaries between Earth, Heaven, and Hell are blurred and demons and angels are very much real. Williams introduced her readers to Detective Inspector Chen, an investigator of crimes which touch upon Heaven or Hell in some way. During Snake Agent Chen ventures deep into Hell and finds an unlikely accomplice in the demon Zhu Irzh. Zhu Irzh liaises with the Singapore Three police to assist Detective Inspector Chen and when Snake Agent left off, Zhu Irzh were partners, with Zhu Irzh on loan to Singapore Three.

Given that The Demon and the City is listed as a "Detective Inspector Chen" novel, one might expect Chen to take a starring role in the novel. It is his series, after all, and this is only the second novel. Instead, Liz Williams twists the formula before it can become a formula. Detective Inspector Chen is off on vacation with his wife. Readers follow Zhu Irzh as he investigates mystical crime in Singapore Three. Zhu Irzh's various unorthodox investigations (he is a demon, after all) lead him to the beautiful and powerful Jhai Teserai, a scientist and CEO of Paugeng Corporation experimenting on non-humans. This is vitally important, though the reader does not know exactly what Mhara is, but Mhara (the primary test subject) will play heavily in later in the novel. There are various murders and intrigues, plus the politics of Singapore Three and the bureaucracy of Heaven and Hell.

Where I expected Liz Williams would start to play a formula with an "Investigation of the Week" styled series, Williams seriously shakes things up. Yeah, the ultimate play in The Demon and the City will touch the fabric of reality and stretch from Heaven to Hell, but in not sticking with Chen as the lead and by giving the reader different looks at Singapore Three, Williams is demonstrating that she is not going to give what might be expected and that readers can expect something fresh from this series. At least for now.

Chen does play a role midway through the novel, but even so, this is very much the novel of Zhu Irzh and also of side characters like Robin (the researcher working under Jhai Teserai on Mhara) and Mhara itself.

Williams has built herself a rich and deep city to play in (and destroy) and while there are many more stories that can be told in this setting, I hope Williams explores the world at large because while Singapore Three has its own Heaven and Hell, other ideologies and nations also have their own distinct Heaven and Hells which reflect what their citizens believe. There is just so much here to see.

The Demon and the City is a stronger novel than Snake Agent. Snake Agent, itself a good novel, can get away with living partly on the freshness of discovering Singapore Three for the first time. The Demon and the City, on the other hand, must not only build off of what Snake Agent started, but stand on its own feet after the sense of new has worn off. Flipping the novel over to Zhu Irzh may have been the best thing Williams could have done in the supernatural urban fantasy detective series.

Bring on Precious Dragon! After two Detective Inspector Chen novels, I'm left wanting more.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Night Shade Books.

Previous Review:
Snake Agent

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