ARC Mini Reviews for Novella November: Into the Riverlands / Pulling the Wings Off Angels

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Wandering cleric Chih of the Singing Hills travels to the riverlands to record tales of the notorious near-immortal martial artists who haunt the region. On the road to Betony Docks, they fall in with a pair of young women far from home, and an older couple who are more than they seem. As Chih runs headlong into an ancient feud, they find themselves far more entangled in the history of the riverlands than they ever expected to be.

Accompanied by Almost Brilliant, a talking bird with an indelible memory, Chih confronts old legends and new dangers alike as they learn that every story—beautiful, ugly, kind, or cruel—bears more than one face.

This has been one of the most fun series I’ve read in recent times, so I was very excited when a new installment was announced. And this felt like something that was written just for me.

The past two years has been me absolutely binging and adoring Chinese wuxia dramas, so imagine my delight when I read the premise of this story. The author does a brilliant job bringing the delight and charm of those dramas to this lovely little novella and we get a tale of legends, amazing martial artists, awesome fight sequences and discussions of their styles (really reminiscent of Condor Heroes) and the overall freedom in being able to traverse through the dangerous riverlands and fight against bandits.

It’s always nice to be back with our favorite cleric Chic and the sassiest bird Almost Brilliant whose one liners make this book even more fun. But I thought this was all Lao Bingyi’s show – mysterious woman and brilliant fighter, who definitely has so much more to do and share with the world. Wei Jintai didn’t have too many lines in the book but she definitely is a legend in making herself and I had this intense wish to know what happens to her next in her life.

Overall, this was a slightly bloody but charming story, reminding one of all our favorite wuxia stories, whether you’ve watched the dramas or read Jin Yong’s books. It starts off with the signature tavern brawl and only gets more fun from there, so if you wanna indulge in some nostalgia, don’t miss this quick and entertaining read.

5 star

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Pulling the Wings Off Angels is a madcap adventure brimming with the ethical quandaries and sardonic wit of The Good Place by World Fantasy Award-winning author K. J. Parker

Long ago, a wealthy man stole an angel and hid her in a chapel, where she remains imprisoned to this day.

That’s the legend, anyway.

A clerical student who’s racked up gambling debts to a local gangster is given an ultimatum―deliver the angel his grandfather kidnapped, or forfeit various body parts in payment.

And so begins a whirlwind theological paradox―with the student at its center―in which the stakes are the necessity of God, the existence of destiny―and the nature of angels.

I think I reasonably knew what I was getting into because I’ve read the author’s The Long Game, but I also didn’t read the premise in detail and got attracted by that catchy title.

I don’t wanna give away much by detailing the plot or the characters here but if you are truly looking for a short read that’s philosophical, with lots of discussions about theology, faith, sin and repentance, and just what it takes to believe in a higher power. I’ve been questioning my own faith for a while now, so reading this book and grappling with the questions raised in these pages felt like an interesting exercise for me.

Unfortunately, there’s not much going on plot wise. So, I know I probably won’t remember the very flimsy world building or the not so memorable characters, but I definitely will remember what this book made me think. Just go in with an open mind and maybe not too many expectations.

5 star
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