The Shadow Pavilion by Liz Williams

Published by Night Shade Books
August 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59780-122-5
325 Pages
Liz Williams’s Live Journal:  

The fourth entry in Williams’s Detective Inspector Chen Novel focuses again is not so much on Chen as it does on Badger, Chen’s wife’s familiar. The plot involves illegal trafficking of souls to Hell to be used as forced labor. In addition, the recently anointed Celestial Emperor is under threat of an assassination attempt. So, Chen and his wife Inari finds themselves trying to resolve three mysteries in this brief novel. In addition, a conjured djinn posing as a Bollywood starlet has gone rogue and is plotting against those who conjured her.

As with the previous novels, Williams continues to develop an intricately detailed world of both mysticism and magic. A third power, on equal level with Heaven and Hell, comes to the fore in the novel, and attempts to pull strings playing Heaven against Hell. The constructs and nuances Williams utilized in creating this third otherworldly faction were solid and gave the Universe of these novels a greater cosmology.

The plot is fairly standard with elements of chase, heist and whodunit thrown into the mix. At times these intermingled elements allowed the narrative to move at a brisk pace. Williams does a fine job of interweaving the multiple threads throughout the narrative to give the novel a cohesive story.

I have to admit to not really falling in line with this book. I enjoyed the first two novels, especially the first (Snake Agent), but couldn’t fully connect with what Williams was doing in this one as well. Although more depth to her cosmology was fleshed out, which I liked, the plot seemed a bit repetitive and a bit too similar to the first two novels, especially The Demon in the City. It is a bit frustrating since I enjoyed the first two novels, because I felt as if something was missing in this entry. I liked the scenes with Badger and thought the way in which Williams portrayed the scenes through his point of view were novel and interesting. On the other hand, Chen became secondary and almost a non-character in this book and I felt the pacing to be uneven. Maybe part of Williams’s aim was to put him in the background and subvert him.

Williams is doing a lot of things right; however, mostly the slow construction of an intricately layered secondary world. As with previous entries in the series, this aspect showcases Williams’s breadth of imagination filtered through her unique worldview and life experiences.

Fans of the previous three books will, hopefully, enjoy the novel more than I did. Outside of Chen taking a backseat in this novel, I can’t really point to any specific element that didn’t work for me just that it didn’t.

© 2008 Rob H. Bedford

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