White Tiger by Kylie Chan
Published by Angry Robot Books, April 2010. (ARC copy received)
Review by Mark Yon
This book, the first of a trilogy first published in Australia in 2006, is a refreshing change to the many, many, many usual urban fantasy novels around at the moment. Though there are no vampires, it is a rip-roaring contemporary tale of mortals, Gods and Chinese mythology.
The story itself is pretty straightforward. Emma is a nearly-thirty Australian gal with no real ties in Hong Kong other than her job. She is hired as a nanny by John Chen for his cute four-year-old daughter, Simone. However not all is what it seems. John is not just the middle aged hunk he appears to be but Xuan Wu, the God of the North Wind, come to Earth for a while.
Unfortunately he has stayed longer in his earthly form than he should have – his wife Michelle was killed by his enemies and he was left in the mortal realm to bring up his daughter. A return to his True Form on the Celestial Plane now means that he would be unable to return to Earth and continue to care for Simone. Consequently, though he is getting weaker (at a god-standard level, admittedly) he is torn between the problem of recharging his own energy and safeguarding his daughter.
Enter our heroine – a character who takes all of this in with remarkable good grace and composure – who ends up being part of the big secret, being trained in martial arts in order to protect Simone and inconveniently falling in love with Xuan Wu. Along with Leo, the family bodyguard, Emma helps John fight off the gods and their demons from Hell as they frequently attempt to catch him with his guard down.
OK. The story’s not that original. The ending’s not a great surprise, though there are surprises along the way. Despite knowing this, the way it is written keeps those pages turning. I was pleased to discover that the dialogue is not as cringe-worthy as I had feared it could be, and the characters, though a little stereotypical, are great. The humour throughout is generally well done, a difficult thing to pitch right. However, in counterpoint, there is a nice tension throughout the book that keeps things moving, both a sexual tension between the leads and also a growing concern over whether John manages to deal with his many issues, including Emma.
The action scenes, of which there are many, are very well done and I suspect would be appreciated by many a martial-arts devotee. Even if you don’t know all the terms (like me) the fights are fast-moving, very exciting and surprisingly visual.
Most of all I enjoyed finding out more about the Chinese pantheon of gods and demons, who have a habit of being visited by (or drop in on) John. It was delectably different from the usual Celtic or Norse deities in Fantasy novels.
Think of this like Buffy meets Kung-Fu (or for those of you too young to remember that, Kill Bill), with gods but without the vampires and you’ve got the idea. Immense fun, not to be taken too seriously, methinks, I really enjoyed this one, more than I thought I would and stayed up later than I planned to reading.
I look forward to the sequel.
Mark Yon, February 2010