Friday 22 July 2016

The Dragons of Heaven by Alyc Helms

The Dragons of Heaven is a debut novel, set in a world where superheroes and some kinds of magic are real. It's also a world in which not everyone believes in magic - sceptics believe the superheroes just have very advanced tech (which some do) and very good PR (ditto). There are laws about 'citizen vigilantes' and some form together into SHIELD-like organisations, some commercial, some state-run. But all of that is merely backdrop: the novel is much more interested in its Chinese-influenced mythology and magic and a hero's journey.

Our hero is Mr Mystic, one of those superpowered vigilantes. Able to control shadows and even drift from the 'real' world into a shadow realm, Mr Mystic is a fedora wearing, arch-British-sounding, Chinese-magic-wielding martial arts expert. Oh, and she's also a woman, Missy Masters, who inherited the superpowers from her grandfather, the original Mr Mystic, whom she impersonates. (Said grandfather, meanwhile, has disappeared without a trace or a goodbye).

Superheroes tend to be the stuff of movies and comic books, but The Dragons of Heaven is a funny, slick, energetic romp, filled with action and jaw dropping (but believable) plot twists.

I will admit that it took me a while to get properly absorbed by the story: the timeline is a little wobbly at the start of the novel, with two parallel storylines (one in the now, one in the past) and flashbacks galore. Also, I am not good with (character) names at the best of times, so I tended to get confused between all the Asian characters. Worst of all, I read the book while stressed / struggling with concentration, so even though I noticed the humour and the playfulness, I really struggled to focus on anything. (This has to do with life issues rather than any issues of the book, but it makes me feel I missed out on enjoying this book properly).

Eventually, even though the stress factors in the real world were still there, the book hooked me, and by the end I was not just invested in Missy, but her world and all the characters within it. In fact, The Dragons of Heaven is a novel where there is no such thing as a pure villain - all characters, even the antagonists, have reason and richness and perspectives that are perfectly understandable.

Basically, if you want a book that is fun, funny, action-packed, thrilling, a bit romantic and sexy, joyful, whip-smart, and a good romp, The Dragons of Heaven really should be up your street.

Rating: 5/5


Nicky said...

Wait, superheroes? RIGHT. Off to get this one when I have money then!

Federhirn said...

I think it's on a par with Genevieve Cogman's Invisible Library series, Daniel O'Malley's Checquy series and Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant series for levels of fun and joy, if that helps.