So it’s been a while since I posted about a novel, eh? Well that’s because I dove into an anticipated trilogy, so I’m playing catch up. Doubly so because Australia got these books back in 2010. And I am going to use the word ‘trilogy’ until it loses all meaning to me. Today’s Journey to Wudang trilogy is the second in a trilogy of trilogies by Kylie Chan. This set follows the Dark Heavens trilogy, which was the last thing I read prior to starting up this site and posting my musings about the things I read. I’m posting all three of the books together, Earth to Hell, Hell to Heaven and Heaven to Wudang, because they are more of a single 1800 page book rather than three six hundred page books. Page 595 in Earth leads directly to page 1 of Hell. This is one of those things that’s a non-issue as long as you know what you’re in for, which I did because Dark Heavens was exactly the same.
Now we’ve got a set of nine books total at six hundred pages a pop. There’s some sprawl going on here. Makes me wish I had taken notes along the way, but I’m going to do my best. (And ramble a lot while trying to avoid spoilers)
Back of the Books time!
Earth to Hell
It is either years since Xuan Wu, God of the Northern Heavens, living in Hong Kong as wealthy businessman John Chen, was exiled from the mortal realm. Emma Donahoe and Simone, John’s daughter, are facing a new series of threats, while their best fighter, Leo, sits in Hell. They must persuade him to come home… but, in Hell, nothing is as it appears.
On Earth, Simon Wong, the Demon King’s son, is no longer around to trouble them, but his associates have taken over Simon’s underworld activities. The otherworldly stones are being targeted and are in danger of their kind being completely destroyed.
It seems that the Demon King is the only one Emma can turn to for help…
Hell to Heaven
Emma Donahoe teeters on the edge of becoming fully demon, and must make a journey to the Kunlun Mountains of the West, home of the reclusive ancient goddess Nu Wa, in an attempt to regain her humanity. Traveling with Emma is Xuan Wu’s daughter, Simone, who is struggling with her growing power and trying to defend herself from the demons who want to destroy her.
And Michael is trying to come to terms with the shock of finding out he might be half demon… and a danger to them all.
Heaven to Wudang
The demons that could control stones and elementals have been defeated, but the most powerful of Simon Wong’s associates still remains to create almost undetectable copies of humans and Shen. The demon allies with Kitty Wkok to prepare a torturous trap for Emma and Simone, from which they may never return.
Wudang Mountain is enveloped by dark foboding as Xuan Wu begins to reappear– sometimes human, sometimes turtle, but always without memory.
Emma and Simone are in a race against time as they try to rescue Xuan Wu… before the demons capture him.
Whew. Getting wordy already. This time around in Wudang, it’s really the kind of sequel that really forces you to read the first set before jumping into this one. I’m not one for large info dumps in a book series to remind you what happens previously, but this time we’re just thrown right in the deep end. I’m bad with names in real life so with the large supporting cast of characters, many with multiple names, it took me a few chapters to get back into the swing of things. This time around, Emma isn’t an outsider, the Aussie expat being brought into the world of the Chinese gods. She’s running the show as Regent while Xuan Wu is recuperating from his exile. There’s a glossary in the back of the various Asian language terms (remember, Chinese comes in variants and there’s also some Japanese and Thai in the mix at some point) that the characters themselves would have no reason to explain to each other. Epically helpful, just wish there was a cast of characters too. Minor point and not something that’s really common in books at all anymore, but wonderfully helpful when you have sprawl.
There’s that word ‘sprawl’ again. Don’t attach any negative connotations to it. It’s the same kind of sprawl that you’d find in a long running space opera series, like David Weber’s Honorverse books. The plot in the Wudang trilogy lends itself to sprawl more than Dark Heavens did, even though the whole thing is told in first person past. Emma’s post as Regent means that at any time, she’s got a dozen problems up in the air. Problems tend to show up, get scheduled and then dealt with in another four or five chapters. Emma had a very busy secretary. She was constantly challenged to duals, going down to the Courts of Hell to release her retainers, being summoned by the Jade Emperor (the head of the Chinese celestial) and occasionally talking to the Demon King (aka George) or recovering from an ass kicking.
The pacing of the books manage to escalate in all the right places as individuals. So even with the overarching plot, each one has its own climatic battles. Remember those “associates of Simon Wong”? Well they happen to come in three, the demon Six, the Geek and the Death Mother, plus the overarching presence of Kitty Kwok. The seeds for the trio were sown near the end of Dark Heavens and Kitty Kwok showed up back in the first chapter of the whole saga. So the author has gone with the slow play here. Each of the trio has one of the major road blocks facing Emma and the Northern Heavens. The disappearing stone shen, the hybrid elementals and the demon copies. Three books, three problems. Structures out nicely.
One of the things I really enjoy about this series is that I come out of it feeling like I learned something. Most godpunk books I’ve seen focus on the big Western pantheons, Greco-Roman, Norse and to a lesser extent, Egyptian. The Chinese pantheon is large and complicated in its structure so there’s always something new even in the sixth book. The Eastern focus of this is very different than most of what is published in this hemisphere. It was one of the things that originally drew me to the series and it hasn’t worn off even after all six books.
With Emma no longer being the outsider, I was happy to see the introduction of Chang, a Shaolin Monk who became enamored with material trappings working as a goon for Six. Eventually he finds its way to Emma’s doorstep and works for her. There’s a good middle chunk where we get to have that outsider view again which was refreshing for me in amongst the constant crisis state.
There was another running theme, especially through the front half of the trilogy, that spaces out the constant demon fighting and hunting. Simone is a teenager now, not a little kid. There’s an eight year gap from the first trilogy to the second. So there’s some high school drama. It never got stupid, it’s not like the commercials for those suspect ABC Family shows. (Seriously, now the hell is that family??) Simone’s reality as Princess of the Northern Heavens means she has to kick a lot of demon ass and has to skip school to do it. She gets kicked out of school and it becomes a big problem to find a new one and then fit in.
Not all of the things introduced into the books get fixed. Remember back when I mentioned Kitty Kwok the authors was going for the slow play? Especially in the third book, not only are you expecting it, you can spot the slow play coming. Dancing around spoilers again, but I can tell I’m going to like where the third trilogy reaches out to. I suspect it’s going to have a lot to do with Emma’s past so that’s some serious slow play going on.
Demons, martial arts, celestial palace intrigue, relationships, double crosses… I’m only touching the surface of what’s going on in this massive amount of pages but the amount of spoiler potential is huge not to mention I shouldn’t let this post balloon up as big as the books. Yes the page count is very large. Yes there is a learning curve (especially if you’re just starting with this trilogy). But the payoff is great.