Book Review 2009 #51: Precious Dragon

Precious Dragon is third in the Inspector Chen series…

In this third volume in the Inspector Chen series, Liz Williams continues the stories of the strangest and most interesting police partner duo in fantasy or straight fiction–Inspector Chen and Seneschal Zhu Irzh. The one is a devotee of the goddess Kuan Yin working as a “Snake Agent” for the Singapore Three police force. His partner is a liaison from the Chinese Hells, and is, in fact, yes, a demon. Together they fight crime!
That may sound flippant, but by this third novel, Williams really starts making this pair work. Ostensibly, while the novel is about the titular character, who is a little boy who is far more than he appears, the novel positively sings and dances with delight when Chen and Zhu are back on screen. Be it Zhu’s complicated relationship with his lover and his family, or Chen’s attempts at trying to do the right thing in Earth AND in Hell, the buddy cop routine never fails to please.
I recently read a story by Williams in the Songs of the Dying Earth anthology and now, based on that, I can see that Vance is an inspiration for these characters, and some of the descriptive motifs and styles in these novels. The amazing “hell-bound train” is an image that has been indelibly burned into my memory.
Williams is also willing to avoid the reset button. Things have changed from the start of the first novel, and through the second, and the balance of things changes by the end of this one as well. Its an organic process of her world growing, developing and changing in a real way.
You shouldn’t start here, of course. And the start of this novel is a little slow. But when the novel gets on all cylinders, Williams shows that she is an entertaining, engaging, and most talented fantasy novelist. I am looking forward, eagerly, for the next novel in her Inspector Chen series. After reading this, I am pretty sure you will, too.