SONGS OF INSURRECTION by JC Kang, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad


Alexander Wallace joins in with the chorus.
One of the things so pleasurable about science fiction conventions is the people you meet. I came across JC Kang once in the lobby, waiting for an event that never actually took place, and again in the dealer’s room. He succeeded in persuading me to buy one of his books; that book is the first in his Dragon Songs saga, Songs of Insurrection.

The blurb on the back of the book touts how Kang writes ‘multicultural fantasy.’ Upon reading the book, you will see that the most obvious inspiration is Chinese. You get the very distinct sense that you’re in the China of the late Qing, with food and music and other cultural traits of that country. It is a plot that, however, involves many from lands beyond such culture; one major character hails from a land clearly based on India, and other lands have a presence too.

Kang clearly wanted to show off all that worldbuilding, and deftly managed to do so in a way that never feels plodding in the way that so much fantasy can be. That occasion is a royal wedding in the imperial capital, which provides an occasion for all manner of dignitaries to descend upon a single place. It also provides room for the plot that he has constructed, which in some ways is traditional fantasy court intrigue, but done in a way that never leaves you thinking Kang is in any way unoriginal.

What makes Kang so original in his plot is how interwoven the realities of imperial power are in such a plot. One of the characters, Hardeep, is from a country that is being occupied by a military power funded by Cathay, the imperial power having the wedding, and is trying desperately to stop the military aid that leads to the slaughter of his countrymen. In Cathay’s capital, he befriends one of the princesses of this empire, Kaiya, who has a burning desire to see justice be done. This acknowledges the cruelty of foreign policy in a way that many books in the entire body of speculative literature rarely do (but, being someone whose highest aspirations were the United States Foreign Service until he read about Archer Blood, I tend to latch onto such things).

One of the things that stands out about the fantastic aspects of this fantasy novel is its approach to magic, particularly an instrument of great importance. There is a link that Kang draws between the yearning and the hope that music, even instrumental music, can inspire, and realizations of such desires that the magic enables. It’s a small thing in the big picture, but it provides several great character moments and that little je ne sais quoi that makes the whole thing feel artistic.

My only gripe, and this is a small one, is that as a history nerd some of Kang’s inspirations are very obvious. Names like ‘Cathay’ for such an empire with very clear Chinese influence and a land of dark-skinned people called the ‘Aksumi’ felt just a little on the nose.

Songs of Insurrection is a spellbinding work of fantasy that should be read by anyone who proclaims themself a fan of the genre. I have no regrets about being sold such a novel in the basement of the Omni Shoreham; you won’t regret getting it however you find it.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad