LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52631-X
Fantasy Romance, 2006
The Red Heart of Jade is another installment of Marjorie M Liu’s Dirk & Steele series, but it can be read without having read previous related books because it contains very minimal references to events or people from previous books. One thing you have to know before you tackle Ms Liu head on: she doesn’t write fun urban fantasy stories as much as she writes fun novelizations of action graphic novels. If you are not fond of the language and style used commonly in action graphic novels, this one may strike you as too cheesy for its own good.
But first, the plot. This is a very busy story, so I’ll just outline the events that kick off this story.
Dean Campbell, as an employee of the X-Men type of agency Dirk & Steele, is an unusual person in that he can, among many things, visualize scenes from the past related to a place or an object that he is in contact with. As you can imagine, that makes him very useful in solving crimes and locating missing persons or objects. He is in Taipei as a Dirk & Steele operative investigating a mysterious series of deaths of apparently unrelated people. The victims are incinerated into dust but the objects around the victims remain untouched. What is going on here?
So close, but so far away – Professor Mirabelle Lee, Dean’s childhood friend and teenage flame, happens to be also in Taipei and her hotel room is just a floor above his. She and Dean thought the other person dead – it’s a long story, you will have to read this story yourself if you want to know, heh. Her story begins when our heroine, an expert in Chinese history and antiquities, learns that the mummified body of a woman that her team discovered recently has a mysterious ruby buried in her body. Before she can blink, her mentor has vanished and strange people with guns and even creepy powers are hot on her heels. Dean, having discovered a clue that strongly suggests that Miri is the next victim of his killer, finds her address and knocks on her hotel door, just in time to rescue her.
The two take off, hot in pursuit of Miri’s missing mentor and in search of the reason as to why so many people, not all of them human, are so hell bent on getting their hands on the ruby.
The Red Heart of Jade is a breathtaking and dazzlingly fast paced story that I just can’t put down at all. It is a very entertaining story with many twists and turns that keep the story going to always interesting places. I love the tragic poetry of how Dean, thinking that Miri is dead because his powers cannot detect any trace of her, ends up gravitating towards places that, unknown to him at that point, bring him so close to Miri that he could have walked over and said hi, if he only knew she was alive. Of course, now that they are reunited, they don’t have to be unhappy anymore, provided they can survive through this story (of course they will, don’t worry).
This is more like an action adventure with romance rather than the other way around, with the romance here presented as fait accompli, so this story may just disappoint you if you are looking for romance first and foremost. And for an action adventure, this one just rocks in my opinion. The characterization is serviceable, nothing too deep, but that’s because this is an epic blockbuster of a superhero movie. The two characters are developed well enough to make them memorable leading characters, however, so that’s more than good enough for me.
Miri, being the sole character in the lead cast without any insight into paranormal powers, makes a great placeholder for the reader as she is an intelligent heroine that can stand on her own very well against the cast of people with unusual powers here. I have a great time following Miri as she learns more about the world Dean lives in. As she learns, I learn too – hence, she’s a great placeholder for the reader.
If I have a complain, it is how the events in the climax seem quite anticlimatic after all that build-up leading to the grand moment. I don’t know, I’m hoping for… something as grand as Godzilla and Mothra pummeling each other as they flatten Tokyo in the process. Still, it has been a fabulous ride and I can’t get enough of this kind of fun.
Oh, regarding my earlier comment about action graphic novels. You see, this factor is, in my opinion, quite significant because Dean speaks like a character in a comic. No, really. He uses phrases like “panty twister”. Here is a scene to illustrate what I mean.
“I have some questions,” Dean said. “I’m in the middle of a case right now, the one involving those murders in Taipei. Only, the guy causing all that trouble is a shape-shifter and he’s whacked-out like crack, man. Totally shit-zoid. And there’s, um, some other stuff, too.”
Now, I used to read comics from The X-Men to Deadpool back in those days and let me tell you, the above is nothing compared to the speech patterns of the heroes and heroines in those comics. If this is a comic, the above speech by Dean will be like this in a speech bubble:
“I have some questions. I’m in the middle of a case right now, the one involving those murders in Taipei. Only, the guy causing all that trouble is a shape-shifter and he’s whacked-out like crack, man! Totally shit-zoid. And there’s, um, some other stuff, too.”
Therefore, I am okay with the way Dean speaks, given that I view this story as a big comic book turned into a novel, but I can’t promise that everyone else will feel the same.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to catch my breath before I go grab the next book by this author.