Once every blue reading moon there comes a book that renews my faith in a genre. Snake Agent by Liz Williams is that book.
“Detective Inspector Chen is the Singapore Three police department’s snake agent – the detective in charge of supernatural and mystical investigations. Chen has several problems: in addition to colleagues who don’t trust him and his mystical ways, a patron goddess whom he has offended and a demonic wife who’s tired of staying home alone, he’s been paired with one of Hell’s own vice officers, Seneschal Zhu Irzh, to investigate the illegal trade in souls.
Political pressures both Earthly and otherworldly seek to block their investigations at every turn. As a plot involving both Singapore Three’s industrial elite and Hell’s own Ministry of Epidemics is revealed, it becomes apparent that the stakes are higher than anyone had previously suspected.”
– description from Goodreads
Oh man. Where do I start? I’m gonna try to write a coherent review, but this all would be so much easier if I could just fill the page with heart gifs and exclamation marks.
This urban fantasy is a dizzying and intoxicating mix of ancient magic and advanced technology that never loses its grounding in an authentic Asian atmosphere or loses track of its investigative plot. Crowded public transportation, pollution meters, sharkhounds, divine intervention, requests for documentation from Heaven, and blackmail photographs sent from Hell.
It’s a medley of awesome.
And it’s a lot of fun! For example, here’s Zhu Irzh, the demon, contemplating matrimony.
“I’m still thinking about it,” Zhu Irzh said, trying not to wince. His mother had been particularly acerbic on the subject during his last visit to the parental home, but he wasnlt going to marry Xu Yu Li and that was that, however influential her father was in the Ministry of Epidemics. There were plenty of other possibilities, but none seemed satisfactory somehow.
Faces swam smiling through his mind. Ren Ji would drive him mad in no time, where as Sha Xei, despite being marvelous in bed, didn’t have a thought in either of her beautiful heads. His family expected him to marry for money; his friends expected him to play around as heartlessly as they, but Zhu Irzh harbored unsettling ideas about love. He sometimes awoke in a chilly sweat, wondering whether he was cursed with morals. Imperial Majesty alone knew where such principles had come from; few demonkind seemed so afflicted. He might even have to take a cure, but he wasn’t sure if his health insurance would cover it.
– page 38
Brilliant world-building, fantastic characters, and, well, I love it. I love it like I love Benedict Cumberbatch and chocolate spreads and Thai Ice Tea.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been blown away by the sheer audacity and scope of Liz Williams’ fiction, either. I loved the intricacy of Liz Williams’ most recent novel, Worldsoul, and I’m chagrined that it’s taken me this long and two separate library checkouts and a used bookstore to finally open Snake Agent and dive in.
Now that I have, I wish my work commute were three times longer.
Oh. And good news. Though they’ve been out for a while, I am delighted to see the entire series being reissued – if with a slightly odd blurb (“A round-faced cop”, really? Of all the things to mention, you’re gonna go with that one?) and a different cover. It means I won’t be looking at a fifty bucks price tag on amazon to get the series on my shelf. Win-win!
Put this on your shortlist.
Reading copy bought at local bookstore & courtesy of Open Road Media/Negalley.