I just finished Snake Agent, which I think is the first of Liz Williams's Detective Chen novels. A nice book dealer / publisher threw it in for free at Denvention, explaining that he was hoping I'd get hooked on the series. I was delighted, as I wanted to read this one and see if I liked it.
I wanted to like it more. As it was, it's not a bad book. It's not like The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I did not like, and could explain what I did not like about it.
About the only thing I can point to and say, "I actively disliked this" is the prologue, a flashforward which is then repeated nigh verbatim many chapters later. I think this was unnecessary and unwise, as part of my mind was going, "When do we get to that scene already?" and not in a good way, more in a "Because this book can't end already until we do" way.
Snake Agent is part of the new staple of urban fantasy. Ten, twenty years ago, the center of the fuzzy set of "urban fantasy" was "the stuff Charles de Lint writes" and Emma Bull's War for the Oaks. Today, it's fantasy noir detective fiction, I think -- the stuff Laurel Hamilton writes, the stuff that Jim Butcher writes much better, and the stuff Liz Williams is writing here.
And, it's not the same old same old. There are sf elements in here. The background is Chinese, not the blend of Celtic mythology plus Western supernatural critters I'm used to seeing. The main characters are likeable.
But, I was impatient with this book, wanting it to be over already. I'm not sure if it's that it wasn't different enough. I'm not sure if it's that the pacing didn't fit what I wanted or if it was a little too predictable, or a combination of the two. There was one plot twist that I thought fairly obvious and was waiting for someone finally to add one and one together. And parts of the resolution were a bit sudden.
It wasn't bad. It just wasn't good enough for me. I'm hoping some other folks will read it and either tell me why I'm right or tell me why they think I'm wrong.
Meanwhile, after a slow first ten pages, I started to get hooked on Arthur C. Clarke's The Fountains of Paradise. Reading older sf is an interesting experience. On the one hand, there's a lot of technology that just didn't develop the way it does in these stories. On the other, when I read the reveal of just what technological advance one of the characters was trying to push, it didn't matter that I'd heard of this before, that I'd read some books that start with the assumption that we've already got this in the future. I still said, "Wow!" My sense of wonder pinged.
One the one hand, older sf often has weak characters or annoying stereotypes, especially when the authors think they are being clever about avoiding stereotypes. And the political machinations are often way too convenient. Except -- on the other hand, there are some really good characters in older sf. There's often a lot of understanding about how political realities and technological dreams interact, and how the one must be taken into account to achieve the other.
I'm about 64 pages into the 300 page book, and it's reading slower than Snake Agent. I may keep putting it down to read other stuff between chapters, but I'll finish it. Comparing it to Snake Agent is probably like comparing a steak fillet to a slice of cheesecake. One just doesn't look for the same things in them.