by Kylie Chan
I really, really love this series!
Disclaimers & Stuff You Need to Know
2) I’ve resisted selecting these books for months because the author is Australian. However, they’re so good and so soaked with Hong Kong life that I finally gave in.
3) Kylie Chan was married to a man from Hong Kong and lived there for over a decade, so she’s got as much credibility as you can have without being a native. Chan has studied Kung Fu and Tai Chi and blends Tao, Buddhism and Chinese mythology in her fantasy.
White Tiger / Blue Phoenix
Oh boy, are these books fun! When Australian Emma Donahoe leaves her job at the creepy Kitty Kwok’s kindergarten, she has no idea what she’s getting into. Her new employer John Chen Wu is actually Xian Tien Wu, the Chinese god of martial arts. (Xian means “immortal”.) Emma’s charge Simone, John’s 5-year-old daughter, is constantly under threat from demons. As Emma struggles with her growing attraction to John, she starts developing powers of her own. Look out, Hong Kong!
But John and Emma have a big problem (of course) – John’s human wife was murdered by demons. So he is unable to leave Earth to go refresh his energy in the Celestial Realm. And he’s getting weaker all the time. He needs to stick around for Simone (Si Mun) who needs him. And also, his weakness means Emma can’t touch him – if she does it could kill her. If John is forced to take True Form when his energy is at its lowest, he’ll be stuck in it until he can refresh his energy, which could take from 10 to 100 years.
From yum cha to the competition between Emma and Louise for the most outrageous Hong Kong names to learning some Chinese dialect (they call it Putonghua, we call it Mandarin), I haven’t had so much fun on The Peak since the Anthony Horowitz’s Gatekeeper series. But the Horowitz books are very dark. This series is not. Despite ferocious battles with the Demon King (“Call me George”), Prince Simon Wong (a.k.a. Son Number 122) and various lesser monsters, the main characters remain witty and light-hearted, just the way I like them.
Something else that’s unique: Both John and Emma are “cold-blooded”, meaning they are able to lead their people no matter who dies or is kidnapped. They don’t have the same emotional reactions that ordinary humans do. It’s interesting how the author can still portray them as sympathetic characters, despite their seeming lack of compassion or empathy. Hm! Very skillful.
In a refreshing change from the usual werewolves and vampires, these books feature shapeshifters from Chinese mythology:
- The Four Winds – a Tiger, a Phoenix, a Dragon and John Chen Wu, who is actually a Turtle/Serpent
- Sentient Shen gemstones who can take human or rock form – headed by the Grandmommy of them all: Uluru (a.k.a. Ayers Rock)
- The boddisatva Kwan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, a frequent visitor to the Chen household
- The Jade Emperor, and his court in heaven (full of bureaucracy)
Unlike Tolkien, not all Chan’s monsters are evil – Some leave Hell and come to the Chen household for sanctuary. If they swear loyalty, they can be “tamed” – working as servants until they achieve humanity. Meaning the ability to think independently and choose for themselves.
Of Publishers and Authors
If I had one tiny criticism of the first 3 books it would be that the titles don’t match the insides. Yes, the god Bai Hu, the lusty white tiger, is IN the first book, but that story isn’t about him or any problem he has, even remotely. It’s about John and Emma. All the books are. In the second and third books, the Phoenix and the Dragon don’t even enter into the stories until about 3/4ths of the way through.
It also seems unsatisfactory to me that you have Four Winds and only three books.
But I know what has happened here. The publisher has overruled the author and chosen the titles to be searchable online and have good SEO; or they have done it for some business reason which has nothing to do with the story; which they probably haven’t read.
It’s like when the publishers choose a random cover model for the book. Then you, the reader, become infuriated because Heathcliff sure isn’t blonde, nor is he Fabio! Anyway, this is most likely not the author’s fault…nor her choice. Stupid publishers.
The Last Word
I LOVE this series.
All of you fantasy readers, this is a great one.
Run, do not walk, to your nearest independent bookstore!