My Review of A Magistrate Zhu Mystery: The Balance of Heaven and Earth by Laurence Westwood

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Title: A Magistrate Zhu Mystery: The Balance of Heaven and Earth by Laurence Westwood

Author: Laurence Westwood

Series: Magistrate Zhu #1

Genre: Historical Fiction

Date of Publication: 30th September 2018

Publishers: Shikra Press

Blurb: I have been unable to write a judgement that does not seem to offend my conscience, or indeed Heaven, in some manner. Because I do not wish to influence your thinking unduly, I have destroyed all my personal papers and notes in regard to this dispute, preferring you to start afresh. Forgive me for this. All I ask is that you consider and examine Jade Moon most carefully before coming to a decision. I find her fascinating and unsettling in equal measure, and fear the consequences of a wrongful judgement. I will say no more.

My sincerest best wishes to you and your family,

Magistrate Qian
Fifth District, Chengdu Prefecture
1st day of the 2nd Moon, 1085

So ends the letter of welcome (and of warning) to Magistrate Zhu, newly arrived in the remote border town of Tranquil Mountain. He has travelled far from his extensive family estates on the outskirts of Kaifeng – the glorious Song Dynasty capital – hoping to find atonement for past mistakes.

Yet he quickly discovers that Tranquil Mountain is anything but tranquil. The town is beset with simmering tensions since the death of his predecessor. Before Magistrate Zhu even has time to accustom himself to his inexperienced and wayward constabulary and the lowliness of his new surroundings, there is a mysterious murder, rumours of ghosts and blood-thirsty bandits out on the streets, and a disturbing kidnapping to solve – as well as the tragic and tangled legal circumstances of the local heroine Jade Moon to unravel.

For the balance of Heaven and Earth to be maintained, and to prevent catastrophe coming to Tranquil Mountain, Magistrate Zhu is well aware that not a single injustice can be allowed to stand. As he struggles to reach the correct judgements, he realises he has no choice but to offer up his career and perhaps even his own life for the greater good. And, in so doing, he discovers that as Jade Moon’s fate rests in his hands, so his fate ultimately rests in hers.

My Review:

Thank you to Laurence for sending me a ARC of this wonderful novel. 🙂

This novel is the reason I want to see big publishers such as Harpercollins, Canelo, Angry Robot, Orbit do more settings in China, be it historical, or sci-fi, or alternate history. Or more historical fiction. Here I am, as a reader that wants to see more locations in historical fiction, thinking of a novel being written about maybe the Han Dynasty. And here comes this novel based on the Song Dynasty.

This novel has a simplistic plot and I prefer it that way. Most Traditional Chinese stories are complex to understand. And Laurence has done a fantastic job in simplifying the names. I can only imagine that they were difficult to translate into.

It is a historical mystery series similar to the celebrated cases of Judge Dee, who is similar to the Tang Dynasty figure, Di Renjie, who served as the chancellor of the Tang and Zhou Dynasties. It is the Chinese version of case crime novels so to say. Imagine Sherlock Holmes for a moment, and you get the idea.

The world-building, the characters, the setting, the description, the research, all of it has been done to a meticulous level. You feel as if it immerses you in Song China. You feel and see many character’s regrets, motivations, and the struggles of power conflict. I wished to see more of Jade Moon’s maturity and to understand more of her character. I felt that Magistrate Zhu is one of those incorruptible people that you cannot bribe with. People like him are very rare. One thing I liked about the novel was the plot’s setting. That a peaceful village has a disturbance. I felt its similar to China’s history. It builds an empire before downfall happens and is a constant repetitive motif in Chinese history. This happens a lot throughout the novel. So just watch out for any references made about empires and barbarians and the law. And civilization.

The novel’s approach doesn’t stifle you with complicated names or grand candour or anything of that sort. It’s short, it’s simple, it’s direct. You will get to know characters such as the infamous Deng Brothers (please do read their parts) and Horse. Horse is a character that if you’re familiar with watching Chinese/Korean historical dramas, resembles that a lot.

This could easily be a Netflix series. I can imagine a great TV show being made of this. I can’t wait to see what other mysteries come up. Though I would like to see Magistrate Zhu dealing with Japanese Pirates or travelling to Josean at the request of the Empire. This is a solid novel. If you want more diverse settings, if you want a Chinese historical fiction novel, then READ THIS AND BUY IT NOW

My rating: A solid 5/5.

My Review of the United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas

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Decades ago, Japan won the Second World War. Americans worship their infallible Emperor, and nobody believes that Japan’s conduct in the war was anything but exemplary. Nobody, that is, except the George Washingtons – a shadowy group of rebels fighting for freedom. Their latest subversive tactic is to distribute an illegal video game that asks players to imagine what the world might be like if the United States had won the war instead.

Captain Beniko Ishimura’s job is to censor video games, and he’s working with Agent Akiko Tsukino of the secret police to get to the bottom of this disturbing new development. But Ishimura’s hiding something… He’s slowly been discovering that the case of the George Washingtons is more complicated than it seems, and the subversive videogame’s origins are even more controversial and dangerous than either of them originally suspected.

Part detective story, part brutal alternate history, United States of Japan is a stunning successor to Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.

My Review (Warning contains spoilers)

If you’ve watched the Man in the High Castle’s last and final season, and you’re in the mood for more alternate history scenarios like the Axis’s powers winning WWII, look no further than the United States of Japan.

First off, I wish to see more points of view from an Asian perspective especially in sci-fi/alternate history. The Japanese Viewpoint is relatively under-explored in WWII. Second, the writing and the prose is top notch. Third, this is a book full of gore. Fourthly, that was a feature of the times, especially in Japan.

I like how Peter displays the stunning incompetence that the Japanese Military leadership had with the ruling of their empire. The Japanese military had been quietly removing ministers of the civilian cabinet that led to the invasion of Manchuria without the Emperor’s approval. I feel that the amount of research is impeccable. And that Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire were two corrupt regimes. The military acted much like the feudal warlords of Japan, whose main aim and purpose had been to keep the Emperor a figure-head. In many ways, I love how Peter built this new world. Showing us how Japanese culture influenced America, and literally most of American history has been reduced to shreds.

The concept of video games as a device of war is also a brilliant idea. They are used by the Empire as a propaganda tool to control their population. The Martha Washingtons remind me of Juliana Crain and the Resistance. Akikio and Beniko Ishimura. I feel these characters had the most tragic endings. Read onto the page, and Beniko’s build-up and character plot has been well done. Beniko is a character that will make you cry, laugh and surprise. That is all I can say. The fanaticism of the Japanese military has also been well reflected in society.

It confused me what had happened to the Nazis, however. I would have liked to see more viewpoints of theirs. This book is hefty, well written, well researched, and there are so many tiny details that I cannot pinpoint all of them out. But this is a fantastic novel. It needs to be read. This will be the book of the century. I feel Amazon should pick this show up and develop it in two years to not develop fatigue setting so to say. The sequel will now be released for 2020 and I cannot wait to read it.

My Rating: 5/5

Ready on 5th March 2020