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Small Shen by Kylie Chan
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Small Shen

by Kylie Chan

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Small Shen is a short graphically-enhanced novel written by Kylie Chan and illustrated by Queenie Chan. The text is interspersed with graphic novel-style illustrations, particularly in the scenes flashing back to Gold's earlier days (hundreds of years earlier), whereas the main story takes place in the 1990s Hong Kong.

Small Shen follows Gold, a minor deity who featured in Kylie Chan's Dark Heavens and Journey to Wudang trilgies. I've read the Dark Heavens trilogy and the first book of Journey to Wudang and I have to admit I never paid a huge amount of attention to Gold. But Small Shen endeared him to me significantly. He's a bisexual, gender-swapping rock in human form. What's not to like?

There are two story threads in Small Shen: flashbacks to Gold's earlier days starting back in the 1700s and the story of Gold's service to Xuan Wu and John Chen and his wife in the 1990s. The flashbacks are mostly about Gold committing mischief and getting into trouble but also sketch out the series of events that led to him and Jade (a dragon) being in Xuan Wu's employ. The 1990s storyline tells the story of Xuan Wu/John Chen and his life with his wife Michelle from Gold's point of view. Anyone who's read White Tiger (Dark Heavens book 1) knows how that story must end (big spoiler for Small Shen).

What I found sort of interesting is how unlikeable Michelle was. She spent a lot of time complaining about Xuan Wu's godly responsibilities (he's the second most powerful god after the Jade Emperor) and how hideous his True Form (and basically anything other than human form) is. While I sort of already knew about that it was kind of horrifying seeing it on the page. Like why did they stay together/bother getting married? It does not strike me as a very healthy relationship at all. And that's without the more benign diva qualities Michelle brings in. I have to say, she wasn't supposed to be a likeable character (I'm pretty sure) and that bothered me a bit on principle (only partly because it made their marriage a bit baffling).

I particularly liked the way in which the story was broken up with illustrated flashback vignettes which mixed things up a bit. One aspect which was nice was the way in which Gold's historical shenanigans touched on Chinese history in a real-world sense, rather than just a mythological sense.

Small Shen was a fun read and I highly recommend it to all Kylie Chan fans and to anyone wanting to get a taste of her longer series. Although the trilogies are pure prose, the story in Small Shen — especially the 1990s story — gives a good idea of the sort of thing you can expect in the Dark Heavens trilogy (not to mention all the foreshadowing). Fans of Queenie Chan who aren't familiar with Kylie Chan's writing will, I'm sure, find more to like than just the illustrations.

4.5 / 5 stars

You can read more of my reviews on my blog. ( )
  Tsana | Oct 21, 2014 |
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SMALL SHEN is the amazing story of Gold -- a stone spirit and a chronic troublemaker in the court of the great Gods of Chinese mythology. A mix of Kylie Chan's brilliant storytelling and Queenie Chan's beautiful illustrations, SMALL SHEN is a fantastic treat for fans of WHITE TIGER.… (more)

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