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Snake Agent by Liz Williams
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    Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone (LongDogMom)
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For whatever reason, I never connected to Snake Agent. Even when there was something about it that I normally would have found interesting, it just never drew me in.

Snake Agent is an urban fantasy, science fiction, mystery mash up set in an alternate universe where Singapore’s started franchising. Detective Inspector Chen handles supernatural cases for the Singapore Three police. He regularly deals with Heaven, Hell, and the spirits of the deceased. He soon becomes unwittingly embroiled in an investigation involving the trafficked souls of young girls and a conspiracy within Hell’s Ministry of Epidemics.

The part that I would normally find interesting was the world building. Even from the brief description I gave above, it’s clear that there’s a lot going on within the world of Snake Agent. Probably my favorite detail was that modern technology has speed up the bureaucratic processes within Heaven and Hell. I could imagine the settings clearly, and Hell was inventively disgusting. However, none of this really got me engaged with the book. And unfortunately, I never connected well enough to the characters or cared enough about the plot for those aspects to make the book worthwhile for me.

Chen was the normally by the books detective who was becoming conflicted due to associations with those who would normally be his opponents. In this case, it was primarily Seneschal Zhu Irzh, his counter part in Hell who he winds up working with as a partner, and his demonic wife Inari. Zhu and Inari both had POV sections in addition to Chen, as well as even some more minor characters like Sergeant Ma. I don’t think all of these POV characters were necessary to the book. In particular, I don’t know what Inari’s POV sections added as they didn’t tie strongly to the plot and Inari herself was not a very active character. In the end, I’m not sure what Inari contributed, besides having her existence be a conflict for Chen.

The plot has many different threads to it, and it did end up coming together as I predicted. However, I was hoping that the book would become more exciting or that I would care more once it drew closer to the climax. Neither occurred. I also wasn’t fond of the device where the author shows a snippet of the climax right at the beginning to try and get the reader immediately involved. It feels like clumsy manipulation. Obviously, a book should be manipulating a reader’s emotions (or else what is the point?), but in this case I found it blatant and ineffective.

I don’t think Snake Agent was bad exactly; I just didn’t find it very interesting. It’s unlikely to be a book I recommend in the future, and I’m not planning on continuing with the series.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page. ( )
  pwaites | May 4, 2016 |
Detective Inspector Chen serves in Singapore Three with a particular focus. He can travel between this world and Hell (all levels) and has a partner demon named Zhu Irzh. He is even married to a demon named Inari and they live on a houseboat with a badger/teakettle.

Chen and Zhu are called on to investigate the mysterious disappearance of an industrialist which calls attention to the disappearances of many young women in recent days.

Williams gives us a totally new world with new situations which play on Oriental theologies. There is no lack of gore, horrid smells, and terrible characters as you might well expect. Through it all Chen banks on his relationship with the goddess Kuan Yin who helps in travel between worlds.

Something different. ( )
  mamzel | Feb 7, 2016 |
I read this back in 2006 and just reread it for a review for a reissue.

here is the original review I had on my journal.

Well reading the short story that composes part of this novel sent me reading the full length novel ASAP. I had it but had been saving it. I don't know why I do that but sometimes I do, silly yes I know. Well I liked it so much that I got the paperback so I could finish reading it on the plane without dragging the hardcover with me and having something happen to it. I really like the world setup in this. The in depth setup of the underworld's government and dealings was wonderful. As much as I liked Chen, the hero I really liked Zhu Irzh, the cop from the underworld. He almost seems to be more of a fish out of water than Chen. Of course it is just manifesting with him versus Chen who has been dealing with being on the fringe for a long time. Now to find where I left the sequel somewhere around the house.

And now reading it 7 years later it was just as fun and now I want to dive right back into this world. ( )
  Glennis.LeBlanc | Jul 8, 2014 |
Decent writing and a novel concept, that the substance between one world and the next are infinitely thinner than we could ever imagine them to be.

The detective story itself is a bit blasé, but the colorful cast of characters and scenery that envelopes the reader is thrilling. There's more backstory I'd like to hear about Detective Inspector Chen (and his wife), so I guess you might say I'm looking forward to the next book.

The backdrop of modern China also leads this American reader to feel like I'm exploring a place not just supernatural, but exotic.

(This review is based on an advance review copy supplied through NetGalley by the publisher.) ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
This is a mystery/fantasy novel, set more or less in the Chinese pantheon. The Chinese concepts of Heaven and Hell don't map exactly onto the Western concepts, so this makes for a nicely off-kilter setting. The protagonist, Chen Wei, is a detective inspector in Singapore 3, in a reality not quite ours. He solves cases which involve incursions into the human realm from either Heaven or Hell, with the occasional assistance of Kuan Yin. As goddess of mercy, she has compassion on all victims, but as a goddess, her decisions on who receives compassion don't always make sense to humans.

Chen is trying to figure out who is mis-routing souls who should be in Heaven to Hell, and finds himself working in tandem with a demon who is trying to find out who is creating problems for his patron noble. As Chen starts putting the pieces together, he finds himself hiding out in Hell. In the meantime, his wife is kidnapped, Kuan Yin stops speaking to him, and his demonic "partner" clearly has his own agenda.

I enjoyed this, and immediately ordered the next volume in the series from interlibrary loan. ( )
  teckelvik | Aug 31, 2013 |
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Hanging by his heels and twisting slowly in the draught that slipped beneath the crimson door, Detective Inspector Chen tried desperately to attract the demon's attention.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159780018X, Hardcover)

You were supposed to go to Heaven, but ended up in one of the many Chinese hells instead. Who you gonna call? Nobody, you're dead. Luckily, in future Singapore, Detective Chen is on the case. Specializing in supernatural crimes, Chen finds himself in hell teaming up with a demon cop to solve the mystery, return a lost soul to its rightful reward, and restore harmony between Heaven and Earth.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:21 -0400)

In a near future that allows travel between Heaven and Hell and Earth, "snake agent" Chen finds himself in hot pursuit of ghost-girl, Pearl Tang, and the father who murdered her to protect his business of "supplying the souls of the virtuous to Hell". Chen is not only a crack paranormal crime investigator but also a licensed feng shui practitioner never without his compass.… (more)

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