Have you ever heard the term “silkpunk”? I first heard it in reference to Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, a book that unfortunately didn’t work for me. It refers to a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy that imagines alternate histories and alternate worlds through the lens of Asian culture, religion, magic, and scientific advancements.
Author JY Yang recently released two interrelated silkpunk novellas. It’s my understanding that this stories can be read in whichever order you like. I’ve recently finished reading The Red Threads of Fortune and if you don’t have time to read this entire review, here’s a TL;DR version: I loved it and will definitely be picking up The Black Tides of Heaven in the near future.
The Red Threads of Heaven is the story of Mokoya, a woman once plagued by prophetic visions, now plagued by a tragic past. She’s on the hunt for a naga, a large dragon-like monster that may be on its way to attack the city that Mokoya’s twin brother Akeha lives in.
Although this is a novella-length work, it manages to pack a lot of story in. There’s backstory, a few exciting action scenes, some tense interpersonal conflicts, a bit of a mystery, a bit of romance, and a tiny amount of world building.
I suspect that the more knowledge you have of various Asian cultures, the more you will enjoy these stories. For instance, there were a couple of references that I caught (for instance, I know that calling someone a “turtle egg” is a euphemistic way of calling them a bastard), but I suspect there were other cultural markers that I was missing out on.
Readers looking for queer representation will be pleased to know that this book has a genderqueer or agender character, and that Mokoya appears to be pansexual and possibly polyamorous.
I enjoyed this book’s tender handling of Mokoya’s tragic past and how it continued to influence her decisions in the present day (the events of the book take place around the anniversary of a particularly momentous event for her). I also enjoyed the descriptions of how Mokoya works her magic, which felt different from any magic system I had encountered recently.
I felt like the world building was where this book was the weakest. I had a clear sense that the author had developed this really interesting world, where gravity is stronger in some regions than others, and where there were powerful weather effects — but I saw only hints of it on the page. This is one of the downsides of a novella, is that the author can’t spend much time setting the stage without sacrificing the story. I hope I’ll learn more about the world of Ea in the companion book, which follows Mokoya’s brother.
Pros: Asian-inspired setting, strong female protagonist, LGBTQ representation.
Cons: Novella length left me wanting more.
Conclusion: This should appeal to those who are bored of endless variations of feudal European inspired fantasy worlds, and those who enjoy fantasies that balance character development and action.
FTC Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.