Review – Precious Dragon by Liz Williams

I’m beginning to understand why more web sites, including blogs on WordPress, don’t publish thorough reviews for ongoing fantasy series. At least in the supernatural mystery subgenre, you reach a point of diminishing returns pretty quick.

I have a lot of affection for books about modern day monsters, but this is often a lazy author’s genre. It borrows the ongoing series structure popular in mysteries, but without a central mystery. And it takes science fiction and fantasy trappings, but removes their epic scope. Supernatural mystery series, for the most part, are about coming up with something to happen after the precipitating investigation concludes.

In the case of Precious Dragon, maybe an Amazon-style bullet point review is about as deep a form of criticism as is necessary. The third book in Liz William’s Detective Inspector Chen Novels (notably, the book jacket does not refer to them as “Detective Inspector Chen mysteries”), is needlessly convoluted, and exists merely to move second-tier characters into higher political positions before ending with a whimper. It follows a series of events leading up to literal deus ex machina, which isn’t any less disappointing when actual demons and angels are involved. Unlike the previous installment, in which Chen’s participation seemed like an afterthought, he and his partner Zhu Irzh do appear throughout the book. But their involvement is mostly as observers to ancillary conflicts, as various ghosts and dragons battle in barely decipherable fight scenes broken up into chapters three to four pages long.

After reading Snake Agent, the first book in the series, in June, I went to some length and expense to track the rest down. I’m halfway through them now, and I wish that instead of lamenting their insignificance, I was decrying their limited availability in the States. Liz Williams created a fairly unique setting for the genre, and it’s disappointing to see her repeating the same cycle many of her contemporaries have fallen into. Precious Dragon expands her world only by throwing more characters into it, rather than coming up with another good mystery for her heroes to untangle.

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