Title: The Killing Fog
Author: Jeff Wheeler
Publication date: March 3, 2020
Summary: When her family is killed by the Qingdao, Bingmei is taken in by Kunmia, the leader of a nearby quonsuun that served the king of Wangfujing. They collect weapons of power, and the collection of one such leads Bingmei straight into her destiny. The Phoenix Blade calls to her, but it compels her to awaken an emperor of time long ago who would take over the world once more. Now Bingmei is the only one who can rid the world of him, and the only one who can help the emperor achieve his goals.
I’ve seen Jeff Wheeler’s name over and over throughout the years, but this was the first book of his I have ever picked up. When I saw it was available for request on Netgalley, I decided it was time for me to check his books out for myself. Going in to it, I wasn’t sure of what it was about, but, since he’s such a prolific fantasy author, I figured it would be good. Well, it was interesting, but I’m on the fence about how I feel about it.
The Characters: A Delightfully Conflicted Main Character
My favorite part of this book would have to be the characters. They were just so lifelike with faults and strengths, especially Bingmei. Since the story is told from her perspective, the reader really gets into her head and heart. I loved how conflicted she was, especially about her destiny. I loved that she wasn’t a do-gooder who would willingly sacrifice herself. No, she was complex and still developing her values and morals. She held a few things important to her heart, but was always quite selfish, though I could certainly understand why.
My second favorite character has to be Quion. A fisherman’s son, he ends up joining the quonsoon, but as a fisherman instead of a warrior. Still, he has the heart of a warrior if not the skills, and I adored how his heart was always, always in the right place. He was so transparent, so utterly good and knew exactly where he stood on everything that it was actually quite a joy to read about him. Every other character was complex and had negative pieces to their characterization, but Quion was just so achingly perfect that it was an incredibly wonderful foil to Bingmei.
I enjoyed all of the characters, even the more despicable ones. They made the story exciting and kept me guessing about what was going to happen next. Because the reader is only in Bingmei’s head, it was impossible to really know another character’s intentions unless Bingmei smelled it (yes, smelled. It’s fascinating).
The Setting: Chinese-Inspired
Oh, I have such a love-hate relationship with the setting. This is a Chinese-inspired fantasy, which really struck at my heart as I am Chinese and was raised with many traditions and customs from China.
I started reading this book without having looked at the description in months, so I was pleasantly surprised to recognize Chinese elements. It felt strangely comforting and I enjoyed the sensation of familiarity. The terrain was well-described, full of mountains and plenty of water as well as a whole city hidden under a glacier. The broad brushstrokes of culture provided clearly indicated the Asian inspiration, all the way down to the names and terms.
However, the charm wore off fast. The more I read, the more off it felt. I get the inspired part, but I was also disappointed that bits and pieces felt a little too Western. The hardest thing I had to come to terms with, though, was the idea that this felt like an alternate timeline of China’s history, almost as though something happened at one point and the future of China shifted into what this book offered. It was interesting, but I suppose my Chinese roots were too strong for me to fully appreciate what Wheeler was doing.
I thought the setting was interesting and I do love that it was Chinese-inspired. It had a nice Asian feel, but I was a little disappointed it wasn’t a full immersion. Again, inspired. I just, personally, can’t wrap my head around it.
The Plot: A Curious Agreement Between Character-Driven and Plot-Driven
This was a fascinating story. It’s the story of a girl who was destined to wake a centuries old emperor, who would have to destroy him or be destroyed herself. I loved knowing that Bingmei is supposed to give her life to save the world and I loved how selfish she was in her desire to live, so I can see this story going either way.
The one thing that bothered me was that the first quarter felt a little slow. It was devoted more to world building and character development, but there were some parts that I didn’t really get why they were included. Perhaps they’ll be relevant later on, but I was a little annoyed when it took so long for the story to really get started.
Otherwise, this was a fascinating idea with interesting characters. Overall, the story moved well and continued forwards, though it sometimes felt like it was stalling or going in circles. There were parts that completely baffled me, but they tended to come from character-driven decisions. It felt a little caught between character-driven and plot-driven, but, somehow, they reached an agreement.
Overall: All About the Characters
I adored the characters in this book. Some of them felt simplistic and others were just brutal, but they each added an important piece to the fabric of the story. This book has an interesting concept, which worked very well with the characters, and I’d be curious to see how it all plays out as the series unfolds. However, the setting has me hesitating as it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I was disappointed it sometimes felt more inspired than Chinese, but that’s just me.
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Thank you to Netgalley and 47North for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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