Book Review: The “Dark Heavens” Trilogy by Kylie Chan (@kyliecchan #AWW2016)

 

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Being a latecomer to Fantasy, I am delighted to have discovered Kylie Chan’s Dark Heavens Trilogy several years ago. Like J.K. Rowling with the Harry Potter series, Stephenie Meyer with the Twilight series, or even Rick Riordan with the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series – Chan has successfully brought a mythical world into our contemporary life. As we discover how conventional – and even conceptual – mythological characters and creatures adapt to the politics, financial and legal systems, social and cultural trends, and scientific and technological revolutions of our modern world, a sense of awe and wonder is cultivated. Which is why we need Fantasy, I suppose.

However, in contrast to other bestselling Fantasy authors, Chan is writing the Chinese mythology, a less known part of our literary universe that is equally rich and diverse as the ones based on Western legends and folklores. As Chan says in a recent interview:

“I deliberately wrote [the Dark Heavens Trilogy] because there wasn’t any Asian-based fantasy on the bookshelves. I had extensive personal experiences of Asian culture and mythology – and not many other authors had the same level of immersion… When it came time to write the books, I was completely over all the Tolkien-esque ‘wizards, elves and dwarves’–type fantasy, and if I had to see another Dwarven Mine, Mountains of Doom, or Mystic Lake, I was ready to throw the book at the wall… At the time, it was less influences and more being tired of the same old tropes being wheeled out in every fantasy book I read.”

As demonstrated in the three books of the trilogy – White Tiger, Red Phoenix and Blue Dragon – Chinese mythology is very much “a mixture of animalism, Buddhism and Taoism, which all seem to fit seamlessly together with a liberal dose of Confucian philosophy” (p.925, Dark Heavens Trilogy, Sydney: Harper Voyager, 2013). Indeed, the conflict between the Confucian notion of political and social order and the Taoist pursuit of harmony between Man and Nature is subtly yet perfectly illustrated in Chan’s books. This is what distinguishes Chinese mythology from its Western peers, as the former very much focuses on BEING AND DOING GOOD, which, like the ideal of Love in the West, transcends all forms of divisions and boundaries.

Hence we have Emma Donahoe, a seemingly ordinary 28-year-old Australian woman, falling in love with a 3,000-year-old Chinese god that is a combination of a turtle and a snake. In this world of martial arts and magic, celestial deities own real estates in Hong Kong and Arabic deserts and go shopping in London and Paris, dragons, lions and tigers serve as lawyers, bodyguards and owners of exotic holiday resorts, stones float and talk (and are relatives of some of Australia’s oldest geological formations), fox spirits aspire to become human beings as much as men and women want to be immortal, and kindergarten operators and notorious gangsters use genetic engineering to create human-demon hybrids. A sense of honour prevails, however, as even the worse monsters refrain from harming innocent women and children. Vows of everlasting True Love and Trust are able to make Heaven and Hell tremble in fear. Finally, a six-year-old girl – like Charlene “Charlie” McGee in Firestarter (1980), Elizabeth in V: The Final Battle (1984) and Renesmee in Breaking Dawn (2008) – is able to right at least some of the wrongs in this fascinating world.

I look forward to reading Chan’s other two series – the “Journey to Wudang” and the “Celestial Battle” trilogies – to fully explore the story of Emma, John and Simone. Indeed, although holding a 927-page “brick” of a collection of three books is a demanding task, I had a great deal of fun reading White Tiger, Red Phoenix and Blue Dragon over a period of six weeks. Even better, while writing this review, I discovered that Chan’s agent Alex Adsett (@alexadsett) recently optioned the film rights to Chan’s nine-book “Dark Heavens” fantasy series to one of the best production companies in Hollywood. Hopefully, Asian and especially Chinese readers will get to appreciate Chan’s unique representation of Chinese martial arts, gods and demons even before the movies come out.

 

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