My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Max Gladstone did what I've been dreaming of doing and he did it really really well.
He took the Journey to the West and translated it into pure space opera and did it writing only one chapter for every 20 in the old books, and he did it with style and beautiful writing. He pulled it all together with his own plot that made sense, with really incredible characters (and in his usual way, most of them are women) and an overarching beautifully paced escalation of action that charges up the reader's ability to learn and comprehend what's going on as quickly as Vivian Lao learns about the universe she lands in and how it works (even when some of the whys are beautifully made inconsequential) and finally has to deal with how it makes her work and feel.
He gives a solid framework for the timescales involved, the legends that are born, and what felt oddly Chinese was the rooted grounding in family and what it really can mean. He even had solid footing in the realms of Buddhist practice. He's done his homework.
I'll admit that as a Chinese woman, it felt odd to have him take both my culture and my gender and *write it*. And I'm sure there are going to be people yelling about cultural appropriation, but... damn, what he's done here is what writers are *for*. Examining and understanding and then creating from what isn't known to allow readers to have an even deeper understanding. I could as much yell about writers appropriating coding or science (and with writers who do it WRONG I do), which are also cultures in their own way, as about being Chinese or female (and homosexual, which amuses me to see my tendency to write homosexual men from the other side).
Given that the only thing that's actually Chinese is Vivian Lao's background, and the rest is actually all supposed to be about space aliens, he's allowed. *laughs*
Anyway, I loved it. I recommend it. I will probably wallow in its entirety a few more times just to inspire myself. And especially rejoice in a telling of why Tyrannical Empires should be fought against no matter how terrible and huge they seem and how small and weak and helpless we might think we are in the face of them. Dragons can be beaten.
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