For writer Jade Yeo, the Roaring Twenties are coming in with more of a purr — until she pillories London’s best-known author in a scathing review. Sebastian Hardie is tall, dark and handsome, and more intrigued than annoyed. But if Jade succumbs to temptation, she risks losing her hard-won freedom — and her best chance for love.
Zen Cho’s novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo isn’t actually an SFF story. In fact, it is a romance told through diary entries. And it is delightful! Set in 1920s London, our main character is a young Malaysian woman who went to university in Britain and now is trying to make it as a writer. One of her gigs is writing reviews, so that immediately created a connection obviously, but Jade is wonderful in lots of ways. She’s funny, snarky, independent and prepared to defend her independence fiercely.
The book also oozes a sense of light-hearted fun, reminiscent of Jeeves and Wooster and the tone of the TV show Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. And despite this light-hearted tone, or perhaps because of it, there are some serious undertones in the book, looking at early feminism and finding your place as a child of two cultures.
I loved The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. It’s a perfect read for a lazy afternoon or when you need something to cheer you up.
It’s a comfortable undeath … even for Siew Tsin. She didn’t choose to be married to the richest man in hell, but she’s reconciled. Until her husband brings home a new bride.
Yonghua is an artificial woman crafted from terracotta. What she is may change hell for good. Who she is will transform Siew Tsin. And as they grow closer, the mystery of Yonghua’s creation will draw Siew Tsin into a conspiracy where the stakes are eternal life – or a very final death.
The Terracotta Bride is Cho’s latest novella available as a standalone publication. Set in the tenth court of hell, it is very much a work of speculative fiction, but one rooted in Chinese tradition instead of the Western European one. I loved this setting as it is completely otherworldly, yet rather mundane at the same time. It is only when Siew Tsin’s husband complains about not getting enough money from his descendants or boasts about the new car he’s been burned that you realise this is not just a family drama, but a family drama set in hell.
The story features three female leads, Siew Tsin, Yonghua, the titular terracotta bride, plus the first wife Ling’en. I really liked the complicated relationships between these three women. They each have a different sort of bond and regard for each other, but they create bonds beyond that of being married to the same man.
The Terracotta Bride is about love and risk and letting go. Hell is not the end station for the souls that abide there. Their time in Hell is limited before they move on and are reborn again. But being reborn means letting go of your memories and your self, and there are souls who do not want to move on. What if your life in Hell is better than your life on earth was? Or if you find love? All three women have to find their own way through Hell and each one is fascinating.
The story is a quick read, but it is a rich one, which will bear rereading to get all of the nuances there. I loved Cho’s debut novel Sorcerer to the Crown, but these stories reminded me how much I also love her shorter work.