I devoured this book in a way I don’t normally these days (I try to savor a good book). It came out on Tuesday. I got a library notification it was automatically checked out for me. I downloaded it in the morning. Started reading at lunch. Came home and finished it. Now I am trying to decide when/where to go pick up a physical copy to put on my shelf. I expect I’ll be reading this again and again over the years.
This is a middle grades novel, so it is marketed for ~11-14 year old kids. It is not however childish. It deals with issues that are very, very real – gambling addiction; honor (and recognizing the dishonor of adults); trust and friendship and betrayal – of all kinds; and definitely death. These aren’t childish ideas or themes and Yoon Ha Lee does not shy from them nor preach about them. They are facts of life and must be wrestled with.
Unlike the Jinx trilogy – I wouldn’t tell adults to go into this expecting something less mature. This book (like Shrek) can easily be enjoyed by an adult at least as easily as a 12-year-old. The plot is smooth and clear – whether this is signs of Lee’s talent or Riordan is just a really good editor or a combination of the pair – I want to give credit.
Unlike a lot of snotty teenagers, I liked Min. She was practical and stubborn without being too mature. She made young-person mistakes without it feeling forced or “dumbed down.” She didn’t miss obvious clues because of her age, but she did sometimes trust the wrong people or make the wrong choices because of her inexperience. She was a bit forgetful and talented without being overpowered. She needed help several times and had to muddle her way through.
Korean and Japanese lore have a lot of overlap, so some of my familiarity with the Japanese mythology definitely made me more comfortable with the Korean take on some of the same symbols (good luck, bad luck, ghosts, etc.). So if you don’t know some of these, you might take just a little more to get comfortable, I’m not entirely sure. I know that I already have that contextual information. From my reading I think Lee does a good job of unrolling the mythos without just data-dumping, but I don’t want to promise I don’t have a skew.
The TL;DR is definitely “Go get this and read it.“