I heard somewhere that author Jeff Wheeler was disappointed that this trio of novels titled THE GRAVE KINGDOM had not sold well. How could that be? Isn’t THE GRAVE KINGDOM about a young woman pitting herself against the forces of evil? Isn’t this story being told by a magnificent writer?
Jeff Wheeler is a magnificent writer, but I can see why many would find these books less-than-exciting, and would perhaps not buy the other volumes after reading THE KILLING FOG.
To begin with, for a novel that has so much fighting – including Kung-Fu moves on the part of the protagonist Bingmei – this is a quiet piece. It is quiet because the characters are quiet, because they get on so well together, because there are no arguments that escalate into feuds or worse. In short, we can (mostly) depend upon our dependable characters to be pleasant, helpful, and behave in a civilized fashion towards one another.
As everyone knows, well-behaved people, however well they fight, do not make for very interesting reading.
Another problem is that the novel lacks a sense of direction. It is a typical adventure novel (sometimes called a “picaresque” novel) in which a bunch of quirky characters go on one adventure after another. I know that many authors don’t like to start with a framing device, but I do think that the reader should be given some clue as to where we’re going in the first few pages.
A third problem – related to the first two – is that this novel lacks a spine. It lacks a spine because there is no escalating tension in this novel, no conflicts to push it forward, nothing to give it that sense of direction that would make it unputdownable.
Lastly, there is very little emotion expressed in the novel. Instead, emotions are mostly hidden, simmering away. But whether we are talking about love, anger, resentment or contempt, what gives a novel color is the unspooling of those emotions on the page.
This is not to say that there weren’t many enjoyable moments in the novel. I loved the descriptions of the ice caves that hid the palace of Fusang. I loved the descriptions of Quoin’s knots, and the sailing back & forth between Wangfujing and other places. I loved seeing Bingmei practice her moves. But without conflict, direction, or escalating tension, this novel fell short for me. Which is a great pity. Three stars.