The Long Way stretches from Canton to San Francisco, from the Opium Wars to the building of the Transcontinental Railroad and here there be dragons. The novel follows Chi-Yen, the young, mixed race daughter of a prostitute, whose efforts to survive the outbreak of the Opium Wars leads her to the apprentice, Sin-Feng, and his drunken master, Liu Kun. They are the last survivors of the Temple of the Seven Dragons and have been charged with protecting a sacred treasure. Chased around the world by East India Trading Company’s Basil Malvenue, their quest will unlock secrets and a power that could shift the fate of empires.
Ray and Vannier have filled the novel with an impressive amount of historical detail. This is a secret history, and they have made the effort to ensure the history is as accurate as a story with dragons can be. They breath life into both their Chinese and Old West settings, making them feel dirty, gritty, dangerous, and, most importantly, real. Equal care has been taken with Chi-Yen. We meet her as a downtrodden, world-weary preteen, wise and clever beyond her years. Her journey is the backbone of the novel. The reader experiences events largely as she does. Sin-Feng and Liu Kun are less well drawn. The relationship between the three is strained and develops largely unseen.
The novel covers a large span of time and geography. This is one of its strengths, but also its greatest weakness. The plot is not as intricate or as well realized as either the setting or the characters, and on several occasions jumps forward in time suddenly. This was slightly jarring but didn’t adversely effect the flow of the story. During the gap, however, all three of the main character, and even the villain, undergo drastic changes and development that is unfortunately glossed over.
The Long Way is, nevertheless, a well-written secret history that approaches its settings and concepts from a different angle. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
**Received copy from NetGalley for review