I first discovered Benjanun Sriduangkaew earlier this year when reading one of her short stories on Clarkesworld. Her prose is mesmerizing and quickly drew me into her short tale of gender politics, genocide, and AIs forged from the corpses of stars. I immediately placed her on my watch list of authors and, as seldom happens, within months I learned she had a new novella forthcoming, her first piece of longer fiction.
Scale-Bright is a modern retelling of an old Chinese legend and a sequel to several of her previous short stories. The novella does, however, stand-alone. It is not necessary to have read the three earlier stories or to be familiar with the legends. Benjanun Sriduangkaew has constructed an enchanting, dark, and lyrical world that stretches from Hong Kong to the place between, and finally to Heaven. It is inhabited by gods and demons who all have a rich sense of history and mythic weight.
Julienne is a young woman with a string of failed relationships, struggling with her sense of identity and self-worth. She lives with her married aunts, Hau Ngai and Seung Nog, who are in truth goddesses from myth—Houyi the Archer and Chang’e the Goddess of the Moon. Sriduangkaew has kept the shape of their legends but has changed Houyi from a god to a goddess. Their marriage is a wonderful, real, and sometimes prickly thing, and forms the backbone of the novella. There is a sense of depth and power about them, that balances their more human emotions not only in their marriage but also in their sometimes fumbling attempts to be proper aunties to Julienne.
Julienne finds herself a target for various demons simply because of her family, and become embroiled in an age-old feud between gods and demons. Along the way she stumbles into a new and complicated relationship, and begins to understand what it is she truly wants in life.
Scale-Bright is a fully encompassing world full of danger and awe, family and love, ancient feuds and divine machinations. Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s gift for exquisite prose and deft characterization remains as strong as ever. Highly recommended.
**Received copy from the Author for Review