Rating: 2.25 stars
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Length: Novel

 

The year is 2074 and Japan is ruled by ruthless Yakuza. Yuli is an assassin owned by the Jade Serpent, a brutal monster who keeps his soldiers and killers — men, women, and children alike — enslaved to him through highly addictive drugs, blackmail, hostages, trackers, and slave collars around their necks. Collars that deliver necessary doses of the drugs that keep them from feeling pain, keep them feeling the euphoria that makes their slavery and torture bearable. But, today even Yuli’s dose of baleful leaf, the reward for a successful mission, isn’t enough to stop the white hot rage from flooding his veins.

The fucking Dalith assassin — an android built to kill — has beaten him to the punch, again, killing his target and waving at him before vanishing before Yuli can put a bullet between his eyes. So, one: there’s a leak. Someone knows who the targets are and knows which assassin will be sent after them. And two: Yuli is going to be punished. The Jade Serpant rules his men with an iron fist, but he’s especially brutal when it comes to Yuli. As the master’s favorite, he’s both a killer and a courtesan, drugged just enough to help his body heal enough to survive the violent rape and beating that will be his reward for letting someone else claim his kill.

Barely healed from the Jade Serpent’s temper, Yuli sets out again in an effort to lure the Dalith out of hiding. Instead, the mission gives Yuli the chance to make a run for it. With the help of his rival (whose name turns out to be Ren), Yuli has a chance of breaking free of the collar around his neck and the addiction in his body. He has a chance at getting his memories back … and his soul.

There are good parts and bad to this book. Let’s start with the good: Yuli and Ren. Yuli is a world weary and jaded addict who has nothing to live for. His brother is dead, his body is a tool used against him as often as it’s used to kill others, and his spirit is broken. But when Ren smiles and offers him a chance, Yuli has to take it. If he doesn’t, it means going ‘home,’ going back to the Jade Serpent and the complete and utter loss of self that follows.

Ren isn’t an android, but he isn’t human, either. More of a cyborg, with bones and muscles replaced in barbaric and horrific experiments when he was a child, he’s faster, harder to kill, with exquisite reflexes and a maniacal sense of humor. After all, if you can’t cry … laugh. There have been times when his body was so broken the only thing Ren had left to defend himself with was his mouth and, unlike Yuli, Ren never gave up on himself. Because unlike Yuli, Ren had someone to fight for. Someone to live for.

These two have a bright and instant chemistry. Yuli is broken and bone-tired, worn down by despair and hopelessness, and Ren is a madman who will rip out his own soul to fill the emptiness where Yuli’s used to be. But as the story goes on, and Yuli begins to remember what it’s like to be a person instead of a possession, the tiny spark within flares brighter and brighter.

And that’s about all that I found good. To put it simply, the mechanics of this book aren’t good enough to support the story. There were so many malapropisms I eventually stopped counting: vile instead of vial, its instead of it’s, you’re instead of your, spy’s instead of spies, bubbling’s instead of bubblings, and so on and so forth. Occasional words, such as strychnine, sandalwood, and agarwood are occasionally capitalized as proper nouns when they don’t need to be, while the titles “Jade Serpent” or “Snowman” are never capitalized, even though they are proper nouns (one of them a name). The Jade Serpent changes to the Red Serpent for a few sentences with no explanation. There are also many examples of things being either plural where they should be singular, or singular when they should be pluralized. And then there are the tense problems. While this book is written in third person present tense, there are common tense mistakes. For example, “A stiff left blackens the room, making blood erupts from his mouth.” There are many other issues as well, including dropped story beats, conversations that come out of nowhere, and people knowing things they have no way of knowing.

For me, copy issues, especially this severe, can be an absolute deal breaker with books, distracting me from the story, breaking the flow of a sentence or disrupting the mood of a scene, and detracting from the author’s writing. An author’s style, especially if it’s a very deliberate style, can also keep me from being able to fully immerse myself into the world they’ve created. Unfortunately, this is one of those books. The author’s voice comes through louder than the characters and I found myself working harder than I needed to to look past the many errors in order to see the vague shape of the story itself. So, for me, this was not an ideal reading experience, which is unfortunate, because there are some lovely moments in this book.

And then there’s the villain, the Jade Serpant, Yokono Mashiro, who says: “We’ve always been together. My lover. My equal. Or don’t you remember?”. The idea that the Yokono Mashiro sees Yuli as his lover or his equal seems … ridiculously unlikely. This is a toy and a pet he’s tortured, raped, and had trained since childhood. Seeing Yuli as property, yes. Seeing him as a lethal pet, yes. Seeing him as a person? As an equal partner? The story  — in what few scenes we have of seeing Yokono in person, as opposed to Yuli’s memories (though backed by Yuli’s memories) refutes that. This man might obsess over Yuli, but giving Yuli a position as a peer is highly unlikely.

I honestly can’t recommend this book as it stands. It is such an uneven and tiring read in desperate need of an editor. However, I will keep an eye on this author. Perhaps, in a future book, I’ll be able to better connect with their style.

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