The Demon and the City

Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Liz Williams

Published: 2006

Reviewed: 2008-07-31

Publisher: Night Shade Books

The excellent novel "The Demon and the City" continues Ms. Williams'
exploration of a world where high technology and traditional Chinese
mysticism blend together dangerously. I keep seeing the word
"cyberpunk" tossed around in reference to these books, but I think its
use is inappropriate. To me, cyberpunk is all about attitude and the
relative position of the characters within their world. Usually,
there is a technologically enabled breakdown of societal order, and
the protagonists are unwilling participants in a greater game who are
trying to find some way to survive the conflict of great entities. In
Ms. Williams' world, all of the lack of social order is merely the
continued realities of developing nations, and the protagonists, while
small compared with the corporate and bureaucratic entities they are
entangled with, are always taken seriously as potential players. I
would, in fact, categorize this book as something more like a standard
sci-fi/adventure novel, with police work as the hook: it's too upbeat
for noir and too grandiose for police procedural.

"The Demon and the City" begins with a new supernatural case in the
city of Singapore 3, this time being worked by the demon Zhu Irzh
while Detective Chen is on vacation. Ms. Williams then sets off on a
story that explores more aspects of the complex and intriguing world
she has constructed: the relationship between Chinese mysticism and
the supernatural of other nations (apparently there are extradition
treaties), feng shui, the politics of Celestials, family relations
with the afterlife, and corporate power. Weaving it all together is a
mystery that blows up into something that (surprise!) threatens the
entirety of the current order.

In my review of her first novel, "Snake Agent," I complained about a
few things that are mercifully absent in this book. I shall not even
recall them any further, except to say that I applaud the improvement
in her writing craft. I might even recommend starting with this book:
it contains no spoilers for the previous one (except that all of the
key players survive, which was never much in doubt) and is much better

For myself, I enjoyed it very much and plan to read the next in the
series as well. Perhaps by then Ms. Williams' craft will have
improved yet further and she will have figured out how to generate
tension without threatening the world.