Thursday, August 31, 2023

Guardian: Zhen Hun vol 1 by Priest: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Guardian: Zhen Hun by Priest

Guardian: Zhen Hun is urban fantasy set in an imaginary Dragon City in modern China, with references to party politics and complete with a nepo hire, when a nephew of a high-up party official is given a job at the Special Investigations Department, the supernatural division of the Ministry of Public Security.

Guo Changcheng is a recent college graduate and a shut-in who has no idea what he has been signed for. Learning that some of his coworkers aren’t human, or even alive, is a bit too much for him, but after the initial blackout, he promptly (timidly) sets out to work, only to spend most of the book fainting, screaming, and crying. But he has an empathic nature and isn’t quite as hopeless as his boss originally feared. And after encountering some really bad ghosts, his coworkers don’t seem so scary anymore either. The only one who frightens him is his perfectly human boss, Zhao Yunlan.

Zhao Yunlan is the Director of the Special Investigations and in charge of investigating supernatural crimes. He’s in his early thirties, a handsome and temperamental chain-smoker and a bit of a player. He’s also the Guardian to the Soul-Guarding Order, which allows him to freely move in all three realms (heaven, mortal realm and the netherworld) and hobnob with the people there, like the Soul-Executing Emissary feared by everyone but him.

The book consists of two stories. In the first, Guo Changcheng and Zhao Yunlan investigate a murder of a university student that’s supernatural in origin. At the university, they encounter Shen Wei, a handsome, mild-mannered young professor whom they end up pulling into their investigation, mostly because Zhao Yunlan is attracted to him at first sight. But the professor isn’t what he seems, as the readers are soon shown.

The second story takes place in the mountains after an earthquake. Wang Zheng, a ghost employee at the SID, is from that region and she wants to return to rebury her bones. By coincidence, Shen Wei is going there with his students too, and the two parties travel together. But things aren’t how Wang Zheng has let them believe, and Zhao Yunlan ends up needing the help of the Soul-Executing Emissary to get everyone home safely. And once there, it’s finally time for Zhao Yunlan to confront Shen Wei to find out who he truly is and if he’s as indifferent to Zhao Yunlan as he pretends to be.

This was an excellent book. The mysteries weren’t complicated but they were suitably scary. Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei were interesting characters, and even though there wasn’t as much interaction between them as I wanted, theirs is clearly a romance larger than life. Side characters were fun, especially Daqing, a talking black cat who is thousands of years old. There was a lot of information about Chinese mythology, but I would’ve wanted more about the everyday Chinese life too. The book ends at a natural point with a promise of interesting things to come. I will definitely read more.

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