Sunday, March 03, 2024

Small Gods of Calamity by Sam Kyung Yoo: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Small Gods of Calamity by Ssam Kyung Yoo

Small Gods of Calamity is an urban fantasy/paranormal mystery set in modern Seoul, South Korea. Kim Han-gil is a homicide detective with a special ability to see spirits, both of the living and the dead. His reputation among his colleagues is bad because of it, and his partners never last. The latest has been with him for two weeks and is already showing signs of leaving, when they get a case that appears to be a suicide. Han-gil knows differently.

For years, he’s been hunting an evil spirit that caused his mother’s death. It moves from person to person, causing them to either kill people or themselves. From the police’s point of view, the crimes are separate, and it doesn’t help that other spiritualists can’t see the spirit either, so they’re not willing to help him. Only his adoptive sister, a powerful practitioner, is there for him.

This time, she arranges a partner for him—against his will. Shin Yoonhae, the only person who has survived the spirit. For Han-gil, he is someone to blame for his mother’s death. Yoonhae is a timid person greatly affected by his past and harsh words Han-gil has said to him when they were children. But when a sacrifice is needed, he’s willing to step in.

This was a great story; for a debut, its excellent. It’s not terribly long—I read it in one (looong) evening—and the mystery isn’t very complicated. But the world is interesting—I especially liked how Han-gil detected the spirits of living as sounds and smells—the characters with their complicated backstories are very likeable, and the narrative flows in an easy pace that keeps the reader’s attention. It’s mostly told from Han-gil’s point of view, but Yoonhae gets a few chapters too, broadening the backstory.

For a Korean society, it’s very inclusive, with bi and trans characters, and attention is paid to pronouns in a very natural way. More could’ve been done with Han-gil’s anxiety, but it’s the first book so maybe later. Korean society and culture werent very prominent either, its mostly about forms of address, but the author is American, which probably explains it.

The new partner, and the entire police force, was left out of the story rather easily. With him there, the tension between practitioners and people who know nothing about the spirits could’ve been stronger, but that had already happened in the backstory. But since things with him and Han-gil’s work were left open, it’s maybe something that’ll be explored in subsequent books. This was a good start for a mystery series, and I definitely hope there will be more.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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