In the fictional Chinese town of Yong’an, human beings live alongside spirits and monsters, some of which are almost indistinguishable from people. Told in the form of a bestiary, each chapter of Strange Beasts introduces us to a new creature – from the Sacrificial Beasts, who can’t seem to stop dying, to the Besotted Beasts, an artificial breed engineered by scientists to be as loveable as possible. The narrator, an amateur cryptozoologist, is on a mission to track down each breed in turn, but in the process discovers that she might not be as human as she thought.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.
Eerie, weird, melancholic, with a strong side of ‘what did I just read??’, it’s surprisingly difficult to put my thoughts into words. I can confidently say Strange Beasts of China is like no other book I’ve ever read. Written in a short story-like format, with each chapter centering around a different kind of “beast’ residing in Yong An city, readers are brought through a surreal tale that asks, ‘what makes humanity, humanity?’
Strange Beasts of China is set in an alt-modern day China, in the city of Yong An. Mankind and ‘beasts’ (humanoid looing beings with distinct non-human features) have co-habited this world for all of history, living together, working side-by-side, and even the cross-species marriage. Yet, it’s clear from the get go that it’s humankind who are the dominant species, and these various species of beasts live at humanities graces. Our main character, a young female novelist, regularly writes fiction centering these beasts, and each chapter explores her encounters with a different type of species.
While at first the encounters are viewed through the observations as a third party: an acquaintance has fallen in love with a beast, a niece likes seeing a certain type of beast in the zoo, our MC quickly finds herself more and more intertwined with these different beings. It’s clear there’s hidden history, that there’s deepset traumas our MC has no inclination to explore until forcibly confronted. And confronted with these traumas she is. I joke that the summary of this book be “everyone around MC fucks monsters while MC gets depression”, but it’s a surprisingly apt summary.
Of course, the further the story progresses and the more the MC’s beast-y interactions become intertwined with her own life’s story, shit gets weird. This is really where those horror atmosphere/surreal elements come in. Between the Yong An’s government’s cheerful willingness to take very extreme actions and MC’s own inward spiral of mental stability, I found myself questioning the very words I’d just listened to, trying in vain to piece together details the logical ways. The twists and turns in this are truely dellightful.
I listed to this over audiobook and I have to commend the narrator with a fantastic delivery. Our MC, who remains nameless, acts almost as a vehicle for the reader through this strange, bizzare tale and the narrator does an excellent job feeding into the feelings of glee, hurt, confusion, and desperation. Between Ge’s plain yet emotionally impactful writing style and the excellent emotional delivery, I was simply hooked.
Overall, I rate this book a 4.5/5. Such surreal, melancholic story telling with an atmospheric horror element. In just 10 hours, Ge manages to construct a beautifully interconnected city of humans, beasts, and the relationships that form between.
r/Fantasy 2021-22 Bingo Squares:
- Set in Asia (Hard Mode)
- Published in 2021