In the Watchful City by S Qiouyi Lu

The city of Ora uses a complex living network called the Gleaming to surveil its inhabitants and maintain harmony. Anima is one of the cloistered extrasensory humans tasked with watching over Ora’s citizens. Although ær world is restricted to what æ can see and experience through the Gleaming, Anima takes pride and comfort in keeping Ora safe from all harm.

All that changes when a mysterious visitor enters the city carrying a cabinet of curiosities from around the world, with a story attached to each item. As Anima’s world expands beyond the borders of Ora to places—and possibilities—æ never before imagined to exist, æ finds ærself asking a question that throws into doubt ær entire purpose: What good is a city if it can’t protect its people?


I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.


 I honestly don’t know how to rate this. I…enjoyed it? I think? I’m also extremely confused with what I just read but it was good.

In this novella, we follow Anima, who lives as a semi-omipotent Node of the city-state of Ora. Ora, modeled I believe after Singapore, governs through The Gleaming, a biocyberpunk shared consciousness tied between all citizens that Anima helps monitor and interfere on the city’s behalf when necessary. Æ are greeted one day with a traveler who slowly tells ær stories from a case se travel with, Arabian Nights style. The book is almost like a short story anthology in some ways, telling stories within stories and Anima giving reactions between each tale. In between we get glimpses of Anima’s life as a Node, the people and emotions ær encounters. There are explorations of grief and suicide, love and passion, and a fascinating take of body dysmorphia involving very cosmic metaphors.

In the Watchful City is written with a very…experimental structure, with everything from a standard short story to verse to a collection of legal documents. I suppose I enjoyed it, but deeper literary exploration is really not my forte so I can only provide a surface reaction. While I was confused by Anima’s overall arch, I did enjoy the individual stories-within-the-story (the legal documents one being my favorite) and the creativity of the worldbuilding and prose was fun to experience. Overall, I rate this book a 4/5.

r/Fantasy Bingo Squares:

  • Set in Asia (hard mode)
  • Published in 2021
  • Trans/NB Character (hard mode)

Publication Date: 31 August 2021
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 208
Word Count: 37,000
ISBN: 1250792983 
Buy It Here: Amazon | Google Books | Barnes and Nobles | Goodreads

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