The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang
Series: Tensorate, Book One
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The Black Tides of Heaven is one of a pair of unique, standalone introductions to JY Yang’s Tensorate Series, which Kate Elliott calls “effortlessly fascinating.” For more of the story you can read its twin novella The Red Threads of Fortune, available simultaneously.
Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as infants. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While Mokoya received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, they saw the sickness at the heart of their mother’s Protectorate.
A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue as a pawn in their mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond they share with their twin?
The Red Threads of Fortune, by JY Yang
Series: Tensorate, Book Two
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The Red Threads of Fortune is one of a pair of unique, standalone introductions to JY Yang’s Tensorate Series, which Kate Elliott calls “effortlessly fascinating.” For more of the story you can read its twin novella The Black Tides of Heaven, available simultaneously.
Fallen prophet, master of the elements, and daughter of the supreme Protector, Sanao Mokoya has abandoned the life that once bound her. Once her visions shaped the lives of citizens across the land, but no matter what tragedy Mokoya foresaw, she could never reshape the future. Broken by the loss of her young daughter, she now hunts deadly, sky-obscuring naga in the harsh outer reaches of the kingdom with packs of dinosaurs at her side, far from everything she used to love.
On the trail of a massive naga that threatens the rebellious mining city of Bataanar, Mokoya meets the mysterious and alluring Rider. But all is not as it seems: the beast they both hunt harbors a secret that could ignite war throughout the Protectorate. As she is drawn into a conspiracy of magic and betrayal, Mokoya must come to terms with her extraordinary and dangerous gifts, or risk losing the little she has left to hold dear.
Content Warning for:
Bereavement (Loss of a Child, Off-page/Past)
Violence, Death, Mental Child Neglect
I’ll organise this review by first writing about what concerns both books, like the fantasy world, writing style, and the concept of gender and transgender in this series, and then I will have a short look at both books individually. I’ll try to keep it manageable in length, promise.
When I saw the covers in a tweet, I couldn’t but find out more about the books behind them. I read an interview with the author and was even more intrigued when they said that the twin novellas could be read in any order. From then on, I counted the days until their release. I started with The Black Tides of Heaven and having read both books after another, I believe that this is the better starting point, but you can begin with the other one as well – I saw the author mention that they actually wrote the latter first.
The world building and setting give the impression of complexity without feeling overladen. It’s inventive regarding the magical system, society, and gender. The world seems subtly Asian without falling back on stereotypes and the writing style is elegant and easy-going despite the richness of setting, plot and characters. The romantic relationships in the stories appear intimate and dense, although they are just minor parts of the story. All this are huge plus points for me and they build the background for even more interesting and touching aspects of the books.
One is the concept of gender in the society, about which I have written more in this post, but, to make it short, children are born gender neutral and can decide their gender at any point or not at all. The language, the clothes, and the appearance are influenced by this as well, and the body only starts to develop once a person has chosen their gender, if they so want and take the necessary measures. This idea seems so right to me, I wish we had it in our world as well.
Another prominent theme is the contradiction of fate and free will and I think there is a great balance in these books and an interesting take on it. Since Mokoya is a prophet and sees the future, this issue comes up again and again, and I like how it is handled and developed.
What I especially liked in The Black Tides of Heaven is that the story is told through different phases of the twins’ lives. We accompany and grow to love them when they are still children, young adults, and later on as adults. I loved to see them develop and change and when they take their lives into their own hands and make decisions for themselves it was both painful and satisfying.
There’s an interesting twist here on the problem of parental acceptance with regards to (gender/sexual) identity that I appreciated a lot. It managed to not fall into the same-old, same-old but still had the friction and struggle for the character.
I have actually more to say and admire about The Red Treads of Fortune, although I enjoyed it a little less. Weird how this is sometimes. The 4.5 stars are due to the beginning of the book that was a bit too slow for my liking.
What impressed me the most about this book is the awesome character development of Mokoya. Stricken with grief, because she lost her daughter in a fire a few years ago and because of recurring prophesies that she feels helpless about, she drew back into herself, ran away from her husband and barely handles herself. She’s reckless and hopeless in the beginning but slowly takes her life back into her own hands in this story. That was so very rewarding to read about. Empowering and hopeful, without it becoming unbelievable. Wow, I really appreciated this.
There is a small romance arc between Mokoya and Rider, who is non-binary. Although it is only a minor part of the whole book, their scenes were authentic and passionate, and their fights and problems were real and understandable.
The finale of this book was stunning. Till the end, it was unclear what was gonna happen, who was gonna survive. I am looking at you, beginning of that one chatper—jeeez. It was very suspenseful and fun.
In this book we see a lot less of Akeya, but what we do witness of him is adorable because he is so lovingly grumpy and a nice counterpoint to Mokoya.
After having finished these novellas, I found out that there will be two more out in 2018. Guess what! I cannot wait 🙂 Who will they be about and when will they take place and what about that damn mother of theirs?
I highly recommend that you check out these books because they are awesome. I want to mention that the author has some short stories out online which are free to read, if you feel like checking them out first.
JY Yang is the author of the Tensorate series of novellas from Tor.Com Publishing (The Red Threads of Fortune, The Black Tides of Heaven, and two more slated for 2018 and beyond). Their short fiction has been published in over a dozen venues, including Uncanny Magazine, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and Lightspeed.
JY attended the 2013 class of Clarion West, for which they received the Susan C. Petrey scholarship to attend. In 2015 they were awarded a postgraduate scholarship from the National Arts Council of Singapore to read their MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, Britain.
In previous incarnations, they have been a molecular biologist; a writer for animation, comics and games; a journalist for one of Singapore’s major papers, and a science communicator with Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).
JY is currently based out of Singapore. They identify as queer and non-binary.