JY Yang is a queer, non-binary, post-colonial intersectional feminist. They live in Singapore.
The Descent of Monsters is the third in JY Yang’s Tensorate Series. I reviewed the first two volumes earlier this year, and the third continues the riveting and ingenious story of a world where a very privileged few hold ultimate power and wield it with disregard, if not contempt, for the rest. While the first two volumes focus on the extraordinarily talented twin children of the supreme dictator known as the Protector, this third volume is told from the point of view of a lesser tensor, Sariman, who is tasked with investigating a deadly incident at a secret scientific institute. The Descent of Monsters has a noire vibe and features a cynical and jaded detective who will have to choose between what is safe and what is right to do.
In the world of the Protectorate, tensors are people who have an unusual power: they are able to use their minds/spirits to control what is known as the slack. The slack is the force that is present throughout the physical world (in earth, water, fire, electricity, etc.). The protector is one of the most powerful tensors alive, and her children, twins Akeha and Mokoya, are known for their even more impressive powers. Akeha, however, is a rebel who has thrown in his lot with the Machinists, ie., those who would help powerless peoples by providing them with the weapons that would equal the playing field with the tensors. Mokoya possesses the gift of prophecy, which has made her dangerous to her mother and has also damaged her in body and spirit. In volume two, a person from outside the Protectorate named Rider joins with Mokoya to help her find and destroy a dangerous flying beast called a naga. Volume two deals with how this particular naga became so unnaturally dangerous and how Rider helps Mokoya come to grips with the physical and spiritual damage that she has experienced as a prophet and as a mother.
In The Descent of Monsters, the horrific incident that occurs at the Rewar Teng Institute is related to the creation of the naga from volume 2. Rewar Teng is a top secret government site where strange experiments involving twins and animals have been going on for many years. When Tensor Sariman is given the job of investigating what happened there, she knows something is up and it stinks to high heaven. Sariman is a seasoned detective, but her talents have never been recognized by her superiors and she is never given important cases. The fact that she is assigned this one means that the government is looking to make this go away asap. Sariman knows they are hiding something. Not only can she tell by the heavily redacted reports she is given, she also can sense it through her dreams. Sariman is disgusted and angry. It is clear she is not meant to discover anything but rather blame the incident on Machinist rebels and move on. Two rebels — Akeha and Rider — were found at the site and make convenient scapegoats. Another tensor with higher clearances interviewed them, but the copies Sariman sees are mostly blacked out. It would be easy enough to just go along and not make waves, as that would most certainly lead to danger for Sariman, but her conscience and a meeting with a family member of one of the victims pushes Sariman toward going rogue and conducting her own investigation.
The narration here is mostly given in the form of reports and Sariman’s letters to her lover Kayan, which she hopes Kayan will receive in the event that Sariman dies in her quest for the truth. Sariman is blunt and hard-edged, as a detective should be, and while her instincts are good, she can be rash. She manages to irritate Rider, but she when she learns Rider’s reason for being at the Institute and what Rider’s interests are there, Sariman fully commits herself to trying to make things right. One of the things I like about Sariman is that she uses her powers of observation and her understanding of politics (not slack-craft) to figure out the truth of what happened at the institute. The question is, will she be able to get that information to Rider.
JY Yang leaves us with a cliffhanger, but I welcome that because it must mean that a volume four is on the way. As I mentioned in my previous review, this is a really great series and I recommend it to those who are interested in fantasy/science fiction as well as underrepresented authors. The series is also notable for its inclusion and treatment of non-binary and queer characters. In the Protectorate, one can choose whether one is male or female or non-binary (pronouns used are they/them), and one’s sexual orientation is what it is. No judgments or discrimination. And as with the previous two volumes, check out the gorgeous cover art.