Last year, I reviewed JY Yang´s twin novellas The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune and was quite charmed by them, with their clever worldbuilding and experimental narrative styles. Described as ´silkpunk´ by the author, the world of the Tensorate is an ingenious mix of politics and magic. With The Descent of Monsters, JY Yang continues to experiment by writing this third instalment in an epistolary fashion. This is their boldest choice by far, as the switch between letters, diaries and official government reports result in some significant changes in pace across what is a very short novella. I have to mention up front that this is my second read-through of Descent – I have the fourth instalment ready on my ebook reader, and I need to refresh myself a bit before jumping into that one. And part of the reason for that, I think, is due to Descent’s epistolary nature.
The focus of this novella also shifts considerably from the first two instalments. While the prior two focused on the stories of twins Akeha and Mokoya and their fraught relationship with their powerful mother, Descent gives us a whole new protagonist: Tensor Chuwan Sariman. Unlike Akeha and Mokoya, Sariman is not considered special – she´s just a middle-tier pencil pusher for the government. Her task at the start of the novella is to investigate a suspicious incident at a research facility – one that links back to The Red Threads of Fortune. We also know early on, thanks to her letters, that this investigation is not likely to go well. Things are as suspicious as all get out, and thanks to the heavily redacted reports she’s given, Sariman concludes that the government has a predetermined narrative and is hoping for a coverup; they’d prefer it if she just dots the I’s and crosses the T’s for them, thank you very much.
Sariman, however, is as dogged as any good noir detective, and she’s not having any of that. If her superiors were hoping to placate her, they accidentally pressed all the wrong buttons. Sariman soon takes on a ‘Fuck you and the ship you came in on’ attitude and goes outlaw to get to the bottom of the whole affair.
Descent is a bit of a mixed bag for me. While I appreciate how Sariman’s investigation here fits into the larger story, and it really does do a nice job of fleshing out aspects of the previous instalments, I still didn’t feel as much of a connection with her as I did with Akeha and Mokoya. The mixture of tone and pacing brought on by the author’s choice of style is also a bit hit and miss for me – although I appreciate what JY Yang is experimenting with here, and I don’t particularly want them to stop. I’m also unsure of the ending – which didn’t feel like a strong resolution at all. But I’m willing to entertain the idea that this is deliberate; there is at least one more Tensorate novella sitting on my reader right now, and it’s entirely possible there are more in the pipeline. Just as I was unable to separate The Black Tides of Heaven from The Red Threads of Fortune, I may not be able to separate The Descent of Monsters from the rest of the series.
With that being said, I would NOT attempt to read this one without completing the previous two first!