Written by: Mack Moyer
In Dark Blossom, author Vincent Stoia succeeds where twelve years of Catholic School theology classes failed. By which I mean Stoia made me interested in religion.
Avagul Radir is a sex slave, only back in the day they called them courtesans, which doesn’t sound as bad (but totally still is). Ava is from India and doesn’t believe in the Chinese religion. That is, until the gods call on her, the first being Jigong, a deity who prances around looking like a homeless alcoholic.
Jigong, who reminds me of a number of guys I’ve met behind the dumpsters at 7-11, manipulates Ava into – what else? – saving the Chinese kingdom from its own incompetent emperor.
Normally Ava wouldn’t give a damn about the empire, but it so happens that her children – who she’s barely met, having given them to a friend when they were just tykes – are in the crosshairs of Liu, eventual captain of the guards in China’s capital.
Ava runs afoul of Liu when she tries to escape the whorehouse. Liu, humiliated when Ava gives him a bit of an ass kicking, decides that he not only wants Ava put to death, but her rugrats as well.
Liu is awesome as the primary antagonist, the kind of sniveling, multiple-chinned, bootlicking, ladder-climbing scumshit whose ego and thin skin stem from his privileged upbringing.
In the background, the Tang dynasty is crumbling. The emperor is an ironfisted douche surrounded by yes men, including Liu. Rebels make war on the kingdom. Now here comes Ava, charged with a heavenly mission.
And that’s where Dark Blossom rocks out. We meet a cavalcade of Chinese afterlife spooks. There’s Zhong Kui, former medical student turned zombified demon hunter. There are the guardians of the afterlife, Ox Head and Horse Face (though I kept picturing Beebop and Rocksteady from the Ninja Turtles). And those are just a few.
Stoia weaves these ghosts, gods and monsters into the story without any of them feeling shoehorned, yet all these figures are taken from Chinese religious mythology. Well after I finished the novel I found myself falling down the Wikipedia hole to find out more about them.
The novel isn’t perfect. I thought it was strange that Liu and the emperor cared that much about executing Ava’s children (who never felt like fully realized characters to me), especially in the midst of more pressing concerns. Come on, Mr. Emperor, the rebels are crashing against your gates and you’re concerned about offing a couple of kids? No wonder your kingdom turned into such a turd.
The emperor, as a character, also disappointed me. I’d like to find out why the emperor’s such a dick, perhaps get inside his head a little. Instead he’s just a cardboard cut-out tyrant and his character suffers because of it.
But as a whole, Dark Blossom is another solid piece of work to come out of Samhain Publishing, who rarely disappoints.