Wednesday, July 10, 2013

King Mai by Edmond Manning

Reviewer:  Kaje Harper
Publisher:  Pickwick Ink Publishers
Pages:  360

King Mai is a wonderful book, in quite a different way from King Perry, the book that comes before it. It took me about two chapters to realize what a good thing that is.

King Perry is not a story that could be told over and over. For all the title, King Perry is really not about Perry, but about Vin Vanbly, the narrator. Even though it's told from Vin's POV, it's cagey, slowly revealing Vin in increments. King Perry is a magic show, sucker-punching the laughs out of the reader in bursts of incredulous absurdity. It is also lovely and full of wonder, but the heart of King Perry is the growing discovery of who and what Vin is. That discovery is far from complete by the end of Book 1, but there is enough lifting of the curtain to give you a feel for the magician. Some of Vin's methods and his history become known by the time that shifting kaleidescope of a book is done.

So when King Mai opens, there is a moment of almost disappointment. The reader knows too much about Vin to experience that same wonder. Of course he has that prepared, and no wonder there are water bottles there. That's how Vin operates. It's cool, but, like watching a magic show after the tricks have been explained, that sense of startled wonder is gone.

It took me a few pages to realize that I was simply experiencing this book differently, more deeply and emotionally. That doesn't mean there aren't surprises, and humor. I laughed out loud over and over. But it was a warmer softer laughter, and at the same time, I cared more. Both about Vin and about Mai.

In King Perry, I liked Perry, but I didn't care deeply about him. And while I was fascinated by Vin, getting to know him, and therefore to become invested in him, was slow. My response to Vin was constantly revised and derailed by the shifts and plot-twists, as he changed form and intention based on the clues at hand. By the end of King Perry, I wished Perry well, but didn't have a burning desire to know what became of him. And I had just come to some kind of stable picture of Vin, and to feel some of his depth. The book was a tour-de-force of the mind and the senses, but not yet of the heart.

In this second book, I came fairly quickly to care about Mai. There was a vulnerable strength to this Midwestern farmer that was palpable, and admirable. I cared about his threatened farm, and his lost first love, and all the things that hurt him. And because I had already decided that Vin is a complicated man, with a wealth of personal pain and history underneath the choices he makes, I cared about him too. So this book was more like watching a painting, rather than a magic show. There were lovely colors, and tender brush-strokes. I didn't know what the end product would be, but I trusted the artist and was fascinated by the process. For this book, I did really care what became of Mai down the road, and loved the little epilogue at the end. Just perfect.

This is still not a gay romance. This is one more saga in the story of Vin Vanbly, enigma, magician, lost child and brilliant manipulator, as he makes his way through the world. He affects other lives, while looking for the truths that will impact his own. There is a happy ending again, but not a HEA or even an HFN. But it's a journey well worth making, and I trust this writer to bring us home safely in the end... by book 6. Ah, hell, four more years?? Well, it will be worth the wait, and the journey along the way promises to be spectacular.

Highly recommended, but read Book 1, King Perry, first. (Chronologically, this book happens to be set earlier in time, but it absolutely is second in the sequence, and there is no flash-back feel to it.)

I received a free advance copy of this from the author - it was unconditional, but how could I resist writing a review?

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