The Red Heart of Jade
If you’re looking for an easy read, a book you can speed through on cruise-control, something you can put down or pick up at will, you should probably skip Marjorie M. Liu’s The Red Heart of Jade. If, however, you’re looking for an engagement, something to really sink your teeth into, then this is the paranormal for you.
Red Heart is Liu’s third novel in her series about an investigative agency (Dirk & Steele) peopled by paranormals. The characters in Liu are more X-men than Bram Stoker, and work behind the scenes fighting evil and fear.
There’s something solid and strong about the world Liu has created, an authenticity. First, her world is our world, and it’s a world that I find very easy to buy into. It may be innate laziness on my part; after all, a world that exists is much easier to conjure than one that is speculative. However, I think it has more to do with the creative space Liu has given herself. We already know all the rules. Her explanations are limited only to the secret world, which allows much more space for intricate plots and detailed characters. The result? A much deeper, richer paranormal.
Red Heart is the story of Dean, a clairvoyant. He is sent to Taipei to investigate some unusual and unusually gruesome murders. However, while he is conducting his search, someone is searching for him, someone who knows his secret, his friends, and his past. It’s hard to tell if it’s coincidence or design when Dean runs into Miri, the unforgettable girl from his adolescence, but either way it’s obvious that the two of them are involved in something much more primal, something much bigger than a re-building of their relationship.
Liu assumes a lot about her readers. You are thrown in the middle of the action, and there is no relief, no pause. You’re expected to keep up. This strategy makes for a very exciting, very compelling read, but I felt a little swept along. At the end of the book, I remember clearly the relationship between Dean and Miri, but little about the plot line. In fact, I would struggle to tell you the exact nature of the denouement. Now, this may just be me. I’ve already admitted to my innate laziness. But I did find that the book’s lightning quick pace meant a more shallow understanding of the basic premise – especially as said premise involves an ancient evil, an even older curse, and reincarnation.
The intra-personal aspects of the story, on the other hand, are unforgettable. There is, of course, the beautiful reawakening of the feelings Miri and Dean have for each other. But there is also the relationship between Dean and his friends, Dean and his employer, and both Dean and Miri and their memories. The latter is especially surprising in its poignancy, and does more for character revelation than paragraphs of description ever could. Seeing the two protagonists through each other’s eyes, as well as their own, the reader is provided with an almost immediate past, present, and future, which adds a pleasing three-dimensionality.
Throughout the course of the novel, Miri is a reflection of the reader. She, too, is forced to hit the ground running, and absorb and accept the strange around her at an almost dizzying pace. Miri’s relationship with Dean is an unusual one. She undergoes a conversion throughout the story, and without giving spoilers I can only say that it felt forced because it seemed to tie things up in too neat a bow for me.
I know I focused a lot on the problems in this novel, yet they are minor and, for the most part, personal. But Liu’s writing is smooth and easy, her descriptions evocative. The romance and plot are dark, but there is undeniable humor and humanity. The relationships are among the most convincing I’ve ever read. You’ll never regret picking up a Liu.