ePUB Liz Williams Ñ Snake Agent ePUB ¼ Ñ

Detective Inspector Chen is the Singapore Three police department's snake agent the detective in charge of supernatural and mystical investigations Chen has several problems in addition to colleagues who don't trust him and his mystical ways a patron goddess whom he has offended and a demonic wife who's tired of staying home alone he's been paired with one of Hell's own vice officers Seneschal Zhu Irzh to investigate the illegal trade in souls Political pressures both Earthly and otherworldly seek to block their investigations at every turn As a plot involving both Singapore Three's industrial elite and Hell's own Ministry of Epidemics is revealed it becomes apparent that the stakes are higher than anyone had previously suspected

10 thoughts on “Snake Agent

  1. says:

    Snake Agent will always occupy a uniue position in my library and in my reading history First as an aside is the sheer beauty of the cover art Four out of the five published books in the series have the same artist and all four are stunning Second and importantly is the the familiar world weary police officer trope in urban fantasy moved into a Chinese cultural and mythological setting I haven't read many books in an Asian setting much less urban fantasy and Williams seems to have played respectfully with aspects of the traditions while turning them sideways in a most enjoyable fashionSet in modern Singapore franchise #3 to be exact Heaven and Hell are real stops on the reincarnation wheel It's actually nice to have the framework plot of the world weary detective going his own path because it helps ground the reader in the unfamiliar  There's the somewhat challenged but staid sidekick and the uneasy alliance with the criminal demon but possibly honorable element and the unobtrusively supportive superior who will throw him to the wolves if the detective failsYou have my full and total support as long as I don't actually have to go any nearer to this supernatural shit than I can help and as long as you sort it outWilliams is a talented writer and the story is filled with rich detail from the humidity and the desperately functioning air conditioners in the police station to the ominousness of the demonic world The detail provides a sense of atmosphere to a case that literally involves the otherworldly but yet avoids purple prose“The chanting seemed to have been going on for years Chen could not remember a time when it had not been ringing in his ears a surging insistent note threaded through with discord He blinked trying to clear his head A red and gold ceiling swam above him; lights sparkled by By degrees he realized that he was still lying flat on his back on H’suen Tang’s carpet”Williams did use one of my unfavorite ploys beginning the book with a scene fraught with danger foreshadowing problems to come but I forgive her as the rest was so much fun And so interesting My only real criticism is the structure of the book; we initially meet Chen in third person view then his wife “meanwhile back at the ranch” then the demon Zhu Irzh and then she adds in a further perspective or two as the story progresses which I felt might have jumbled the narrative unnecessarily It would have been fun seeing Zhu gain humanity through others’ perspective rather than reading him thinking about itBut really what can you say about a book that contains lines such as “Passers by took one look at Detective Inspector Chen hastening down the road with a lobster on a string like one of the eccentric French surrealists and gave him a very wide berth” or followed by a discussion of how a Ministry of Hell uses pharmaceutical companies? Or realize that one of the major Ministries of Hell is the Ministry of Wealth? Love itVery dense very flavorful very satisfying Third read completecross posted at

  2. says:

    4½ out of 5 starsNot many books have moments that both intrigue and disgust me at the same time And not many books present these moments back to back with little respite in between for sueamish readers to settle their stomachs That is to say this book is not a good lunch break read On the back coverJohn Constantine meets Chow Yun Fat in this near future occult thrillerI don't usually read cover blurbs any because of gimmicky taglines but this one is a hilarious and accurate description of how I pictured ChenDetective Chen Wei works for the Singapore Three police department and oversees supernaturally related investigations He's also Earth's liaison between Heaven and Hell Anything weird or out of the ordinary that usually ends in homicide gets sent to Chen's desk but judging by the amount of weirdness and extraordinary things happening in Singapore Three it's odd not to see the whole police department trained as supernatural specialists We don't see or learn much about Heaven in this book we do in the next one but we do get to go to Hell several times over all puns intended?I'm going to need a leave of absenceTo do what?Go to Hell sirThere was a short pregnant pause then Sung said You nicked my line DetectiveThe case is a puzzling one that's much than it seems A young girl from a prominent family has died of mysterious circumstances and now her ghost is missing Ghosts don't usually go missing; they go to either Heaven or Hell So the girl's mother comes to Chen for help to send her ghost on its way to Heaven where she thinks her daughter belongs Chen agrees to look into the matter but finds almost nothing to go on Then he finds out there's trouble at the family home and that the family may have uestionable ties to Hell That's when things get weird but in a fun intriguing wayThe story is set some time in the very near future and the location of Singapore Three is not mentioned specifically but we can assume it's where Singapore is What is mentioned is that the city has a large urban expanse lively cityscape coastal region and a very humid soggy rain seasonThe cast of supporting characters are well developed and easy to like and they add a lot of color to the plots and dialogues Inari Chen's wholesome but slightly naive wife and a Hell runaway who's trying to settle into her new life with Chen on earth and their houseboat The Badger teakettle is her faithful servant and a grumpy disgruntled spin on the helpful animal sidekick trope  Seneschal Zhu Irzh an investigator from Hell and Vice same difference really who has been assigned to investigate Hell's side of Chen's missing ghost girl case Sargent Ma of Singapore Three PD is a sueamish cop who views Chen with suspicion and wants nothing to do with the supernatural least of all Hell Lao the PD's exorcist and Chen's good friend who's naturally suspicious of all things Hell and occasionally makes uippy remarks Captain Sung is head of the PD and your average by the book but slightly embattled leader because he has to deal with Hell occasionally And a few characters too spoilery to mentionThe idea of Heaven and Hell as bureaucracies is amusing to me and like all dysfunctional bureaucracies they each have their own versions of petty power struggles and office politics I find Liz Williams' takes on the denizens of Hell who are stuck in these mind numbing paper pushing thankless jobs just hilarious and so real Given that Williams' background as an ambassador's underling it's no wonder she's captured these nuances so perfectly right down to the disdain for the office and the job at hand So of course Hell is a public office drowned in tedious paperwork but Heaven too? I look forward to Williams' version of thatIt seems Williams' take on Chinese mythology and death magic is a point of discussion derision? among readers Personally I find her portrayals interesting and familiar and see the writing as an homage to classic tropes Some might say they're awkward veering on cultural appropriation though and I can see where these people are coming from A few of her descriptions of skin eyes and hair seem too forced as though she tries too hard to set a specifically Chinese or East Asian tone in the writing Her descriptions and metaphors of buildings streets offices and tea however paint a nice picture of Chen's adventuresWilliams has done her research for this book and seems to be very familiar with beliefs and practices of death ceremonials and she tied many of the elaborate beliefs neatly into character development and the practices into plotting Having these traditions show up at various points in the book help to explain to otherwise clueless readers the long winded processes of death the afterlife reincarnation and the connections between Heaven and Hell I think Williams did an admirable job incorporating so many intricate pieces of Chinese folktale and mythology together to tell a colorful storyA point where I think Williams' writing shinesIt was just past six and the sun was already sinking down over the port in a smear of fire Chen boarded the first available tram and stood in the midst of a packed crowd of commuters noting the exhaustion that seemed to hang like a miasma over each figure No wonder people seemed to have so little time these days to devote themselves to considerations of the afterlife Chen reflected  and no wonder Hell was getting out of hand Even twenty years ago it was still common to see the small shrines outside each door and for old people to speak of the gods as real living presences Now paradoxically the other worlds were closer than they had been since ancient times; with new technology to speed up all manner of communication yet people seemed to take less and less interest in spiritual matters Perhaps it was simply too much to bear Chen thought; perhaps it was too much to ask of people to concern themselves with something other than the daily grind Whatever the reason it did not make his work any easier Cross posted at

  3. says:

    Update 19 March 2012For a science fiction story with truly authentic Chinese elements check out A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight from Clarkesworld Very highly recommended Original ReviewAh Haw Par Villa Such fond memories I have it It used to be known also as Tiger Balm Gardens and was built by the Haw Par brothers the makers of Tiger Balm As an act of civic goodness the Haw Par brothers constructed Haw Par Villa It’s a lovely little theme park in Singapore Here you’ll find dioramas of Chinese legends like The Journey to the West Of course the most well known and beloved set of dioramas are the ones that depict the Ten Courts of Hell As a little kid I was taken there on a school field trip At the Ten Courts of Hell exhibit I saw ▪ Drug addicts and tomb raiders getting roasted on a red hot copper pillar image error

  4. says:

    It is unfair to any author to wander into a book expecting something and then being disappointed when it's not delivered but I'm human and I can't help it Reading this book I had hoped to read something like Barry Hughart's adventures with Master Li and Number Ten Ox Bridge of Birds A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was et al or Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee stories Judge Dee at Work Eight Chinese Detective Stories et al except in this case the celestial and infernal bureaucracies are real Or a mystery along the lines of Colin Cotterill's Sari Paiboun novels where a Laotian coroner is the reincarnated soul of a Hmong shaman With Hughart and Cotterill there's a spritely lyrical uality to their writing that makes you believe or want to believe that what you're reading could really happen; van Gulik delivers interesting Holmesian whodunits solved by a character I find delightfully fascinatingLiz Williams manages to create moderately interesting characters but I didn't find the story terribly interesting or the execution distinctive enough to make the work stand out The two chief characters are Chen Wei and Zhu Irzh Chen's the human and his dearest wish is to be just an average cop allowed to do his job with a minimum of interference from mundane or spiritual powers Unfortunately little in his life conduces to this aim He has a near uniue access a rapport with Heaven and Hell and he's married a fugitive demon Inari who hides out on his houseboat with her family's familiar a spirit that alternates between posing as a tea kettle and ambling about as a badger There's little explanation for Chen's uniueness but I can put up with ignorance so long as it doesn't interfere with understanding the storyline Besides it's a series and presumably readers who continue to follow Chen and Zhu will have revealed to themZhu Irzh holds a similar position as Chen in the hierarchy of Hell a middle level functionary who'd like to get his job done without crossing the paths of his superiors too often In many ways Zhu was a disappointment As Williams portrays him he's a typical swashbuckling rogue in the tradition of D'Artagnan and Han Solo Essentially a human with strange eyes and a pointed tail It would have been interesting and challenging if his character really had been demonic and he became Chen's friend or at least ally because of the logic of that nature Not because he's been infected with a conscience as is intimated at one point in the book This is one of the strengths in CJ Cherryh's Pride of Chanur series Pyanfar manipulates the uniue psychology of the kif to get them into the Compact and obeying its rules; they're not just humans with prosthetic foreheads a la Star TrekI could raise a similar objection to Inari Chen's demonic wife She's basically a human woman escaping an arranged marriageWithout giving away too much the story revolves around Chen and Zhu uncovering an unsanctioned plot by the Ministry of Epidemics to unleash a plague against humanity using stolen human souls many intended for Heaven It's not a bad plot but not especially remarkable and Williams invokes a couple of deae ex machina Kuan Yin and the Goddess of Plagues to bring everything to a happy conclusion which I found unsatisfactoryI like Williams It's been years since I read it but I remember really enjoying Empire of Bones and saying to myself I'd like to see of her stuff but I don't think she's at her best in this book I may pick up the further adventures of Inspector Chen if there's opportunity but they're brain candy something to read when I need a break from serious novels or nonfiction

  5. says:

    I really really liked this book There were some consistency problems with the end of it but the journey was innovative The world is really interesting and the book combined several genres together with very good success Refreshing to read an urban paranormal book without a tough as nails but emotionally fragile heroine I'll be picking up the others

  6. says:

    I was immediately drawn into this series by Liz Williams Partly because of the enthusiastic reviews by my GR Friends carol and Mimi and also by the way Williams uickly got my attention by the world building and the well drawn character of Detective Inspector ChenWilliams imagines a world of the future where a metropolis can be franchised D I Chen is the go—to person when demons and Chinese mysticism are involved with crime in Singapore Three There are many familiar elements in this world including the shell of Mao’s People’s Republic of China that still maintains governmental control Yet both technology and the ancient Chinese beliefs play freely in this world and the afterworlds are also open for Chen’s involvement If the reader is unwilling to fully buy into this fantasy it will become somewhat of a slog Williams shows us the technology of science fiction wrapping around the horror of demons and demi gods which encase the mystery mysteries that Chen must solveTo do so he must freuently honor his own personal god and deal with the bureaucracy of Hell to track the soul of a young girl who should have be destined for Heaven Be prepared for Williams going full out with description such as the following “Chen could only see part of his face but it was puffy and mottled with disease An ulcerated laceration marred one distended cheekThe personage’s clothes were impressive enough a thick mantle of human hair soft and blond as corn silk hung over a cloak of pink and living fleshhe could have counted every tiny capillary and vein that meadered across the cloak like rivers across the surface of a map”Here are some of the things that I appreciated about Williams’ novel She shows great respect for the ancient Chinese values and religious practices; She gives the reader a very imaginative view of a Hell and a Heaven; Her main characters are distinctive and appealing; and There is a “yuck factor” but there is no indulgence in violence just for “the fun of it”Chen is an action oriented detective who has carved out a domain that few would want His boss is happy to let him do those paranormal investigations and the reader is right there for one bizarre event after another We also get to meet an exorcist with chronic back pain and a tea kettle that can morph into a badger and a demon seneschal who finds himself both allied with Chen and at odds with him It’s a very satisfactory start to a series

  7. says:

    I was born and raised Roman Catholic so despite my atheism I have demons ingrained in my consciousness I'm talking about literal demons here Demons with tails and horns and leathery wings demons of sublime beauty and terrible mien demons that torment and corrupt It doesn't matter that I no longer believe in the concepts of good and evil; it doesn't matter that demons are fiction; they are so deeply programmed into me that there is no escaping their intimate hold on portions of my imagination So considering my preconceptions of demons which are predictably Western European my time spent with Detective Inspector Chen was never likely to be trouble free I don’t know exactly what trouble I was expecting but I was surprised to discover that the trouble if it can be called trouble came from Liz Williams’ demons feeling shame Demons the way I’ve always imagined them feel no shame Indeed they are shameless creatures of villainy cruelty nastiness They terrorize torture and punish delighting in their heartlessness Clearly my conception of demons is the conception on the walls and ceilings of churches or the popular culture of Christianity Thus when Zhu Irzh or Inari showed signs of shame or when Inari’s brother Tso was motivated by shame I reacted with annoyance and even tossed the book aside with a snort But I knew that my reaction was purely emotional and I found myself considering the idea of demons and shame for most of the day; it didn’t take long for me to see what Williams was doing – and even to absorb it into my personal mythology of demons After all demons being intimately acuainted with shame makes perfect sense Those humans who go to Hell after all go to Hell to feel shame No matter their crime no matter if Hell is eternal or transitory no matter their punishment they go to Hell to learn or feel shame And it doesn’t matter what religion’s Hell one’s talking about If there is a Hell it is a place for shameNow if this is a truism of Hell something we can all agree upon then demon characters must be able to feel shame If a demon is to exploit the shame of a human or cause shame in a human they must be able to understand shame in all its forms and the only way to do that is to know shame personallyMy brain got that and I went straight back to reading Snake Agent but my gut still reacted every time a Demon felt shame and I fear that my gut got in the way of my fully enjoying of Liz Williams’ creativity which is one of the reasons I look so forward to The Demon and the City Once I have had time to fully integrate shame in the world of Singapore Three into my gut I am sure that I will be able to better appreciate the implausible surreal stickily humid Hell Noir landscapes that Detective Inspector Chen and his partner Seneschal Zhu Irzh inhabitAnd if it improves as much as I think it will this series should become my must read must buy must share piece of pulpy goodness Previously written I was surprised by how much I liked this book and I have much to say about shame in demons but that will have to wait for another day maybe even for the next book I will be going on with this series though and soon It is definitely good enough for that

  8. says:

    Snake Agent is a combination of so many great things that it would be really hard not to find at least one or two things to likeAt its core it is an urban fantasy set in near future that takes place in Singapore Number three You see there are of those and this one is just as crowded and corrupted as any otherThen it's science fiction People use something called bioweb and a young person can earn a lot of money acting as nexus This is not just thrown in there just for the sake of info dumping All throughout the book there are mentions of bioweb and biolinks and they do have an important place in the story Then you get a bit of a horror too lower levels of Hell sound interesting Not as much as I'd like but the possibilities for future books are there It seems that every place in one realm has its correlating place in others They are not identical thoughYou even get a bit of romance but I'd rather it didn't While I do read romance this book honestly didn't need it at all The world building is extraordinary Hell Heaven and Earth are connected It doesn't matter if there are some who don't believe in afterlife the afterlife is there anyway You need immigration visas to enter those realms if you are alive Hell has its own ministries War Flesh Earthuakes Epidemics Lust and so on There are agents working on all three sides though the Celestial one was neglected in this book Not a great loss because you get to meet the Vice Division agent Zhu Irzh 'That uncomfortable nagging sensation was back He'd suffered from this on and off since childhood like the prick of a pin inside his mind and had even gone so far as t visit a remedy maker What had the old man called it? Conscience or some such a human disease anyway and there was apparently nothing that could be done about it' The protagonist Detective Inspector Wei Chen protege of a goddess Kuan Yin and someone who is connected to both Earth and Hell ends up working with a demon cop ' You don't really want to do this Zhu Irzh Are you accusing me of having principles? the demon said outraged'A young girl died and her mother found out that she ended up in Hell 'Usually if you die in a normal manner an officer comes to you with a warrant and takes you to the Night Harbor which is where the boat leaves for the other worlds' Chen would soon realize that ghost's disappearance is only a small piece of a greater and much dangerous puzzleThe protagonists are not the only colourful characters in this book I loved the First Lord of Banking the demon lord who gave Zhu Irzh the assignmentThere are those that grow and change in the book like Sargent Ma who has to overcome his upbringing even to speak to Chan because of his connection to Hell And now the nitpicks I hate love triangles with passion and there was this cloud of one threatening my reading experience for uite a large part of the book The resolution was tepid at best 'oh now that I've mentioned something like that I'll just add or mention another character' and the worst thing about it is that it doesn't add anything to the story It's not a game changer Fortunately it's not that pronounced Then there is the might leave for my lover's good trope That too was just swept under the rug Unnecessary alsoI loved this book and I haven't even scratched the surface here

  9. says:

    Really enjoyed this Was a little slow to get going but I kept going because the concept interested me a future China police procedural with ghosts and demons and a really intriguing afterlife and magic system There are also some truly creepy developments in communicationsnetworking technology Main character Detective Inspector Chen is a respectful hardworking guy whose colleagues are very uncomfortable with him because Chen handles the cases involving ghosts and incursions of aspects of the afterlife into the world Chen also has a goddess as his patron and as we find out later a demon for a wife Inari interested me her love of storms how she was coping with life on Earthshe and Chen seem to genuinely care for each other I'm so used to detective stories where the main character is a drunk with a failed marriage who seems almost to stumble into cases and cluesThe afterlife is made up of Heaven and Hell and the intermediate stage before one moves on to either the former or the latter That's a simplistic description of what the author has described in this book We don't get much detail on Heaven except that it's beautiful peaceful Hell is where the action is and where much of this story takes place There are hierarchies Ministries responsible for running life in Hell forms to fill out the bureaucracy made me laugh of course there's paperwork and just so much happening The conflicts between Ministers and the ministries certainly felt believable remembering feuding directors and business units at a corporation I worked at in the pastChen is assigned to a case that pretty uickly transforms into something pretty serious and dangerous Along the way he encounters a detective of the Vice unit from Hell Hell has Vice detectives The two begin working together and there's a lot of magic and blood and detecting and dealing with in laws and jilted fiances And gods who are terrifying and demandingAnd I forgot to mention the tea kettle I want one like thatI'd never heard of this series till recently but picked up this book based on some reviews and it doesn't hurt to check out the shelves at the library in the hope of finding good storiesI'll be checking out further instalments in this series

  10. says:

    I wanted to love this book I really did but I am only giving it three stars instead of two because of the originality I enjoyed some of it and hated other parts of it I'm very frustrated with the author and can't believe it was written by an educated Western woman But on that laterThe good parts are the unusual premise the detective Chen lives in a technologically advanced futuristic Shanghai as a supernatural detective investigating those cases that involve demons ghosts and the like Excellent to have a spec fic story written in English that takes place in another city and culture on Earth than Western He has occasion to go down to Hell sometimes which is as complex as the Earth He has a patron Buddhist goddess uan Yin who helps him out on occasion I like the Buddhist stuff but wanted and felt it was a little weak This fusion of fantasy and science fiction is clever and interesting The problem is in the executionThere is lots of action and a fairly fast pace and the book opens with the hero in peril suspended in mid air with a demon by his side Sounds good so far but there are problems which weigh it down The main character is boring and staid way too much so for someone in his line of work I think I didn't find myself caring that much about him I also didn't think he was that consistent Sometimes he would comment on a demon's behavior as being bad something pretty mild and then later he would do something much worse There was a cool hellion a badger who was interesting although he was never explained Hell is supposed to be kind of an opposite to Earth which doesn't make sense when there is a Heaven too and there a very complicated way souls get there people have two souls and both move around a lot But the reality is that Hell is much like Earth only a little nastier and bureaucratic with a lot of magic thrown in Again I found the depiction inconsistent sometimes the reader is told that everyone from Hell is evil and you can't depend on them and then they act in ways that are fairly virtuous and the most likable character of all is Chen's demon partner Zhu IrchThe really odd thing was that from the very first page I felt that I was reading a book that was actually a seuel The back story was a huge part of why things happen in this book and it just felt like they were speaking about stuff that happened as though the reader should already know I found myself checking than once to see that it was actually book 1But by far the worst thing is the really pronounced sexism I could understand and even tolerate it if it were clear this were a product of the sexist Chinese society or part of why Hell were evil But the women in the book were weak and vapid The only two females with jobs were a receptionist and a secretary both completely idiotic and ineffectual Everyone else in the ministries precinct and stores were men At one point a character notices a female demon of course assisting some laborers and he is completely surprised Later the author refers to her as the female helper much like white people always point out race when it's not their own Even China nowadays has a much egalitarian workforce Women are construction workers and day laborers and do all sorts of typically male jobs There is no indication the Shanghai of the future has been set back socially it's supposed to be modern Wouldn't women's rights have stayed the same if not progressed even a little bit?There are very few female characters in the book and only two which make any kind of long term appearance the goddess uan Yin and Chen's weak and pathetic demon wife Inari At one point she thinks to herself how ridiculous it is that men are always saving her and she vows to do better but it continues The only time she saves herself is when she runs away but even then someone else always rescues her or captures her because she is lost The sentence felt like an after thought because the author received criticism about it At one point Chen a human and another demon struggle to move a huge piece of jade Demons have superhuman strength but Inari just sits off to the side trembling I wanted to throw up Plus she is kept in a houseboat and Chen is upset when she leaves it for any reason What kind of life is that? It's the kind of thing abusive husbands do to their wives It's positively revolting My other complaints are minor pits of blood in hell come from adulterers and abortionists Of course in the book menstrual blood is a particularly hellish thing too The author also has some weird metaphors that don't really work like when something ringed a room like a migraine Hunh? I have migraines several times a week and I don't understand the metaphor Migraines are on one side of the head usually and are a stabbing throbbing pain They don't ring anything They're not like tension headaches which can feel like a band is tightening around your head In fact the closest analogy is an icepick stabbed through your eye Another weird one was when the night sky was like illuminated dark glass Er what? Another problem was that about a third of the way in the detectives discover a truly heinous practice that they believe is the center of the mystery and that they need to figure out It not only turns out not to be the center but not even related and they never bother to find out who is doing it or how to stop it They don't ever even bring it up again BIG plot holeOverall the writing was good the plot carried along fine and the characterization of the demon detective and other police officers was good However the main character and his wife were inconsistent and confusing and the sexism was really irritating I doubt I will read further into the series even though the concept is intriguing and I do want to know