Welcome to A More Diverse Universe! Check out the link for a description of the event and tons of reviews from other bloggers. Thanks again, Aarti!
One of my goals for Diversiverse this year was to discover new-to-me authors. Zen Cho's name came up when she was on a panel with somebody that I saw in someone's blog post--I'm sorry, I don't even remember who, I just saw a photo of the author doing something silly and knew she wrote speculative fiction and thought, "hey, I should check her out."
So I found her novella, The House of Aunts. (That link, by the way, is NOT to Amazon, but to a site called GigaNotoSaurus, where you can download the story for free. The site publishes novellas, and it's an exciting discovery in and of itself!) After a little bewilderment wading in, I was absolutely charmed by the story of Ah Lee and her crush on Ridzual, a boy in her class. Her feelings hit her suddenly, and she's overwhelmed by a shy kind of fascination. But she lives with her many aunts, who insist that she must concentrate on school, get a good education, and maybe someday later she can think about boys. The aunts' haranguing, the stories you learn of their lives, and Ah Lee's growing friendship with Ridzual are the three components that make up this mostly domestic, family/romance story.
Except the aunts are vampires, and so is Ah Lee. Nothing so melodramatic as your nocturnal bloodsuckers, they are both more prosaic and, we learn in hints, more frightening than that. They eat human entrails, though the aunts insist on cooking them, because we are not animals.
But mostly, the aunts pester Ah Lee about her education, and about not getting involved with a boy, and about not getting involved with this boy, and about anything they can pester her about. And Ah Lee gets to know Ridzual, becomes friends with him, and maintains her poise in spite of herself.
Finally, though, her feelings and her undead state get tangled together, confusing, and everything comes to a head, and I won't tell you how it turns out because spoilers! But it's good reading, I'll tell you that.
There were things about this novella that confused me; I think the main one was the dialogue. I'm pretty sure this takes place in Malaysia, but on and off, some of the characters would speak as though there was a language barrier. I finally realized this pretty much only happens at school and never at home, so it's either a slang thing, or else there is an actual language barrier, and the language Ah Lee speaks at school is different from the one she speaks at home. I found it quite distracting at first, though, because it reads like pidgin English, which distracts you from the fact that they're not actually speaking English at all.
Another thing that I wasn't sure of at first was the aunts. At the beginning, they are somewhat tedious--there are so many of them! And they nag so much! As you go further, though, and you begin to tell them apart, you see snippets of their previous lives; you begin to tell them apart and see their distinct personalities; you see Ah Lee's personal relationship with them as people, and their fierce love for each other. And you begin to realize that it's a fairly typical adolescent thing, isn't it? The adults are sometimes a faceless mass telling you what to do, and sometimes individual people who offer you amazing love and patience and whom you love fiercely.
It just came together, is how I would describe this. And the vampire part added a lot more personal drama than it did horror--though the glimpses of horror, seen kind of around the edges of the story, make me think there's another, much scarier tale you could tell. I'd be interested to read that, too--in addition to other stories by Zen Cho.