The Dragons of Heaven by Alyc Helms

dragons-of-heaven“It’s all over for you, Mr Mystic.”

The boy leveled his gun sideways at me in a fair imitation of the hip-hop videos he’d been raised on. His hoodie gleamed with the polished-cotton newness of recent purchase. His lip curled like that of a thousand cinematic thugs before him. Suburban white boys should stick to watching films about ganstas, not try to emulate them.

“We cahsed off them Asians, and now we’re gonna ice you, old man. Once you’re out of the picture, the Dogpatch’ll belong to my crew. Ain’t no one gonna get in our way.”

He paused. The five yes-boys surrounding him crossed their arms and directed chin-nods at me. I scanned the catwalk above us for movement. Nothing. I sighed and resigned myself to playing for more time.

With a stylish fedora and face swathed in shadows, superhero Mr Mystic cuts a recognisable figure wherever he goes. He’s also — these days — a woman.

Missy Masters is the granddaughter of the original Mr Mystic, and has adopted his identity along with his hat. Oh, and she’s also inherited his superpower, which allows her to manipulate the shadow world. She’s determined to do his memory proud, although she won’t work with the commercial superhero guilds.

This book ticks off a lot of my favourite things. There’s a grounding in Chinese philosophy; a heroine who is by turns determined and flawed and frustrated; a dose of realism added to the superhero concept; a charming romance that crosses boundaries of (im)mortality. And dragons: mythical beings who span the void between being and not-being, keeping the world safe by their unending efforts. For all these reasons I wanted to love this book more than I did — which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it. I enjoyed it a lot. But I enjoyed it as a fast-paced and fun, lightweight read, with a Bond-style villain and an idealistic heroine. I couldn’t shake the feeling that all these ingredients could have come together to make something much more satisfying.

The plot weaves between two timelines (“then” and “now”) in a way that was sometimes confusing; it took me a few chapters to get into the swing of it. The two plots had a number of things in common — not least, the same antagonist for Missy to face down — which certainly didn’t help me to keep them separate in my mind. But at the same time, I suspect these echoes and connections are kind of the point: if Missy learns one thing, it’s that winning once doesn’t mean you’ve won. Nothing is static — not victory, not love, not even identity.

The Dragons of Heaven is available on Amazon.

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