The Dragons of Heaven is a somewhat older release from Angry Robot Books that already has a sequel (which is also in my review queue). I got into the title expecting a straight up superhero adventure given how Angry Robot supports a number of authors who enjoy the genre. But instead it was more a fantasy piece tied to Chinese lore and quite a fun adventure at that.
I rather appreciated this spin on the super hero genre, which for the most part I think people are still trying to figure out how to tackle as novels. We're all used to superheroes as comics and that inevitably ties the concept to the visual experience in a way. But then to cover that sort of a story in a book is something else entirely.
Synopsis: The Dragons of Heaven is a superhero novel written by Alyc Helms for Angry Robot Books. Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion of the work.
Our central hero is one Missy Masters, who assumes the superhero identity of her grandfather Mister Mystic to fight crime. She had inherited his ability to manipulate shadows and enter the Shadow Realm from him and now continues to use these abilities to fight crime. But she's a hero working on her on and avoiding the big corporate hero groups out there so she still has a lot of learning to do.
But when domed barriers appear over China and almost every single Chinatown enclave around the world, it's going to take more than a conventional hero to deal with all things. And given how both Mister Mystic and Missy Masters have strong ties to China through Lung Huang the ancient master who helped both generations of Mister Mystic, it becomes up to Missy to find a way to bring the barriers down and restores China to the world.
What I Liked: The book makes early references to Big Trouble in Little China as the book does start out in San Francisco Chinatown where Missy is based as a hero. True to form, the book has a lot in common with a more complex plot tied to ancient guardians of China and magical forces that are a little beyond typical human understanding.
And yes, given the title there are in fact actual dragons involved in this story. But we're talking about the sort of dragons that litter Chinese mythology. It does make for quite the interesting story that is both a superhero adventure and also something like a big Chinese epic but in modern times. And that's a lot of tackle in a single book.
What Could Have Been Better: That said, the book almost feels like two books mashed into one as there's Missy's past and how she became the hero she is today and the crisis with China that she's facing in the present. The book alternates chapters between the Then and the Now but you almost wish that things had been developed into two separate books instead of being juxtaposed together.
This is not to say the stories aren't good on their own or that they don't work well in parallel. But maybe it's more that there's so much meat to those stories involving Chinese spirits, ancient dragons and all that fun stuff and you kind of wish that both stories and been a chance to shine on their own as full novels. Plus the early modern adventures seem to be of a very different tone as the rest of the book once the crisis with China begins and things elevate from street level crime very, very quickly.
TL;DR: The Dragons of Heaven is a nice spin on the superhero novel genre and a rather delightful reading experience as well. It's a lot to take in so pace yourself but both past and present adventures are quite worth it in the end. Thus the book gets a hearty 4 dragons of heaven out of a possible 5.