The Witch Stone by Jasmine Hong
Publisher: NineStar Press (March 12th 2018)
Length: 103 pages
Genre: new adult; urban-fantasy
Rep: gay Chinese mc, Malay gay character, Filipino characters, Mexican character
Rating: 1.5/5 🍑
ARC provided by the publisher.
Okay, let’s talk about the good stuff first & then really get into it. So. Calvin, the main character & the narrator, explicitly states that he’s gay. Which is great seeing as it doesn’t always happen! Another big plus is that I’m pretty sure there’s like maybe one white character in the whole story? Calvin is Chinese, his ex-boyfriend is Malay, and there are Filipino and Mexican side characters. It’s definitely refreshing to read something diverse like that.
But, sadly, those are all the parts of this very short novella that I enjoyed.
This is an urban fantasy novella about the city of Longshore which is protected by the Court made up of the most powerful magicians from the magic families. I assume. I don’t know for sure because it was never properly explained. Just like nothing else, really. The whole story seems to be about how Bad things are since the Court got murdered but it’s never said what the Court actually does – apart from “holds things together” and “protects the city”. Please try to be more vague…
Another part of the problem™ is that the magic stone – the one from the title – got attached to Calvin? I think? Again, I’m not sure. I mean, they talk about this stone all the time and how it will show (?) new members of the Court (how are they chosen?) & how it has the power to stabilize the city for now (but still, they had to fetch some magic seals to help the city?) yet the stone itself doesn’t actually do anything but clings to Calvin and occasionally to his ex-boyfriend. They used it once in the beginning to fight a demon but never again (though, to be fair, demons didn’t show much later and, again, why?).
For every thing that gets explained, three more questions immediately spring into life that get totally ignored.
Like I said, this is an urban fantasy story & we have magical families but suddenly it turns out there’s a whole other magic dimension and there are gods there. We’re introduced to two gods (God of Mischief and Cat God, which only makes it more confusing because what are there & aren’t gods of?) but then at the very end of the story there’s a line saying there’s also a Fae Queen? Which may be the God of Mischief but frankly…. I’m not sure! But okay, you introduce new gods, cool. Tell us how are we supposed to react to them, though. Because they are described as scary before/when they first show up & then they just do random, sometimes downright silly things. So what’s the deal? Do I fear them or do I drink coffee with them?
When I say things aren’t explained properly… There’s a scene where they gather the magic seals I mentioned before (of course we have no idea what they are & no one bothers to tell us) and they have to place them in specific locations but that’s as far as the description goes. The scene literally cuts off there! We don’t even get some vague line about a magic ritual, nothing. There’s a build-up, there’s all this anticipation of “will they save the city or won’t they” and then it all dies a natural death. Nothing happens for us to see but we are told later on that the city is safer. (But then we weren’t even told why exactly & from what the city is in danger… Like, yes, the Court is dead but what does that actually mean!!)
This isn’t even the only time where we get all this escalation only to be left with absolutely nothing in the end. Another example would be the constant mentions of how bad Salim looks – and it’s made clear that he started looking worse at some point during this unfortunate adventure. Calvin comments and comments on it & we’re waiting to see what’s behind this, is Salim okay, is it a symptom of what’s happening in the city, will something even worse happen to him? And all that only for Calvin to never mention it again. He really goes from detailed descriptions of how thin & exhausted Salim looks to nothing at all for the rest of the story! What’s the point! Why did you waste your time and my time!
We know the worldbuilding basically failed but what about the characters, you ask? Well, like I said, Calvin is gay & ten years ago he dated Salim. That’s uhh… that’s as far as his characterization went. I suppose he’s a good person who helps people, since that’s the premise of the story. He was flirted with by two different men (I know we gays flock together but how are all four characters who got the most screentime gay & how are three of them apparently into Calvin to some degree or making it look as if they were?) and literally every time had a different reaction. It went from rumbling nonsense to just blushing to stammering to god knows what else. And those weren’t the only kinds of situations where this happened. I understand he could have been in a different mood at all those times but is that really an explanation? How does one gets flattered that someone flirts with them & then gets angry about the same thing just a few hours later? Basically what this feels like is as if the author made a list of ways people can react to stuff (more specifically: ways people react in books) and just tried to fit as many as possible into this novella. The question is, why was Calvin the one going through the personality changes every three pages? I mean, you have more than one character, you can take all those incredibly original actions and distribute them between all of said characters.
It’s just so fake! Come on! Arching eyebrows and blushing isn’t actually a characterization! Especially when it’s not even consistent.
A quote from Calvin, because it’s not enough he doesn’t really have a personality, he also can’t talk like a regular human being: “Don’t talk to me like that. I won’t tolerate any disrespect from you. I’ve done nothing but help you. I don’t deserve your derision”. Now, it would be cool if he talked like this all the time, I mean we all have our quirks, right? But this is the only moment he did it! You can’t just randomly make your characters use difficult words for no reason at all & with no explanation! Who does that!
This was a reply to Salim & Calvin talks a lot about how Salim treated him badly when they were still dating & how he’s generally a shitty person. I’m pretty sure like 10% of the novella is just him complaining about it but at the same time we get Salim making sure at every turn that Calvin is okay and not hurt. To be fair we also see him jealous of Calvin (ten years later!), sulking for no reason at all (that doesn’t get explained at any point), trying to save the city despite being the one to witness the massacre of the Court, ready to fight every person who speaks to him… Is too much characterisation a thing or is it just another facet of the lack of it?
Anyway, thanks a lot for this portrayal of gay man as toxic! Especially when there is not a single one healthy gay relationship (or at least, a promise of one) here. Like, nothing major happened, I don’t need to tw this for some gross stuff but at the same time? Nothing good happens either? You call this a good gay rep? There’s even talk of cheating on someone you were in a long term relationship with & painting it as okay because “you knew we were already in a bad place!”. I mean, sure, gay people can also be shitty, we are just people after all, but trying so hard to fit that into such a short story? Like it was really just a single line that didn’t change anything since we were already told that Salim was a bad boyfriend. So why bother at all?
And yes, I bolded “told” in that sentence because that’s exactly how this novella works. We are never showed anything, only ever told things. And the worst part? The author tells us one thing about the characters & then they go and do something that’s the polar opposite of that. You could argue that this is all because the story is told from Calvin’s perspective & he’s just a bad judge of character but no, this applies to him as well. It’s simply that the author doesn’t have a clear idea of the characters so they are really all over the place & just do random stuff to move the plot forward. Without us knowing what’s actually happening and why is it happening…
The writing itself isn’t that great either so I can’t even use that as an excuse. Frankly it’s hard to say the author has a style, it’s more like just a word after a word after a word… And every third is actually a repetition! I realise this is an ARC but has no one really edit this at all? The one line I still remember is: “given all the givens”. I mean! Why are you making me read this if it’s so clearly not finished! Because the whole thing really feels like the very first draft. A clumsy one at that. I could forgive the single word repetitions (though I’ve been taught all my life by every teacher I had to avoid them but okay) but they weren’t the only kind! A lot of the time there would be a line about something and then a paragraph or two later – a line describing the same exact thing only in different words. Sometimes you get authors who very much want their readers to understand everything so they would do this – that’s not the case here. In every instance of this kind of Repetition™ it was clear that the author simply doesn’t remember the explanation is already here. It was like Jasmine Hong was writing parts of it on different days, with no memory of the lines already written. Which, obviously, no one expects an author to write a book in one day but maybe read over at least the last page of your manuscript before you add to it? Or edit the thing at the end.
God, this really needs to be rewritten from the ground up and maybe even more than once. So many mistakes could have been dealt with thanks to a proper revision, the biggest of them being the plot. As it is written now, it makes no sense at all; it’s just a few events connected by the characters and some things Calvin tells us about. And all of it is just plain boring.
One of the unfortunate truths in life is that if someone dumps a war on your doorstep in the small hours of the morning, well, you’re kind of stuck with it. Especially if that war comes in the form of a mostly naked man and he just happens to be one of the most powerful beings in the city.
And your ex.
Another unfortunate truth: No matter how poorly things ended, you’re going to wind up scraping him up off the cement and dragging him in off your doorstep. And, of course, that’s when the real trouble begins.
I don’t want to be this person but: if you’ve read all of this…
Yeah please rec me some good short stories. :<<<