Snake Agent by Liz Williams. ★★★
For whatever reason, I never connected to Snake Agent. Even when there was something about it that I normally would have found interesting, it just never drew me in.
Snake Agent is an urban fantasy, science fiction, mystery mash up set in an alternate universe where Singapore’s started franchising. Detective Inspector Chen handles supernatural cases for the Singapore Three police. He regularly deals with Heaven, Hell, and the spirits of the deceased. He soon becomes unwittingly embroiled in an investigation involving the trafficked souls of young girls and a conspiracy within Hell’s Ministry of Epidemics.
The part that I would normally find interesting was the world building. Even from the brief description I gave above, it’s clear that there’s a lot going on within the world of Snake Agent. Probably my favorite detail was that modern technology has speed up the bureaucratic processes within Heaven and Hell. I could imagine the settings clearly, and Hell was inventively disgusting. However, none of this really got me engaged with the book. And unfortunately, I never connected well enough to the characters or cared enough about the plot for those aspects to make the book worthwhile for me.
Chen was the normally by the books detective who was becoming conflicted due to associations with those who would normally be his opponents. In this case, it was primarily Seneschal Zhu Irzh, his counter part in Hell who he winds up working with as a partner, and his demonic wife Inari. Zhu and Inari both had POV sections in addition to Chen, as well as even some more minor characters like Sergeant Ma. I don’t think all of these POV characters were necessary to the book. In particular, I don’t know what Inari’s POV sections added as they didn’t tie strongly to the plot and Inari herself was not a very active character. In the end, I’m not sure what Inari contributed, besides having her existence be a conflict for Chen.
The plot has many different threads to it, and it did end up coming together as I predicted. However, I was hoping that the book would become more exciting or that I would care more once it drew closer to the climax. Neither occurred. I also wasn’t fond of the device where the author shows a snippet of the climax right at the beginning to try and get the reader immediately involved. It feels like clumsy manipulation. Obviously, a book should be manipulating a reader’s emotions (or else what is the point?), but in this case I found it blatant and ineffective.
I don’t think Snake Agent was bad exactly; I just didn’t find it very interesting. It’s unlikely to be a book I recommend in the future, and I’m not planning on continuing with the series.