My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Cassandra Khaw takes us into the magical underbelly of Kuala Lumpur in Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef as part of Abaddon Books Gods and Monsters series. Picture Jet Tila (a Thai chef Food Network fans should recognize) with magical know-how, acting as ambassador for the Ten Chinese Hells in between his culinary duties for a family of mobster ghouls.
Our introduction to Wong finds him tasked with locating the murderer of the Dragon King's daughter. Heady stuff, to be sure, and one that finds Wong calling upon various Chinese deities as he unravels the mystery. As is tradition with the noir tropes that have inspired, and been somewhat upended by Khaw, it doesn't take long for Wong to find himself in way over his head and under assault by various forces, living, dead, and otherwise. And holy crap, does Wong ever get assaulted... [insert maniacal laugh]
Wong is a fun character to spend a few hours with, and this novella is the perfect bite-sized serving of urban fantasy horror mayhem. Khaw does a terrific job creating some uncomfortable scenes, but is even better at bringing to life the mythological denizens inhabiting Kuala Lumpur (the God of Missing People in particular is very neatly crafted). It's this mythology that makes Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef completely aces in my eyes. The cultural and religious practices in which the Chinese honor their dead are vividly realized here, and lay a solid foundation on which to build a superb urban fantasy. I also felt that I got to know a little bit about Kuala Lumpur as a setting, and I could easily picture myself wandering the alleys and Chinatown alongside Wong and some unwelcome companions. All in all, this was a terrifically immersive read!
My only complaint is a slight one, involving my own misreading of the title. I had thought going in that Wong was a cannibal andchef, rather than a chef for cannibals. That said, I still got to read a little bit about the preparation of fat, white tourists for some ghoulish company, even if I had expected way more dishes with long pig as the central ingredient.
... It's also entirely possible I'm just a weird-o.
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