Cover Image: In the Watchful City

In the Watchful City

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Member Reviews

I have to admit, I had trouble focusing at first, because some of the pronouns used in this book were se/ser and ser in Polish is cheese, so I kept thinking about cheese and I love cheese. 

The beginning of the book is a bit confusing--with chases and characters talking about some issues with no exposition whatsoever and I started to worry that I won't like the book. But it turns out it's an embedded narrative and that was an intro to some short stories told by the characters. 

It's hard for me to explain the details of each story, because honestly, I didn't find this book very interesting, maybe because the author assumed the reader will understand the complex sci-fi world and loosely connected stories with ease, but honestly, I didn't. It just wasn't cohesive enough. Sci-fi is difficult enough to read, and I felt like the author was making it extra hard. I don't want to be rude about this, but I think this book would have been executed so much better if it'd had one, clear idea behind it.
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In the Watchful City is a novel in story form, a structure I’m usually a big fan of, but the stories rarely felt fully developed  and in the end they just didn’t coalesce for me into an entirely effective or cohesive whole, though there is a true originality in style and content here.

The setting is the city-state of Ora, which has managed to escape from under the dominating Skyland empire and, in an attempt to keep its residents free and happy, the city uses upgraded humans as “nodes” in an AI-like surveillance network (“the Gleaming”).  Some specialized nodes can leap into the bodies of living creatures (though not human ones) and control them in order to intervene when necessary.  Anima is one such node and she has been happily enacting her role for some time. Her regular, contented life though is disturbed by the appearance of a foreigner named Vessel who brings with them a sort of cabinet of curiosities, each of which has a tale behind it. Anima agrees to give something of her own to Vessel’s cabinet in return for hearing the stories behind several objects she selects.  The novel then alternates between the objects’ tales and the overarching arc of how the stories change Anima’s view of ær world (the novel uses non-binary pronouns throughout).

Dealing with the over-narrative first, I did like how S. Qiouyi Lu offered up some fresh takes, raising for instance intriguing questions regarding benevolent surveillance, as compared to most Western narratives that portray surveillance societies as exclusively dystopian.  As a more concrete example of this different slant, while Westerners again tend to think of surveillance societies as a removal of all freedom, the author shows us that Ora allows for (thoughtful) suicide/euthanasia, an individual liberty many bastions of “freedom” outlaw. Meanwhile, while not quite as unique, the vision of Ora as a center of biotech, employing the natural world more than is typical in tech solutions, along with the Asian-inspired setting/folktales, added to a sense of freshness. The same for the switch to verse in Anima’s voice. Unfortunately, the world felt a bit too sketchy and many of the themes not mined to their fullest potential. And while Anima is an engaging and affective character, her story felt a bit predicable, too overtly announced for my liking, and again, undeveloped or too quickly glossed over, as when, for example, she witnesses a traumatizing death; we do see the impact on aer, and the scene itself is quite powerful, but it did seem too fast.

The stories, while exploring similar themes (loss, sense of self, etc.) and having a similar fabulist feel to them, vary in tone and genre.  “A Death Made Manifold” is a sort of queer Weird Western version of “The Monkey’s Paw.” “This Form I hold Now” follows a trans character who opts to have their feet bound and who also competes in competitive “skycup”. “The Sky and Everything Under” is an epistolary story centered on an undying (perhaps death-transcendent) queer relationship set against the background of empire and revolution.  And lastly, “As Dark as Hunger” is another queer story, this set in a world of mermaids and focusing on a fisherwoman whose past and heritage collide in horrifying fashion. The first I’d say was the weakest while the second spent too much time on the competition; I can’t say I found either story or either of the main characters particularly compelling or memorable. I thought the epistolary form in the third story was effective and found this the most moving and effective story overall. The last story felt too on the nose and had I thought some points that didn’t add up, placing it closer to the first two than the third in terms of its impact. Overall, the stories, like the overarching narrative, felt under-developed (save for the third).

I quite appreciated the variety in In the Watchful City, the linked-story structure, the multiplicity of genres, the difference in tones, the verse format of Anima’s voice, and as noted also liked the background setting. But I would have liked to have seen the stories lengthened and more developed, with more stories added in; this felt almost like a chapbook or a cobbled together work than a unified created start-to-finish whole. That said, the author is certainly one I’ll watch going forward.
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3 stars 

<b> “Why prevent Orans from seeing Skylanders? History? Are politics worth separating families and lovers for?” </b> 

rep // nonbinary MC, neopronouns 

cw // suicide, murder, necromancy

In the Watchful City is an Asian-centric adult queer fantasy novella about living and all that comes with life and stories with an ending that is equal parts thrilling and scary. 

The main character Anima (æ/ær/ær) is part of the Ora’s surveillance system the Gleaming, one of the eight nodes in the inner sanctum. This gives Anima the ability to take the consciousness of animals (think like Animorphs!) When æ meets Vessel (se/ser/ser), who carries a qíjìtáng full of knickknacks and memories from different people, Anima is attracted to these stories and considers that there might be more to life than simply guarding the city. 

I don’t think I completely understood everything that had happened. And yet, I enjoyed the storytelling so much! Lu’s overall concept and execution of bringing mostly Asian history and culture into the story are so satisfying. There were maybe five non-English sentences, including Mandarin and Manchu (both languages were renamed in the story), and some of the terms are real things like Bǐyìniǎo (比翼鳥: birds that fly in twos; the word is used to describe soul mates). Also, I love the political animosity between countries and that a lot of the side characters’ names were of different romanizations and languages (Spanish, Mandarin Pinyin with tones, Mandarin Wade–Giles with tones, Cantonese, Hokkien, Japanese, Thai, etc.). Another thing I was happy to see was that for Mandarin names, family names come before given names!

In the Watchful City consists of fragmented stories.  Through Anima’s story, ær interactions with Enigma (e/em/eir) and Vessel, all the stories in the qíjìtáng, we get the themes of mental health and grief, assimilation, growth and living. Lu mentioned in ær acknowledgments that the narrative is focused on agency and it is also a decolonial story. I found the side stories to be incredibly beautiful and grief stricken, a topic that Anima also struggles with. If these are the best stories of people, why are they so full of grief? I can't promise that you'll like this book, but I can promise that you'll never stop thinking about it.  

Find me on: <a href="http://www.instagram.com/yourlocalbookreader">instagram</a>
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I was quite impressed with how much I walked away with from this novella. I found it creative, thought-provoking, and very explorative.

In the Watchful City captures a unique, non-traditional narrative style to help illustrate the themes and feelings of the characters and their journey. The stories within target ideas regarding identity, family, trauma, choice, and what it means to live. There's so much to unpack, and I found this incredibly full of heart for something of this length.

I love following the story of someone whose world view is suddenly challenged, and we get to experience their questions and exploration together with them. I also enjoyed the blend of mythology and futurism, combining the old and the new, and how queer this story was.

This was so unlike anything I've read, and at first it was daunting, but I truly enjoyed myself and I'm very intrigued with Lu's future work.

If you enjoy reading stories within stories, I especially recommend giving this a try!

Content Warnings: on-page suicide, mention of a suicide attempt, self-harm, body mutilation, blood, family abandonment
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Published by Tor.com on August 31, 2021

The Gleaming, like the Force from Star Wars, is a connective energy shared by all living beings, although only a few have the ability to access its power. Anima, a node in the city of Ora, has that ability. Ær job (æ being the pronoun that Anima uses to describe ærself) is to watch over Ora and protect its inhabitants, a job made possible by ær ability to (1) access the Gleaming, and (2) transfer her consciousness to animals and control their movements while æ inhabits their bodies.

Anima’s ability to body-hop might make her a valuable protector if she kept a gorilla handy, but she’s usually jumping into birds and lizards, critters that contribute little value to a rescue. Anima is frustrated when she tries to prevent a suicide by drowning and learns that it isn’t easy to herd a school of fish. A node named Enigma needs to remind her that she can’t protect everyone and that her real duty is to “create a society that provides for its citizens . . . where no one is invisible, where we can meet the needs of every one of our people” by “protecting our sovereignty.” Just how hopping into dogs and frogs might accomplish that lofty goal is unclear. It seems very much like an excuse to maintain a surveillance state, but the purpose of surveillance is equally obscure.

Anima is a node in Ora, a city on a world with squirrels and geckos that might be Earth but for its two suns and the Skylands. Nodes can “fold the Gleaming” and thus look through the eyes of anyone who is infused with the Gleaming, but only nodes in the inner sanctum can body jump. While Anima is jumping among animals, her body rests in an amniotic bath that apparently moisturizes her skin. Anima’s jurisdiction as a protector of Ora ends at the “aerospace border” that separates Ora from the Skylands above. Like much of the novel, the Skylands are too underdeveloped to add anything but question marks to the story.

A visitor named Vessel escapes Anima’s notice, a feat that should be impossible, when he enters Ora with a collection of mementos. Each memento comes with a story. Vessel relates some of those stories to Anima. A fish scale, for example, leads to a story about a woman’s moral dilemma as she decides whether her personal comfort should be derived from the exploitation of mermaids. A cup inspires that story of an athletic competition that sparks a riot. A marionette controller leads to the story of a man who tried to bring his dead brother back to life. The stories, each complete with a teaching moment, are more interesting than the novel that surrounds them.

Vessel wants a memento from Anima, but she attaches a condition to her willingness to part with it. Like so much else in the novel, Vessel’s reason for needing Anima’s memento to complete his collection is unexplained. Anima’s decision concerning her contribution of a memento is the story’s final dramatic moment, but it is underwhelming. What will Anima do? is a less important question than Do I care? S. Qiouyi Lu’s enviable prose stye fails to overcome the story’s failure to amount to much, but some of the internal stories are worth reading for their standalone value.

RECOMMENDED WITH RESERVATIONS
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What is the last book you read that uses neopronouns?

In the Watchful City is another among the strangest, but deeply enjoyable books I've been reading lately (thank you @tordotcompub for the e-arc!)

This is a definition defying book that blurs the line between genres in all the right ways. Anima is a node in Ora City's inner sanctum. Æ is responsible for overseeing the safety of the city and its citizens. But, æ can't protect everyone, and this knowledge comes with a price, and makes æ question ær purpose. And after Anima meets Vessel, who is collecting artifacts and stories, ær perspective continues to shift as æ learns more about the world outside Ora City.

In the Watchful City is a book that is rich in feeling, details, and neopronouns. There is a wide range of pronoun usage (she, he, they, æ, and se to name a few that appear on page) and it was really refreshing to see.

The story unfolds around Anima, but we also witness the memories Vessel has collected, stories that deal heavily in themes of grief and change the way that Anima understand ær world and ær experiences.

It was a really interesting book, and I loved how conceptual Ora City and Anima's role and experience as a node was. It was a really unique experience and the emotional through lines with the stories and Anima's life were on point. I don't know if it's a book I would recommend to everyone, but it is definitely one I can recommend.

In the Watchful City is out next week on August 31st!
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**I was provided with an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review**

Taking place in an Asian centric world, In the Watchful City follows an extrasensory human called Anima who through a network called the Gleaming monitors the city of Ora and it’s citizens. Along with the other Guardians of the city, the Gleaming allows ær to jump into the bodies of the different animals that live there. One day æ finds that the city’s borders have been breached by an unwarranted traveller carrying a suitcase full of peculiar items. Each item holds a link, a story to someone and somewhere out in the wider world which, upon hearing them, open Anima’s mind and curiosity to life beyond the walls æ has always known.

This is one captivating science fantasy novella (penned as biocyberpunk by the author), somewhat reminiscent of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities though it also has the feel of stumbling through one of the doors in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series.

Lu’s writing skilfully explores the themes of authority, identity and grief and their use of a non-traditional, mish-mash of narrative styles brilliantly captures the individual atmospheres and emotions of the recounted tales.

If you’re a fan of stories within stories definitely give this one a read. 
Final Rating – 3.75/5 Stars
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“Æ has simply spent so long as a node that æ has forgotten how it feels to live otherwise.”

S. Qiouyi Lu’s debut novella, In the Watchful City, focuses on the experiences of Anima (æ/ær/ær), one of eight supernatural humans connected to a living network known as the Gleaming and tasked with monitoring the great city of Ora. While Anima isn’t allowed to leave the node æ inhabits, æ can take possession of various animals in ær duties as node, which is ær primary—and limited—way of experiencing the world. One day, a stranger manages to breach the security and surveillance networks of Ora, and this stranger offers Anima a trade: stories for a story.

In the Watchful City makes another book I’ve read in the back half of this year that, while I can certainly see it not being to everyone’s taste, was pretty much tailor made to my brand. Story within a story structure, including different formats like official transcripts and poetry? Check. Asian-influenced setting with certain elements subverted in interesting, intriguing ways by the author? Check. Beautiful, flexible prose bent in lovely ways to fit the various showcased styles? That too. A gorgeously described aesthetic melding solar and cyber punk? Yup. Queer as all hell, with more characters that use neopronouns than not? Naturally.

The novella explores everything from attempts to raise the dead to epistolary political intrigue and betrayal to mermaids wearing other people’s faces, and I think every narrative lands quite well. Fans of short fiction will find a lot to delight in, though if you’re looking for one consistent narrative from beginning to end, this might not be the novella for you. The clever ways the stories relate to each other and to Anima’s world delighted me, and Anima’s own journey has a satisfactory resolution.

Though powerful and well-written, the subject matter within In the Watchful City can get quite heavy at times; the author provides content warnings for completed suicide and self-injury in the beginning of the novella.

I wasn’t expecting to add yet another novella to my growing collection of go-to recommendations, but In the Watchful City took me by complete surprise with how much it delighted me. For science fiction fans looking for a short but incredibly powerful read that will transport you not just to one new world, but several, all while examining immense overarching themes of power and identity and home, look no further than In the Watchful City.

Thank you to Tor.com and NetGalley for an advance reader copy. All opinions are my own.
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A really fascinating take on things like neo-pronouns and collective-consciousness. I sometimes struggle with non-human narrators/protagonists, so found that hard. But overall, a great premise and a really enjoyable read.
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This was an interesting book and the meaning it conveys its beautiful. I love how the story develops, but it's not so great, or appealing for that matter. It really pains me to give it 2 stars.
2 out of 5 stars.
Thank you publisher and NetGalley for a copy.
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In The Watchful City, by S. Qiouyi Lu, calls itself a ‘mosaic novella,’ which is a fitting description. The book is organized into two parts. One follows Anima, an augmented human – one of several who oversees the city of Ora. She acts like a foundation for the second part of the story; a series of vignettes and novellas that have interconnected themes and morals. The plot revolves around a mysterious storyteller with a box of wonders who comes to visit the city of Ora. The storyteller asks Anima to select objects from their collection, and they will tell the story of the object. In exchange, the storyteller extracts the promise that Anima tells their own story and provides an object to add to the collection.

What I liked about In The Watchful City:

The collection of stories span a nice range of genres and most accurately would fall into Science Fantasy, a combining of two of my favorite subjects
Anima’s story on the outside was sweet and touching and I enjoyed their ending
The prose of this novella is quite impressive and manages to be both flowery and poetic without being too overbearing
The storyteller added a very fun layer of mystery and intrigue into the story
The worldbuilding was very engaging
My positives for this impressive novella essentially revolve around the fact that the book crafts a beautiful and layered world that begs to be explored on every page. I like stories that elevate and celebrate the art of storytelling, it creates a clever meta-conversation that can be very enjoyable. The melding of all different genres and stories shows that Qiouyi Lu is a very creative and talented writer. However, there were some areas that I struggled with as well.

What I didn’t like about In The Watchful City:

Although the prose was enchanting, I didn’t emotionally connect with almost any of the short stories. I had a hard time getting pulled into them. 
Although I enjoyed the ending of Anima’s story, the short page length of this novella –combined with the fact that it shares the space with a number of sub-novellas within the novella — meant that I struggled to connect with Anima as a character
The book feels too quickly paced, jumping from story to story when I often wasn’t done with the previous one
I struggled to connect with a lot of this story. Despite its beautiful writing, the characters came off as shallow and listless. I often felt like I was reading a lot of gorgeous window dressing. Most of the characters felt like they were faceless characters in a fable, there to teach the reader a lesson. I think a lot of my struggle stemmed from the book’s short length. There is so much crammed into this novella that it feels like it would have benefited from a larger size to luxuriate in the good more.

In The Watchful City is different and it is beautiful. It’s a creative ode to storytelling that defies genre and expectation. It’s crammed full of colorful ideas and interesting worlds. Although I struggled to connect with many of the characters, it’s likely it was a personal issue and you may feel right at home with them. As one of the more original pieces I have read in 2021, I definitely recommend you check it out.

Rating: In The Watchful City – 7.0/10
-Andrew
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Took a while for me to get into it. In the end, it reminded me a lot of Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro, which is my favourite book, but this is just slightly less impactful.
I wish the background of Ora was given earlier in the story instead of around the 60-70% mark.
I listened to the audiobook as well (it's on Scribd even though the book isn't supposed to have been published yet). Normally when the author reads the book themselves it's great, but in this case, ær reads it so blandly with no emotion at all it sounds more like ær reading a textbook
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In The Watchful City is a gorgeous, lush read that weaves stories inside stories to build a vivid, Asian-centric world. I loved how it disrupted expected western narrative structures to deliver something that feels transcendent. As the main character finds aer horizon expand through folkloric tales, the reader is drawn into the complex themes and worldbuilding. If you love the idea of beautiful prose and a futuristic, biocyberpunk world - this is the book for you.

Anima is an extrasensory human who uses a network known as the Gleaming to take control of various animals and watch over the city of Ora's citizens. Anima is content with the life ae have, taking great pride in aer role in keeping Ora safe. When a mysterious visitor arrives carrying a cabinet of objects from around the world, Anima finds aerself learning about the world beyond aer city's borders. This knowledge leads to aer questioning about aer purpose.

What stood out to me about this book was how gorgeously it was written. If you enjoyed reads such as How You Lose The Time War, I think you'd find a similar joy in the mesmerising prose of In The Watchful City. This book has a very experimental, fragmented structure to it that won't be for everyone. There's a strong focus on stories within stories, weaving a folkloric feel through the book. Readers find their horizons expanding alongside Animas, and the joy of knowledge and history that ae feel parallels your own. Some tales are told in epistolary form, some in verse, all are mesmerising and poignant.

There are four short stories woven into In The Watchful City. All of these are Asian-centric but vary massively in content and tone. My two favourites were This Form I Hold Now, which features a fantasy sport and a trans girl character who binds her feet. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of foot binding being a gender euphoric process for this character. Foot binding is so often viewed through a very negative lens, so this was a piercing subversion of that trope. The other story I loved was As Dark As Hunger which features a fisher who finds a mermaid that looks exactly like her and is strongly linked to her past. The stories in In The Watchful City are both dark and hopeful - tackling themes of grief, joy, freedom, responsibility, gender, agency, and love. There is a fantastic amount of depth to this book; you could spend hours dissecting it and still stumble across more brilliant realisations. I am astounded by how much is packed into the pages. 

In The Watchful City has fantastic, intricate worldbuilding borne from the use of these short stories. For a novella, the world feels so vibrant, rich, and full of life and history. You get impressions of fraught city relations, lush settings, intricate cultural traditions and differences. It's a sparkling marvel of writing. 

I would highly recommend this book - with its thoughtful, poignant tackling of difficult topics and the undercurrent of self-acceptance and joy - it touched my heart in ways I could never have expected.
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I would like to thank Tordotcom and Netgalley for the review copy. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

A queer Asian-centric adult sci-fi/fantasy novella, In The Watchful City is immensely original and thought-provoking. It was such a breathtaking reading experience as it explored grief, identity, and possibilities.

The story followed Anima (æ/ær/ær), a non-binary human who was tasked to watch over Ora’s citizen through the Gleaming. Change happened when a mysterious visitor carrying a cabinet filled with objects from different people around the world entered the city. Anima began to wonder and ask questions to herself as æ listened to the stories behind the each memento.

Plotwise, I liked how layered and somewhat eccentric the story was. It had stories within stories which were heavily blended with culture, history, heritage, and norms. I liked how the stories were anchored by an object as it gave the feel of a folklore way of storytelling. Moreover, the mix the past and the futuristic elements enthralled me more. These bits of stories were like puzzle pieces, as they had their own shapes and colors. They took readers to different lives, experiences, and time. It was only at the end when everything clicked into place that readers would understand them fully.

The characters were very interesting and I loved the use of the neopronouns. I found the character interactions compelling and I felt connected to them even for such a short time. On the other hand, S. Qiouyi Lu definitely had a knack for creating such beautiful, poetic narrative. The words flowed smoothly and could be easily devoured.

Overall, if you’re looking for a unique read, you should pick this novella. In The Watchful City is the kind of story which one can only truly grasp its beauty by experiencing it themselves.

4/5 stars!

CW: suicide, self-harm, family abandonment, and feet binding
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Anima is a node connected to The Gleaming--an interconnected network that allows ær to protect the city of Ora, a city-state in exile from Skyland, a floating city above. Æ soon meets Vessel, who carries a box called a qíjìtáng that holds simple objects that hold memories. Vessel is collecting these memories until ser box is full in order to get a new chance at life. Through these simple objects, we follow Anima through a series of stories from other people's lives.

Do you ever read a story that is perfectly fit for the mood you're in? Do you ever read a story that feels like it's for you, and you alone? That's how I felt reading In the Watchful City. I feel like Anima--in stasis, waiting for something to happen, instead of working on myself. Waiting for someone to help instead of helping myself.

This book won't be for everyone, and that's okay. It will hit its intended target.

Thank you to Net Galley, Tordotcom, and S. Qiouyi Lu for the chance to read this advanced review copy. In the Watchful City releases on August 31st.

CW: murder, graphic suicide, grief, self-mutilation
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This book is intense and it's beautiful. It's a story about so many things, metaphorical and real. It's about the space between death and life and birth and life, it's a story about the body and soul (vessel and anima) coming together to become alive, and it's a story about the restrictions governments put on the people for freedom, for safety, for their own purposes, nefarious and altruistic both in the bureaucratic way of it.

It's a story about someone whose purpose is to watch the city and help out its citizens being visited by a psychopomp to force aer to witness other people's stories until ae has to switch from observing to participating. It's a story about stories and how witnessing other people's grief, pain, loss, hope gives us more personhood than keeping ourselves separated from it.

It took me nearly a month to get through this novella because it's full of so many intense and painful stories inside the frame narrative that I needed to take a break after each one to process it. It's not an easy read, but it's a great one. Fantastic sci-fi, very queer, relentlessly hopeful in the midst of pervasive pain. Life will hurt, but you must actually *live* it. Really good stuff.
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I don't generally like to compare books, but In the Watchful City's setup reminded me a bit of  The Singing Hills Cycle  by Nghi Vo. Mostly, in the way that several stories were told within the main story, which I found wonderful. And I adored the concept behind the stories, which was that each object that the visitor possessed contained a story from its former owner.

The city itself is pretty interesting, though I won't pretend to have been completely able to wrap my head around its concept- that, however, could certainly be on me. Anima works as a guard of sorts, ensuring the safety for all citizens within. So when the visitor enters, it's ær job to vet them, basically. I loved the way each story was told, and how much of an impact they clearly had on Anima. Basically, we get to read several stories about life, while watching Anima apply these stories to ær life. It's pretty great, really, to not only experience the stories as a reader, but through the eyes of someone else, too.

Bottom Line: The novella (both the main story of Anima, and the stories the visitor tells) is rich in both diversity and heart, and this is certainly one not to miss.
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In the Watchful City is unlike anything I've ever read. Taking this idea of objects which tell stories and running with it, Qiouyi Lu delivers a thoughtful story about purpose.  Pushing boundaries of what you might expect, In The Watchful City is like a kalediscope of stories within stories. Lives lived outside the fringes of what we know and holding secrets. It's a testament for stories to reveal truths about ourselves. Even those that seem so far removed from our own, that end up whispering to the voices within us.
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As soon as I read the description for this book I just knew I had to request it, though I had very little idea what to expect going in I was quickly swept away into a story within a story. In the Watchful City is a genre bending novel about life, grief and what it means to live, and for a Novella it sure packs on hell of a punch.

This is a really hard book to give a synopsis for, not just because of spoilers, but more because nothing I say will ever really live up to the actual story. Anima chose to become node, an extrasensory human hidden away in the inner sanctum and tasked with keeping the peace of Ora. But when a stranger appears with a chest full of mysterious objects, all with a story attached, Anima starts to question ærself and this city that she works for, and before long æ realises æ haven't really been living at all. 

Anima was just the perfect POV to read this story from. After an event in ær life æ  gave themselves to become a node, a person who cannot leave the inner sanctum except through the gleaming, a process that allows ær to inhabit the bodies of animals to carry out tasks for the city of Ora. æ have lived a relatively sheltered life, until the moment a stranger arrives, and then æ realises that there is more out there. Though ær character the author explores grief, power and oppression in a way I have never seen done before. 

Though the main story does follow Anima and ær story, some of my favourite parts were the disjointed and fractured story's told to ær by the stranger. The author uses these to skilfully build their world without us ever leaving the city of Ora. They give us not only an insight into the current political climate, but also historical context as well as awareness of other cultures magic system and include Asian mythology and folklore to create a sweeping tale about what it actually means to live. 

If there was one word I could use to describe this book it would be unique, everything from the world, the magic system and the inclusion of non-binary characters were just so far from books I have read before that I found myself wanting to devour every piece of information. It's not a light and easy read by any means, the story deals with multiple dark themes such as suicide and grief, but told through Amina's lens means we get to see them from a previously unseen viewpoint. 

This review might seem a little disjointed, and for that I apologise, but this is just a book that I struggle to explain. It wont be for everyone, the use of stories within stories and the disjointed nature of them might put some people off, but I can safely say that it will make my favourite reads of the year and I will be eagerly anticipating the authors next works.
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Where to begin…. 

I felt stupid after reading this book. To be frank, I have no idea what this story was about. Did I enjoy the read WHILE I was reading it? Weirdly, yes. Could I tell you anything about the plot? Nope 🤷🏽‍♀️ 

I don’t even know WHO to recommend this book to. I literally have nothing… 2.5 rounded up to 3 stars.
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