San Francisco has a Monkey King — and she's freaking out.
Barista, activist, and were-monkey Maya McQueen was well on her way to figuring herself out. Well, part of the way. 25% of the way. If you squint.
But now the Bay Area is being shaken up. Occupy Wall Street has come home to roost; and on the supernatural side there’s disappearances, shapeshifter murders, and the city’s spirit trying to find its guardian.
Maya doesn’t have a lot of time before chaos turns up at her door, and she needs to solve all of her problems. Well, most of them. The urgent ones, anyhow.
But who says the solutions have to be neat? Because Monkey is always out for mischief.
“A glittering shapeshifter of a novel that takes you where the modern city and post-modern magic meet.“ -- Terry Bisson
"I can't help being obsessed with the beautifully complex world of shapeshifters and magic that Jadie Jang has created. Monkey Around thrilled me and kept me turning pages, but also left me convinced that if I just looked carefully enough, I would see ancient secrets lurking around every corner in the city. Most books are lucky to have either a fascinating world or unforgettable characters, but Monkey Around has both, in spades.” -- Charlie Jane Anders
"Action-packed and inventive, Monkey Around is the magical realist detective story we've all been waiting for. Jadie Jang tells a powerful story of immigrant communities living in the space between supernatural and political worlds--and it's a hell of a lot of fun, too.” -- Annalee Newitz
"Maya McQueen—activist, sleuth, shape-shifter—investigates a spate of murders and disappearances in a San Francisco lushly populated by supernatural creatures. Jadie Jang delivers a spellbinding and action-packed thriller in this brilliant twist on the legend of the Monkey King." -- Lauren McLaughlin
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 33 members
Jadie Jang writes with the kind of energy and wit that tells me I will want to visit this author’s imagination again soon. Monkey Around is braving, humorous, and inventive — an enjoyable science fiction mingling with reality. Highly recommended for fans of the sci-fi/fantasy genres!
What a delightful book! I’m always attracted to bright colours, so the cover caught my eye immediately, and when I read the description of Monkey Around I knew I had to read it. And oh, it did not disappoint! Okay, there are times when the plotting is a tad wobbly and the writing is occasionally clunky, but the main point of reading a book is to enjoy it, and I enjoyed every word of this one. If I were only allowed to use one word to describe it, I’d say “fun”. I just found it impossible not to enjoy the energy and humour and fast paced action that doesn’t let up through the entire book. A book written in the first person really needs a strong, engaging main character to carry it, and I fell in love with Maya almost immediately. Opening with a fight is a bold move and, since I’m not particularly interested in reading fights and battles, could easily have lost me. But Jadie Jang did so much great character building through the fight that I read every word and loved it, and Maya. She’s so passionate, so active and cares about everything so deeply. And I’m always going to love a protagonist who’s an activist and is always organising and supporting activism. Maya’s doing great work and I love her. I also really enjoyed the magic in the book, and although shapeshifting is a common thing in fiction, I thought Jadie Jang did something different with it, and wrote it very thoughtfully and interestingly. I loved the way that each shapeshifter’s shifting was tied to their culture and their stories. And I loved the way that Monkey Around has a sort of background anchor in the idea that stories are real, that they contain truths and knowledge, and that they have power. I adore stories about stories so this was a lovely thread in the book for me. I don’t read a huge amount of urban fantasy, for some reason, but Monkey Around has made me want to read more. It’s a fun romp with delightful characters, super awesome magic, and fast paced, exciting storytelling. I will say that I don’t know enough about any of the cultures represented to say if it’s done in a respectful way (the author is Asian American, as is the main character, so obviously I don’t have any qualms about that part!), but it definitely feels like the author has done a lot of research, which can only be a good thing. I had so much fun reading this book and I really hope it’s going to become a series, because I want more Maya. She’s just such a delight in every way! I’d recommend Monkey Around to anyone who wants a fun, rompy, fast-paced, funny, magical San Francisco adventure. With thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
A truly unexpected tale of culture, discovery, fantasy and a bit of romance for good measure. Maya is an instantly likeable character, and her path to discovering who (or what she is) is so interesting. The people around her aren't just "supporting" characters, they all come with backstories and intentions of their own which makes the central story so fascinating. I really enjoyed the mythology and different types of mystical creatures featured too, as they were all so unusual and a far cry from your standard vampire/werewolf tropes. There is a lot of storytelling through action, without it needing too much exposition. A really fun, intriguing, funny book overall.
This is a ridiculously fun urban fantasy that feels light and fresh and not quite like anything else I've seen before. Maya is impulsive and cannot resist causing mischief, but that makes her a really interesting character - especially because her impulsiveness isn't driven by temper, so much as it is the compulsion to cause a little chaos. It makes her stand out from the angsty, broody heroes I've seen yawningly often in UF, to the point where I didn't mind at all the 'I don't know what I am' trope - that usually makes me roll my eyes, but here I was super invested in finding out the mystery behind Maya's origins. I wanted everything to work out great for her! I run into cool characters all the time; I do not often meet characters I would actually love to be friends with in real life. Maya is definitely both. I also really appreciated the wide variety of shapeshifters and other supernaturals that Jang included - not only drawing from the mythology of different cultures, but also tying each shapeshifter's animal form to their region of origin - no tiger shapeshifters in Hawaii, for example (unless one decides to move there). Typically in UF the characters we're supposed to root for turn into big, beautiful predators, and where those animals exist in the wild has nothing to do with the character's ethnicity. Sometimes that's done well, sometimes less well, but I loved how all the different shapeshifters have their own cultures and how their animal forms reflect their ethnicities. On that note, I also adored the many different ways Maya found to utilise her powers. Jang spent a lot of time thinking outside the box in terms of coming up with ways for Maya to use her abilities, and it works so well - I'm particularly fond of Maya's trick of turning into putty or smoke when someone tries to hit her! The pacing was excellent; MONKEY AROUND was a book that never slowed down, which meshed really well with Maya's omg-bored-let's-poke-something personality and narration. Yes, it's a little bit of a detective story, which I don't usually care for, but here the cast and worldbuilding and prose were all so great I didn't mind. And even when parts of the story get quite serious, there's always this tongue-in-cheek vibe that has you grinning anyway and keeps it from getting too dark. Overall, I LOVED this, and am crossing my fingers that we'll see more of Jang and Maya in the future!
I really enjoyed this quick, emotional and uplifting read that I was gripped by and just could not put down. The book was well written with a good narrative and for the most part a good pace, although it slowed down slightly towards the end of the novel – although this didn’t take away from the quality of the story. The characters are well developed and relatable and I found myself really liking Elena – she frustrated me at times but on the whole was loveable. The ending was amazing. Highly recommended.
I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. Picture The Monkey King by way of Jim Butcher but lighter. The book opens with a well written fight scene that quickly set the tone for what's about to come. There's action, shapeshifters, murder and a few twists I didn't see coming. My only complaint is that some of the side characters didn't seem as fleshed out as they' could have been. But that's a small price to pay for an excellent story. 5 out of 5!
Maya McQueen doesn't know her origins only that she is not your run of the mill shifter. Living and working in the supernatural community of San Franciscos' Bay area Maya becomes involved in murders of shape shifters with the added twist of a soul sucking entity. Maya is a barasita and activist by day and investigator by night. Trying to solve the murders in her community may bring her closer to the search for others of her kind and define who she is.. In addition to the murders there is a magical walking stick which is causing wierd affects to those who posses it and the Bay area seems to have a spirit which is looking for a guardian. A great debut which have you rooting for Maya but also wincing at her mistakes. An unique urban fantasy novel based on the Monkey King (you remember the TV series right?) with a strong yet flawed MC - will be looking out for the next installment! My thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for access to this ARC.
Monkey Around is an upcoming novel from author Jadie Jang (a pen name of author Claire Light), and the first in what seems to be a new urban fantasy series, set in San Francisco. I love Urban Fantasy and Monkey Around shares a couple of traits with some urban fantasy series/books that I've loved, so I was really interested to try this one out when I saw it on NetGalley, even if I honestly almost passed up on it due to the silly title. And I'm really glad I didn't. Monkey Around is a really fun urban fantasy novel, featuring a really strong lead character in its Asian American heroine Maya (with an abundance of shapeshifting powers), a world where supernatural creatures from all different mythologies exist in a shadow world alongside real life, during the height of Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011. It takes a bunch of tropes I've seen done before but does them really well, in a story that has lots of fun beats (its sardonic, fun loving, but idealistic and searching for herself heroine helps a lot here) alongside some pretty dark plot elements and makes it all work really well. And since this seems to be the first book in a series, I am excited to see how the series will develop from here. ----------------------------------------------------Plot Summary----------------------------------------------------- Maya McQueen has a lot on her plate. After graduating from Berkeley, she has taken an Asian-American magazine she co-founded there national. She's a leader in the Occupy Wall Street movement making waves in San Fran and around the country. And she's a barista in her day job....at a cafe that's actually a safe haven for supernatural creatures trying to live their lives alongside a humanity that doesn't quite know they exist. Of course most of those "supernats" know what they are, what heritage they have, and where they come from. Maya on the other hand, does not. Orphaned as a child, possessing tremendous shapeshifting powers (although she feels like her default mode, with a prankish mind of its own, is "Monkey"), she doesn't fit into any mythological origin she's ever heard of - or that her employer, human magic user Ayo. Maya is driven in everything she does, but she wishes to find out what she is almost more than anything, and she hopes that helping Ayo out with the supernatural community will one day lead her to answers. But when she starts investigating a missing leader in the supernatural community, May finds herself facing off with a two new strange occurrences: a shadowy creature sucking out people's essences and a magical artifact with potentially deadly....and addictive power. And Maya will find herself having to deal with both of them, for the sake of all of San Francisco, human and supernatural...... -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Monkey Around is a story carried by the really fun voice of Maya - a young woman with her hands in a lot of pies, both human and supernatural, and a really really fun voice. Maya is fun loving, especially with her powers when she fights - having what are essentially all the powers of the Monkey King: shapeshifting into practically anything and anyone, invisibility, super strength, - and a love for prankish behavior (especially when driven by her monkey side). She's idealistic, sarcastic, humorous, and well very immature in both her desires and actions at times, and is tremendous to take us through this world, as she attempts to deal with two different but potentially related crises at once dealing with the supernatural community of San Francisco...all the while trying to help lead a publication of non-supernatural Asian-American interest and to organize support for Occupy Wall Street. There's a lot there for her to be interested in, and it makes her a really interesting character to see develop. This is also a world that is really interesting, with it being one in which supernatural creatures of various mythologies all live together somewhat underground in the real world. So a boy and his sister, love interests for the protagonist, are Naguals (From Aztec/MesoAmerican Myth), another character is out of Japanese myth, and the book's glossary in the back features creatures from all over. And yet these creatures interact with beings from other cultures, in ways that wind up changing their traditions and pasts, in ways that are more interesting than just throwing these creatures together unchanged like in other stories. And the ones of these creatures who are focused upon as major side characters are largely very fun and interesting to read about, making them excellent complements and major parts of Maya's own story. It's a story that takes some real surprising turns at times, and one that is not afraid to kill off major side characters as the plot goes on. It also leads Maya to some real dark actions, which leave her interpersonal relations not quite in the best place by the end of the novel, although it's not overall depressing at the same time. And it leaves open one major plot thread for the next book in the series, which I'd be really interesting in seeing followed up. That said, the plot has some clear weaknesses, weaknesses that probably stem from being a debut novel. Maya's origins are played for mystery when they're so obvious (she has the powers of the Monkey King) that they're basically advertised in the publishing advertisements...and yet she has no idea of them and her super knowledgeable mentor can't help her figure them out, which is just bizarre. Maya's mentor Ayo also is bizarrely ignorant about some of the things she helps facilitate, which doesn't really fit the character. And Maya's human life isn't nearly as well developed as her supernatural one, such that her human best friend barely does anything and we really don't get to see their friendship, supposedly a big one, at all. But these weaknesses are small ones, and this book is so fun and creative that it's hard really to complain - and pretty much every first book in a longer urban fantasy series I've read has some odd quirks that don't really add up that they manage to overcome in future works. I look forward quite a bit to seeing this series do the same.
This book has a lot of things going for it and I've no doubt a lot of people will love it, particularly fans of Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs. It's got a kick-ass heroine and is jam-packed with mythological creatures and new-age thinking. Unfortunately, a few things didn't sit well with me and the final quarter left a bitter taste in my mouth, so it didn't get the 5 stars I originally envisioned. THE GOOD AND THE GREAT Monkey Around begins well. Maya MacQueen, our heroine, is instantly likeable. She's kind-hearted and community conscious, but also hasn't seen a fight she doesn't want to join–whether physically, magically, or socially. Her endless magic tricks made made me smile and her snark made me laugh. ---"They come to me to be validated, and to you to be...cleansed? No, that's not the word. To be...fixed, I guess. You're the mixie fixie."--- The world she inhabits–San Francisco, 2011–is vibrant and exciting, with an endless array of mythological creatures hiding in plain sight. These include, but are certainly not limited to, aswang (Filipino), bajang (Malay), naga (Hindu), nagual (Mesoamerican), anzu (Mesopotamian), kitsune (Japanese) and harimau jadian (Singaporean). As well as being fantastical diverse, the book is also nicely socially diverse. Maya is bi, her friend Ayo is a lesbian, and a secondary character is non-binary and uses the pronouns ze and zeir. Maya also has Asian features (though she is unsure of her exact heritage) and a number of secondary characters are black, Asian, Latino or otherwise people of colour. The inclusion felt natural (rather than try-hard) and contributed to the story in a number of key ways. THE LESS GOOD AND THE BAD Throughout the story, there were a few small issues that niggled at me. - To start, the plot is somewhat confusing, with Maya rushing off after all sorts of different objectives with no clear motive or connection between them. (This does come become clear with time.) - Later in the book, Maya's friend asserts that she's a leader. Whilst I can see that she's a key member of her community, her vital contributions to her magazine or the protests aren't apparent. (This is a rather important point in the story.) - In general, Maya's magical powers and talents appeared limitless. Whilst this was fun, it made it hard to understand where this left the bounds of possibility within the universe. This, in turn, diminished the tension. (The reveal at the end was at least satisfying on these grounds) More serious, I found the romantic sub-plot lacklustre. There's a love triangle of sorts, but I wasn't really swooning for either guy. Both were a far cry from the usual urban fantasy alpha heroes, which, in many ways, was refreshing; however, I thought Maya's crush was pretty pathetic towards the end and I just couldn't get a handle on the other guy (beyond his goofy grin, anyway). My biggest issue, and the one that lost the book its stars, was Maya's decision and behaviour towards the end of the book. I thought it unethical and not in keeping with what I thought were her socially upright morals. It left a really bitter taste in my mouth and had me struggling to continue reading. Perhaps, perhaps, it might have worked in a later book in what I assume will be a series. By then we would have had a better understanding and respect for her as a character and could have handled the blow. At this point, it made me question my initial judgement and lose what respect I'd given. WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO OTHERS? Yes; particularly those who like urban fantasy. If you do read it, I'd be interested to know what you think of Maya's action towards the end. Would I read the next in the series? Probably. I did enjoy the world and perhaps Maya can redeem herself.
This was just so much fun. Main character Maya MacQueen is a barista, activist, managing editor, and super strong supernatural being who can turn into many different types of creatures but has a preference for a monkey. A monkey prone to fighting and making not the greatest decisions. Maya works at a coffee place that, though it does serve humans, caters to the underground supernatural community in San Francisco. Her boss, Ayo Espinosa, super smart human, sends Maya around the city to deal with supernatural being issues, and when we meet the two, they are looking for a missing, female supernatural. During her missing persons search, Maya discovers someone is killing different kinds of supernaturals, leaving Maya and Ayo stumped. At the same time, at Ayo's behest, Maya is attempting to connect with and convince a young woman and nagual, to leave a gang. With both situations, Maya tangles with numerous other kinds of supernaturals, pissing some off, making vital connections with others, while also giving the readers a good sense of how hugely diverse the supernatural population is in the city. I've already said how much fun this book is. There is a lot of action, and lots of humour (mostly from Monkey's hilariously aggressive reactions to everything). What I really, really liked was how so many of the supernaturals, and others that Maya interacted with, were not white. Urban fantasy is generally littered with white supernaturals, and it was so refreshing to see a different and really, so much more realistic, interpretation of this subgenre. There are so many cultures in the world with fascinating legends and folk tales, and this story features a nice selection of non-European-based magical/monstrous beings. As this story wrapped up, I was immediately eager to read more about Maya, especially considering the somewhat shocking revelation at the end of the book. And the possibility of an interesting relationship developing between our monkey protagonist and another being. Thank you to Netgalley and Rebellion Publishing for this ARC in exchange for a review.
So, the great part about Monkey Around is that you don't need to be a Journey to the West kind of person to know what's going on! Though I suppose if you come with that kind of literary background you'd probably pick up things (clues? inside jokes?) that I might have missed. But not knowing is also cool and doesn't detract from the story as a whole, because you're taken on a journey of discovery with Maya herself! Maya MacQueen is on a journey of discovering what she truly is - is she just a were-monkey, or is she something more? What lies behind the supercool powers she has that Ayo, magic-human-boss, doesn't seem to recognise? But in the midst of protesting at Occupy, barista-ing at Cafe Sanc-ahh, and taking on odd jobs for Ayo (like tracking down a missing aswang), supernatural creatures are turning up dead. Like Wayland Soh, the harimau jadian, and Bu-Bu, the bajang. And the only clue she has is that this soul-eating shadow is just like her. What I love about Monkey Around is the wide range of cultures and supernatural creatures from all around the world that just appear, but is somehow still so rooted in place. Jang explores the many different were-creatures and magic users around the world that have migrated to (or pass through) the Bay, though two cultures are featured with some prominence - the Asian-American and Mexican (Mesoamerican?) communities. With so many things going on, it feels like the disparate cultures and creatures should pull the story apart - or at least confuse it too much. Yet it doesn't. There's one thing that pulls them together, that provides a defining feature - the San Francisco Bay Area. The place feels like a character of its own. It speaks to Maya, it searches for its guardian. It's actively trying to save itself, and I love it. I also admit to having a soft spot for it in my heart due to the many times I once travelled there for work. The most annoying thing about Monkey Around, though, is in my opinion, Maya. And that's actually a very personal thing. Okay, I should explain that a bit. Many readers gush about how much they *love* a character. I don't...fall in love with characters. There are very few characters that I super like, and that's also mostly because there are very few real people that I like. But there are very, very many characters that I hate, and that kind of correlates to the amount of real life people I just find annoying and tiresome and don't want to deal with. So back to the story, you know how you meet someone and they just...irritate you for no definable reason? Just one of those personalities that grates on you but everyone else is ok with (and maybe even like)? That's Maya for me. She's amusing to a point, until she protests "but the Monkey in me...." one too many times and [Anna stabs the Main Character]. At any rate, Monkey Around is a fun urban fantasy read that explores the diversity of the Bay, identity, and place. Note: I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Monkey Around, the debut from Jadie Jang is an absolute riot of an urban fantasy novel; bold and original in premise, funny, political and honestly just perfect for summer. If you’re a fantasy fan looking for an August read – or just your next favourite book – then Monkey Around is definitely for you. Maya McQueen is a shapeshifter living in San Francisco, able to transform into any animal at will, although Monkey – who lives permanently at the back of her mind – is her default alternative shape. Maya also has some other powers that set her above a lot of the other shapeshifters in the city – and there are a lot of them. If a world mythology has a shapeshifter story, you will find them represented in this story; everyone from your basic European werewolf to bloodsucking Filipino aswangs to sociable and friendly Indian Vanaras is knocking around in this world, just trying to get by. Maya is a barista by day, but by night she and Monkey are running around the city trying to figure out why someone is murdering shapeshifters, picking them off one by one. Add to that her involvement with the Occupy Wall Street protests that have taken over Oakland, and the fact that there appears to be an evil magical object changing hands amongst the cities rival gangs, and Maya is one busy bee. The fantasy elements of Monkey Around are so much fun – it seems that Jang really enjoys playing with her subject matter, and making it seem so normal. Maya, orphaned at 2 months old, is always on the lookout for clues to her heritage and at one point was guided to the Vanara, who also shapeshift into monkeys. They can’t offer her answers, but the young members of the family invite her to go climbing with them in the forest, as casually as if they were meeting at a bar. There is a community of selkies who live on riverboats, because of course they do. Jang is adept at weaving in these elements into her story and making them almost mundane. It is very clever writing. But the real strength of Monkey Around is the how political the novel is, not only on the surface level but also underneath. The shapeshifter characters take on the mythologies of their ethnic backgrounds; from East Asian to South Asian, Native American to White European, every shapeshifter tells a story of their heritage in this modern and thriving San Francisco. These are millennial characters making their own place in the world; they just also happen to be shapeshifters tied to their heritage. Maya describes how most shapeshifters act a lot like hipsters from diverse backgrounds; they live with their differences and do just enough to fit into both worlds. If you need to go hunting as a shapeshifter you go, and you don’t make a big deal out of it. Just how, as Maya describes, a Chinese American hipster might still wash their hair before the New Year. The allegorical nature of this story is made even clearer if you consider that the shapeshifters who refuse to fit in are virtually indistinguishable from the humans who have lost their way. A young werewolf, barely in control of himself, joins a gang – just as a lot of other directionless human youngsters have. Jang has something to say in this novel, and although she doesn’t hit us over the head with it; her message is clear enough. As one might expect from a novel about shapeshifters, everything is fluid in Monkey Around. From the ethnicities and sexualities of many of the characters, to the fact that they are shapeshifters (of course), to the weaving of fantasy and politics in equal measure, Monkey Around is a book that almost goes so far as to defy genre classification – and is all the better for it.
Monkey Around is Jadie Jang’s debut novel and an action-packed contemporary urban fantasy delivering a bold new take on the Chinese folktale the Monkey King. The San Francisco-set story follows the adventures of a “barista, activist, and were-monkey” who gets political in the streets when she’s not being drawn into supernatural matters, including a rash of shapeshifter murders and manic mayhem. The San Francisco Bay Area, a nexus of human and supernatural energy that draws people—and creatures—from hundreds of cultures all over the world. At the centre of this nexus is barista, activist, and were-monkey, Maya McQueen, who doesn’t know what kind of creature she is, or where she comes from. Her home is being rocked by the occupation of Oakland’s civic centre by Occupy Wall Street activists in the human world, and by the serial murders of shapeshifters who have had their souls sucked out, on the supernatural side. Maya discovers that the soul-sucking murderer may be connected somehow to a creature like her. This is her first, ever, clue to her own origins, and she jumps into the mystery with both feet. Helping her is werejaguar and IT medicine man Tez Varela, who manages the last nagual practice in San Francisco’s rapidly gentrifying Mission district. Tez’s reappearance in Maya’s life has landed her in the middle of a gang war. Also helping—or is it stalking?—her is Todd Wakahisa, a fellow activist and a kitsune whose penchant for pranks rivals even hers. For the first time in Maya’s life, she’s faced with a creature she may not have the strength to defeat. She’ll have to up her game, rely on others, and betray those closest to her to come out on top. But what she doesn’t know, just might kill her. This is a compelling, refreshingly original and raucously entertaining read with not a dull moment in sight. You cannot fail to be captivated by the murder mystery, supernatural chaos and sheer fun that Jadie provides and I was pleasantly surprised by how much of a page-turner it was. It is a Euro-centric-mythology-dominated snarky genre romp featuring a plethora of primary and secondary characters, including a female monkey king who doesn't have a clue who or what she really is, a kitsune ukulele maestro, an Aztec werejaguar slam poet, an orphan with unique powers and a group of Asian-American activists as well as a love triangle and murder most foul. This is perfect for fans of contemporary and paranormal genres and features representation from Asian and South American cultures as well as being based on nonwestern mythological parables. Highly recommended.
I’ve always been told not to judge a book by it’s cover. Well too bad, look at the colours. I assumed based on this it would be a fun read. I stand correct about Monkey Around by Jadie Jang. I’m glad I judged. Monkey Around follows Maya. She’s an activist, barista and of course a weremonkey(who can also transform into like anything else). We follow her in her world which is mainly made up of supernatural beings who all congregate in San Fransisco. This is both a journey to discover who she is as someone who identifies as Asian American AND literally not knowing exactly what she is, or where she is actually from when it comes to being a supernatural being. Her journey of course involves a soul sucking creature that appears to be killing supernaturals but it also might be the key to discovering who she is. I loved how diverse this story was, I’m pretty sure 98% of the main characters were BIPOC and/or Queer. And the thing that I loved the most was everyone's supernatural abilities were rooted in mythology, but none of that Eurocentric mythology(Marvel has that covered, we don’t need more). The things I didn’t love was there was also a love triangle. It felt very odd, and the way Maya’s character treated it felt very out of character. Also like I said above Maya’s “go-to” form is a ware monkey, but she can turn into pretty much anything else. Like gymnastics dance elements I wish there had been a cap to her powers. Overall, this was a fantastic read. And I would recommend it to anyone who loves themselves a good urban fantasy. And a great debut novel for Jadie! Thanks to NetGally and the publisher for providing an ARC in exchange an honest review.
I enjoy contemporary fantasy for the exploration of what would happen if the magical was real and in our own world. Now that itself is an adventure but we often see things from either someone completely new to the world discovering its rules or someone who is long brought up in its traditions and knows it all. But life for all of us is often a lot more in between we know a bit about our world, and we rarely know where we are going with our lives. This was what struck me the most about Jadie Jang’s glorious new novel Monkey Around which gives us a very interesting magical community in San Francisco, a puzzling set of crimes and an awesome new lead character to get to know. It is Sand Francisco in 2011. The Occupy movement has moved to the East coast and activism is on the rise. Maya is in her twenties and these days works on the board of a promising independent Asian American magazine named Inscrutable, works hard to encourage activist movements in California and has a third secret life that most people think is working as a barista in a small indie coffee shop but is actually supporting her other secret role working to investigate issues in the supernatural shapeshifter communities of San Francisco. Maya is one of the group but has very little knowledge of where she comes from as she was found at an orphanage at two years old. She can turn into a Monkey very easily but can shapeshift into anything or even anyone with some effort; a hair from her can open locks, become flares or even clothes. She can summon a cloud to travel on too, but no one knows where these powers come from. Maya is investigating a missing Aswang when she comes across an unusual dead body a wealthy and well-known shapeshifter drained of all their life and magical essence. This becomes part of a sequence of deaths across various shapeshifter groups. Maya is also asked to help a fellow former university student Tez whose younger sister Chucha are members of the Naugal communities (linked to the Aztecs and also can change into any animals with added magical healing powers just for starters). Chucha has decided to abandon her brother’s dreams other going to college and has started working with a tough street gang. Maya is asked to help persuade Chucha to come back to the fold. Throw in a shadowy force behind the murders, a magical stick that can possess its owners and Maya is about to have an even busier few weeks than she was planning to. What pulled me from the start is Maya’s voice as she is our lead narrator. A lot of authors tend to use the noir private eye style but what I like about Maya is she is doing this for her community. She is funny, bawdy, frustrated just a tad geeky and wears her heart on her sleeve. She is the twentysomething who wants to do something good, have bills paid and also is exploring her own culture and heritage. Not knowing where she comes from means she is interested in all the communities of the Bay area, and this gives the story an interesting look at identity. It should be noticed despite the book’s introduction maya herself is oblivious to the legend of the Monkey King (and has avoided reading Journey into the West after an unpleasant college tutor rocked her confidence in Asian studies). As we meet more and more of the cast, we have a group of american multiple generation immigrants who ae balancing their family’s culture and parental expectations with modern life in the US. We meet shapeshifters who are politicians, ex-MMA fighters, band members and would be poets/doctors. As with Maya there is a sense of people working themselves out that definitely should strike a chord with many readers. Some people want to be their best selves, some just want to let their inner monster finally let loose. An interesting angle on Maya is although now heavily involved in her community she was in her teenage years was herself a feared enforcer/member of one of the many gangs in the city. This is a world of the highs and lows of humanity and Jang has a great gift for making this world come alive and we find ourselves caring even about side characters like a gang leader’s clearly clumsy brother or a non-shapeshifting force of nature bestie of Maya’s who acts as her conscience and also a community leader. It’s a world of depth, texture and feels like we are only just finding out how it all works. The fantastical element is also really interesting. The murders and the unusual stick of power we find start to cross paths and it opens up ancient tales of family legends, power struggles and nefarious plans. Jang has many many enjoyable fight scenes and Maya is not one to be under-estimated (she is often said to be one of the most powerful in the area) and the many clues and myths to untangle make this a chewy mystery with a great resolution. It also underlines that Maya’s nature means sometimes she will do the unthinkable for her own aims which was actually quite shocking. There are hints of more stories and agendas in this world to explore but this tale itself has a very satisfying conclusion. Monkey Around is a very refreshing entry into contemporary fantasy. Action packed and character focused with a really great take on how any city is itself comprised of other communities and they themselves are not just one group all acting and thinking in the same way. There are delights of many mythical creatures to explore and a lead character who I think will become a fan favourite for many of you. The quality of Jang’s word-building, character-building and storytelling is excellent especially in the start to a brand-new fantasy series. Go get this story into your brains!