I don’t often buy fiction, but my husband does, and occasionally he comes across books he knows I will like. He was the one who discovered Snake Agent, by Liz Williams (2005, Night Shade Books). Am not sure if it is set in the future, or an alternate Earth, but the story takes place in Singapore 3, where magic, demons, and celestial beings are a regular part of Detective Inspector Chen’s life. There is just enough of the world as we know it in the book to make the locales plausible and the characters real. In fact, you will recognize people you know in many of the characters (the hallmark of really good fantasy). The characters also visit Hell, and Chen is married to a demon. In this first book in the series, Chen meets a demon named Zhu Irzh (from Hell’s vice squad), and they wind up working together through this and the next two books.
Liz Williams has a very readable writing style, the sort that builds anticipation without frustration. These books are detective stories, with lots of Chinese magic to keep things fresh. The relationships are well done — real, imperfect, and the kind you can identify with. All three books are page-turners; I stayed up until dawn to finish reading one of them.
The Demon and the City (2006, Night Shade Books) is the second book in the series. In this one the characters also go to Heaven, an uncomfortable place for Zhu Irzh (the demon, who is now attached to Singapore 3’s police force). Who is the mysterious Mhara they are running tests on? He’s supposed to be a demon, but he’s not acting like one. Zhu Irzh begins dating a well-connected businesswoman in Singapore 3, and discovers a very interesting secret about who she really is. And when the goddess of the Feng Shui Practitioners’ Guild gets angry — well, I never realized feng shui could be quite so exciting.
The third book in the series is Precious Dragon (2007, Night Shade Books). There is a lot more interaction between the dead and the living in these books that we generally see today, and in this one a child born to parents in Hell is sent to live with his Grandma in Singapore 3. Chen and Zhu Irzh accompany a Celestial warrior on a diplomatic visit to Hell, where they visit the Ministry of War and the Ministry of Lust. There are dragons, and there is war, and a final sacrifice that is so perfect.
A fourth book, The Shadow Pavilion, is due out soon. And according to Liz Williams’ live journal ( http://mevennen.livejournal.com ) she is working on book number five, Iron Khan. Williams’ writing style is so good that I’m looking forward to these books, and am planning on reading others she has written. (I was recently given her Empire of Bones.) Meanwhile, if you enjoy fantasy that feels real, and have an interest in feng shui, magic, or the supernatural, her Dectective Inspector Chen novels may be just the escape you are looking for.