THE GLINT OF THE LUOPAN by Sally Feng (BOOK REVIEW)
“If above is like below, you might look no further than in front of you.”
Sally Feng is an expert in Chinese culture and philosophy and loves to spread the word about these topics. She holds a Master’s degree in Literary Translation and Sinology. Her other interests include the paranormal and Asian religions. After completing her first novel translations for different publishers, she publishes the Urban Fantasy title The Glint of the Luopan. Sally Feng works as an author, translator and editor.
Sally Feng’s first novel The Glint of the Luopan, was made available in November 2022. The novel is an Urban Fantasy narrative, following a journey through Daoist concepts and a fascinating speculative future set in post pandemic times. The novel spends much of its time confronting concepts of identity, mythological meanings and transcending the traditional concepts of being ‘alive.’ Feng explores the paranormal, the abnormal and the unacknowledged. What starts as an almost typical boy-meets girl romance, turns into an explosive journey to the City in the Sky.
‘Then, suddenly I saw something in the sky […] a row of tall, wraithlike buildings seemed to float above the city as if a part of chongqing had been lifted into the sky. I rubbed my eyes and squinted. Maybe my eyesight was getting worse? But when I opened them again, the buildings in the sky were still there.’
The novel is split into two types of narration, one part is written and presented as diary entries from 2018, written by Lijie Fang, and the other is set in the present, which to my estimate, is set around 15-20 years later, from the perspective on the novel’s protagonist Lai Fang, the daughter of the Diaries author. The novel is set in New York, to begin with, following the life of Chinese Native Lia Fang, who is struggling with memory loss. She is working to recover her memory and find her missing father, but she seems overtly lonely. Except for her friend/therapist, Izzy, Lia seems all alone in the world.
‘lately I had started to think about sharing this life with another person. A person who would make life a bit fuller and who would, maybe, help me make sense of my on past.’
She meets Suresh online, and immediately there are about 50 red flags that she ignores. The dialogue between Suresh and Lia is clunky and awkward, initially I believed this to be a failure on the authors side, but upon continuing to read and cringe at their blooming romance, I realised this was entirely intentional and genius. Their union is to emphasise how unbelievably naïve, vulnerable, desperate, and, amongst other things, broken Lia is, that she blindly believes Suresh, blindly trusts him and desperately clings to the idea of having a partner in life, rather than acknowledging that his behaviour as toxic and problematic.
‘maybe his problems are similar to mine, I thought. Maybe the faces he saw also blurred when they were out of his sight, and that’s why he needed these little reminders.’
Suresh plays the part of a loving and helpful ‘boyfriend,’ doing everything he can to help her find her missing father, and remember who she is. The story quickly spirals into an exploration of all things speculative, supernatural and philosophical with lashings of Chinese magical realism mixed in.
“If above is like below, you might look no further than where the two of them meet.”
Without providing too many spoilers, The Glint of the Luopan, is a pretty quick read (completed in less than 4 hours on plane). The momentum of the narrative starts pretty slow, due to the clunky awkward romance, but quickly speeds up when Suresh lets his ‘nice-boy’ act drop. Feng’s first novel is an interesting insight into Chinese Magic and identity, which should be enjoyed by all!
‘They neither dismiss nor welcome; they respond but do not retain.’