Spirit by Gwyneth Jones

(review by Aliette de Bodard)

SpiritBasically a gender-flipped retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo in space, Spirit follows Bibi, an orphan taken into the household of Lady Nef and General Yu. As the years pass, Bibi rises into the hierarchy of the new order on Earth–until a terrible betrayal shatters her life and the lives of those she loves. Honestly, the book had me at gender-flipped Monte Cristo, but there’s actually quite a bit more to it than that! Set in Jones’ Aleutian continuity, this is a rich, dense book with an unusual plot and great examination of gender roles.

It’s also very striking, as Zen Cho pointed out to me, that this is one of the few books that depicts a Chinese-dominated society in a plausible and no-fuss manner that is miles above Joss Whedon’s attempts in Firefly (don’t get me wrong, there’s stuff about Firefly that I love, but realistic depiction of Asians isn’t really one of them). I missed it on the first reading because I was struggling a bit with the universe, but it does get a lot of little details right (the immortals, the festivals, the ranks in the household). As Zen points out, it also falters in places (where are the Classics and the Confucian influences, for instance), but still, pretty good. The other reason I loved the book was the strong emphasis it placed on family and family bonds–Bibi’s vengeance is centred on what happened to her mistress rather than on the loss of her own love, which is in the end a small part of the story.

Buy this book.

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