REVIEW: “These Wondrous Sweets” by Tony Pi

Review of Tony Pi, “These Wondrous Sweets”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 294, Jan. 2, 2020 — Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

This is the fifth story in what appears to be a continuing series. (Two of the earlier stories also appeared in BCS and were finalists for Aurora and Parsec awards.) Don’t worry if you haven’t read the previous work; I hadn’t either, but references within the current story make it easy to understand what has gone before.  

Ao, who creates and sells blown caramel figurines, lives in Chengdu, China and has two of the more novel “superpowers” I’ve encountered in SF/F: the ability to “pour his soul” into his caramel creations and conjure animals from water. In previous stories, Ao apparently used these powers to help save the life of the Pale Tigress, the mystical, tiger-like protectoress of the city. However, the Tigress was seriously wounded (as was Ao) in a confrontation with the Ten Crows Sect, which has somehow allied itself with a demon in hopes of seizing power in the city.  

The current story primarily involves Ao’s attempt to create a diversion so that a doctor can get to the Tigress and treat her injury without giving away the Tigress’ hiding place. To do this, Ao fashions a Tigress-shaped caramel figurine, expands its size with water, then sends his consciousness into it. This provides Ao a measure of control over his creation. However, as another character wryly observes, “plans always go wrong,” and most of the story involves Ao’s increasingly desperate attempts to improvise as the Ten Crows Sect closes in. 

Thin on plot but strong on ambience and action, this is a story worth reading. 

REVIEW: “The Firefly Beast” by Tony Pi

Review of Tony Pi, “The Firefly Beast”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 115-122. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The City God of Chengdu outsources his city’s security needs to demons “seeking atonement for past wrongs by defending the city” (p. 116). But what happens when the demon defending the city becomes the demon that the city must be defended from? Pi’s story pits the turncoat Firefly Beast against the White-Gold Guest, who defends the city with a flute rather than a sword.

For the White-Gold Guest, poetry is not a means of destruction; it’s not a weapon at all, but rather the first step on her path to atonement, and, later on in that path, a shield of protection for her adopted city.

I read this story on a night when I needed something good, something supportive, something that focuses on strength and hope and things like that. This story delivered that. I loved how the White-Gold Guest turned her power to battle against her own inner appetites, used it to seek to better herself, and later on another, rather than to destroy. And I was absolutely delighted to find out, reading Pi’s author’s note, that the White-Gold Guest’s poetess mentor, Xue Tao, is a real, historical poet. I look forward to reading more of her poems.