Review: Monkey Around by Jadie Jang

San Francisco has a Monkey King – and she’s kinda freaked 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.

Rating: 3/5

Review

It’s hard not to be sold on a book with a premise like Monkey Around – urban fantasy set in 2011 San Francisco, dealing with the Occupy Wall Street movement and themes of gentrification and social change? Yes please.

That part of the book does live up to the hype: even though the actual Occupy movement gets limited page time, Jang offers plenty of wry observations about what it’s like to be a millennial (and, particularly, an Asian-American millennial) trying to make your way in the world. There’s also some poignant conversations about immigration and cultural assimilation, and how hard it can be to maintain cultural roots and connections in the face of rapid social change and economic challenges. Monkey Around is worth reading for those points alone.

Having said that, I wasn’t a huge fan of the underlying fantasy story. The general premise is that Maya is a shapeshifter (the full extent of her abilities is unknown, as she was adopted as a young child), who has found herself caught up in investigating a series of murders that have rocked the shapeshifting community. Jang takes an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach to this idea and continually threw in new characters and concepts, without leaving any breathing space to really develop a connection to anyone. There are friends, and even a few romantic possibilities, but none of these relationships felt hugely deep or meaningful. Even Maya is a hard character to get to know, as she’s continally caught up in the action, with limited space in her narrative for reflection.

There’s a lot of good ideas here and while I wasn’t necessarily sold – I’m unlikely to pick up any sequels, though I might try something else by Jang – there’s enough to muse over to make Monkey Around worth checking out, particularly if you like urban fantasy more than I do.

Note: I received an ARC from Solaris. Monkey Around will be published on 3 August 2021.

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