Life is not turning out the way college student Brenda Morris expected. Instead of literature and history, she spends much of her time studying self-defense, learning magic and how to infuse mah-jong tiles with her life force, or ch’i, for magical purposes. With her mentor, former child star Pearl Bright, and a band of mortals and ghosts called the Thirteen Orphans, Brenda works to unravel a century-old curse. Insane warrior Thundering Heaven, Pearl’s long-dead father, is only one of the powerful, treacherous enemies the group must face.

Five Odd Honors, the third book in Jane Lindskold’s Breaking the Wall series rooted in Chinese culture and myth, folds backstory and character relationships—familial, romantic and antagonistic—into the ongoing action. This complex novel blends passion, jealousy between beings living and dead, and day-to-day reality with the mysticism of Chinese astrology. The appearance of several unusual, even grotesque members of the Celtic Sidhe—fairies—spices up the adventure.

In addition to Brenda and Pearl, key characters include Loyal Wind, a courageous warrior-ghost, and Flying Claw, an enigmatic, stunning young man with a remarkable personal history. Settings include California, Virginia and South Carolina, though much of the action occurs in non-ordinary locations rooted in Chinese and other indigenous traditions. Humans battle ghosts; ghosts, who can suffer permanent damage even after death, fight each other as well. Virulent attacks and torture also take place in dreams and in many all-too-physical circumstances.

Eventually, the group splits up. Some, like Brenda, apparently return to normal life. Scouts set off through the Lands of Smoke and Sacrifice to discover what has gone amiss there. As the explorers struggle with horribly manipulated landscapes of stone, water, fire, metal and wood, Pearl suffers a magical attack of uncertain origin. Soon Brenda must draw upon her still-incomplete training to aid her friends if they hope to survive to save this and all other worlds from evil and destruction.

Infused with the symbolism and resonance of Chinese astrology, Five Odd Honors offers readers a wide cast of characters and a multilayered drama rich in magic, treachery, raw courage and true friendship.

Leslie Moïse, Ph.D., lives, reads and writes in Louisville, Kentucky.

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