In The Watchful City, by S. Qiouyi Lu, calls itself a ‘mosaic novella,’ which is a fitting description. The book is organized into two parts. One follows Anima, an augmented human – one of several who oversees the city of Ora. She acts like a foundation for the second part of the story; a series of vignettes and novellas that have interconnected themes and morals. The plot revolves around a mysterious storyteller with a box of wonders who comes to visit the city of Ora. The storyteller asks Anima to select objects from their collection, and they will tell the story of the object. In exchange, the storyteller extracts the promise that Anima tells their own story and provides an object to add to the collection.
What I liked about In The Watchful City:
- The collection of stories span a nice range of genres and most accurately would fall into Science Fantasy, a combining of two of my favorite subjects
- Anima’s story on the outside was sweet and touching and I enjoyed their ending
- The prose of this novella is quite impressive and manages to be both flowery and poetic without being too overbearing
- The storyteller added a very fun layer of mystery and intrigue into the story
- The worldbuilding was very engaging
My positives for this impressive novella essentially revolve around the fact that the book crafts a beautiful and layered world that begs to be explored on every page. I like stories that elevate and celebrate the art of storytelling, it creates a clever meta-conversation that can be very enjoyable. The melding of all different genres and stories shows that Qiouyi Lu is a very creative and talented writer. However, there were some areas that I struggled with as well.
What I didn’t like about In The Watchful City:
- Although the prose was enchanting, I didn’t emotionally connect with almost any of the short stories. I had a hard time getting pulled into them.
- Although I enjoyed the ending of Anima’s story, the short page length of this novella –combined with the fact that it shares the space with a number of sub-novellas within the novella — meant that I struggled to connect with Anima as a character
- The book feels too quickly paced, jumping from story to story when I often wasn’t done with the previous one
I struggled to connect with a lot of this story. Despite its beautiful writing, the characters came off as shallow and listless. I often felt like I was reading a lot of gorgeous window dressing. Most of the characters felt like they were faceless characters in a fable, there to teach the reader a lesson. I think a lot of my struggle stemmed from the book’s short length. There is so much crammed into this novella that it feels like it would have benefited from a larger size to luxuriate in the good more.
In The Watchful City is different and it is beautiful. It’s a creative ode to storytelling that defies genre and expectation. It’s crammed full of colorful ideas and interesting worlds. Although I struggled to connect with many of the characters, it’s likely it was a personal issue and you may feel right at home with them. As one of the more original pieces I have read in 2021, I definitely recommend you check it out.
Rating: In The Watchful City – 7.0/10