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In the Watchful City

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In the Watchful City explores borders, power, diaspora, and transformation in an Asian-inspired mosaic novella that melds the futurism of Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station with the magical wonder of Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest. The city of Ora uses a complex living network called the Gleaming to surveil its inhabitants and maintain harmony. Anima is one of the cloistere In the Watchful City explores borders, power, diaspora, and transformation in an Asian-inspired mosaic novella that melds the futurism of Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station with the magical wonder of Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest. The city of Ora uses a complex living network called the Gleaming to surveil its inhabitants and maintain harmony. Anima is one of the cloistered extrasensory humans tasked with watching over Ora's citizens. Although ær world is restricted to what æ can see and experience through the Gleaming, Anima takes pride and comfort in keeping Ora safe from all harm. All that changes when a mysterious visitor enters the city carrying a cabinet of curiosities from around the world, with a story attached to each item. As Anima’s world expands beyond the borders of Ora to places—and possibilities—æ never before imagined to exist, æ finds ærself asking a question that throws into doubt ær entire purpose: What good is a city if it can’t protect its people?


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In the Watchful City explores borders, power, diaspora, and transformation in an Asian-inspired mosaic novella that melds the futurism of Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station with the magical wonder of Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest. The city of Ora uses a complex living network called the Gleaming to surveil its inhabitants and maintain harmony. Anima is one of the cloistere In the Watchful City explores borders, power, diaspora, and transformation in an Asian-inspired mosaic novella that melds the futurism of Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station with the magical wonder of Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest. The city of Ora uses a complex living network called the Gleaming to surveil its inhabitants and maintain harmony. Anima is one of the cloistered extrasensory humans tasked with watching over Ora's citizens. Although ær world is restricted to what æ can see and experience through the Gleaming, Anima takes pride and comfort in keeping Ora safe from all harm. All that changes when a mysterious visitor enters the city carrying a cabinet of curiosities from around the world, with a story attached to each item. As Anima’s world expands beyond the borders of Ora to places—and possibilities—æ never before imagined to exist, æ finds ærself asking a question that throws into doubt ær entire purpose: What good is a city if it can’t protect its people?

30 review for In the Watchful City

  1. 5 out of 5

    Hsinju

    In the Watchful City is an Asian-centric adult queer fantasy novella about living (and death) with a heart-racing ending. The main character Anima (æ/ær/ær) is part of the city’s surveillance system the Gleaming (think The Matrix), one of the eight nodes in the inner sanctum. When æ meets Vessel (se/ser/ser), who carries a qíjìtáng full of knickknacks and memories from different people, ær curiosity brings ær to realize that there is more to life than guarding the city of Ora. I don’t think I comp In the Watchful City is an Asian-centric adult queer fantasy novella about living (and death) with a heart-racing ending. The main character Anima (æ/ær/ær) is part of the city’s surveillance system the Gleaming (think The Matrix), one of the eight nodes in the inner sanctum. When æ meets Vessel (se/ser/ser), who carries a qíjìtáng full of knickknacks and memories from different people, ær curiosity brings ær to realize that there is more to life than guarding the city of Ora. I don’t think I completely understood everything that had happened. And yet, I enjoyed the storytelling so much! Lu’s overall concept and execution of bringing mostly Asian history and culture into the story are so satisfying. There were maybe five non-English sentences, including Mandarin and Manchu (both languages were renamed in the story), and some of the terms are real things like Bǐyìniǎo (比翼鳥: birds that fly in twos; the word is used to describe soul mates). Also, I love the political animosity between countries and that a lot of the side characters’ names were of different romanizations and languages (Spanish, Mandarin Pinyin with tones, Mandarin Wade–Giles with tones, Cantonese, Hokkien, Japanese, Thai, etc.). Another thing I was happy to see was that for Mandarin names, family names come before given names! In the Watchful City consists of fragmented stories. Ocean Vuong once said that “[...] cohesion was not part of my generation’s imagination, nor our language, or our self identity. And I felt that if I were to write my version of an American novel, it would have to look more like fragmentation.” (video here) Through Anima’s story, ær interactions with Enigma (e/em/eir) and Vessel, all the stories in the qíjìtáng, we get the themes of mental health and grief, assimilation, growth and living. Lu mentioned in ær acknowledgments that the narrative is focused on agency and it is also a decolonial story. One last thing I’d like to mention is that the relation between Ora and Skyland sounds like that between Taiwan and China. Given that the history in our world was interwoven with the fantasy world in In the Watchful City, to me, this part feels especially close and real. “Why prevent Orans from seeing Skylanders? History? Are politics worth separating families and lovers for?” content warnings: on-page suicide (drowning), on-page assisted suicide, loss of sibling, on-page foot binding, mention of hanging, consensual body mutilation, physical abuse of sentient beings, blood, assimilation I received a digital review copy from Tordotcom via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotation may change upon publication.

  2. 4 out of 5

    CW (The Quiet Pond) ✨

    In the Watchful City challenges and pushes the boundaries of science-fiction fantasy and I absolutely loved it. Reading this was a transcendent experience; thoroughly unique, intriguing, and subverts so many ideas of gender, culture, and belonging. - Follows Anima, a extrasensory non-binary human tasked with watching over the city of Ora's citizens. When a mysterious visitor enters the city and invites aer to listen to the stories behind the mysterious objects in the visitor's possession, aer wor In the Watchful City challenges and pushes the boundaries of science-fiction fantasy and I absolutely loved it. Reading this was a transcendent experience; thoroughly unique, intriguing, and subverts so many ideas of gender, culture, and belonging. - Follows Anima, a extrasensory non-binary human tasked with watching over the city of Ora's citizens. When a mysterious visitor enters the city and invites aer to listen to the stories behind the mysterious objects in the visitor's possession, aer world is challenged and thrown into question. - I loved that this novella had stories within stories; stories that melded biocyberpunk futurism with folklore and mythology, and explored the beauty, the pain, the struggle, and the complexity of life and living. - This novella delves deeply into the intersections of gender, heritage, and power; it's also delightfully queer and explores grief, power, oppression, and abuse. - The stories are thoroughly Asian-inspired and Asian-influenced, and I enjoyed how Lu subverts cultural and historical norms and imbues them with new meaning and perspective. - This was truly unlike anything I've ever read, but it was phenomenal. I cannot wait to see waht else Lu writes in the future. Trigger/content warning: on-page suicide, mention of a suicide attempt, self-harm, body mutilations I received a digital advanced reader's copy in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Montzalee Wittmann

    In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu This is a very hard book to review. It's odd, schizophrenic, a mosaic of ideas, confusing to me a bit of the time, and boring a bit of the time. It was also strangely interesting. The key figure is a being that can jump it's soul/essence/mind? to other animals and can use those creatures for it's bidding. It spies on the city to know what is going on. A guardian? A stranger comes bringing a magical box. In the box are numerous objects. Each has a backstory. So In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu This is a very hard book to review. It's odd, schizophrenic, a mosaic of ideas, confusing to me a bit of the time, and boring a bit of the time. It was also strangely interesting. The key figure is a being that can jump it's soul/essence/mind? to other animals and can use those creatures for it's bidding. It spies on the city to know what is going on. A guardian? A stranger comes bringing a magical box. In the box are numerous objects. Each has a backstory. So this Guardian listens to many stories. The guardian has stories too. One is of a completed suicide so a warning here. I don't think I would have read it the first time now that I know what it is about. It was okay. Recommend? Probably not. I do thank the publisher and NetGalley for letting me read the book. I normally love odd books.

  4. 5 out of 5

    gauri

    in the watchful city is a beautiful asian centric sci-fi/fantasy (biocyberpunk as said by the author) queer novella that intricately weaves different stories with mythology and exploration of grief, pain and emotions. this is unlike anything i've ever read, so layered and so touching. i loved its take on gender and queerness, especially the main character Amina's use of æ/ær pronouns as well as other neo pronouns throughout the book. the way of storytelling and hidden meanings is enjoyable, so i in the watchful city is a beautiful asian centric sci-fi/fantasy (biocyberpunk as said by the author) queer novella that intricately weaves different stories with mythology and exploration of grief, pain and emotions. this is unlike anything i've ever read, so layered and so touching. i loved its take on gender and queerness, especially the main character Amina's use of æ/ær pronouns as well as other neo pronouns throughout the book. the way of storytelling and hidden meanings is enjoyable, so is the subtle inclusion of politics and power. it gave me strong folklore-ish vibes as each story unfolded, and the Vessel, the visitor who told these stories to Anima, opened ær eyes to the possibilities of a different future. cw: on-page suicide, mention of a suicide attempt, self-harm, body mutilations thank you tordotcom and netgalley for the arc!

  5. 4 out of 5

    nessma

    in the watchful city is an asian-centric adult fantasy novella told through fragmented stories in a world so lush it'll leave you breathless. the story had me instantly entranced with its biocyberpunk feels; the world is so vivid and viscerally-written and the author's biotech-based take on cyberpunk definitely succeeded in gripping me in what was happening from the get-go. the novella got me even more interested when it appeared to be stories within stories that was rich with folklore and mythol in the watchful city is an asian-centric adult fantasy novella told through fragmented stories in a world so lush it'll leave you breathless. the story had me instantly entranced with its biocyberpunk feels; the world is so vivid and viscerally-written and the author's biotech-based take on cyberpunk definitely succeeded in gripping me in what was happening from the get-go. the novella got me even more interested when it appeared to be stories within stories that was rich with folklore and mythology and the exploration of complex themes in just about 200 pages. it is so incredibly diverse and explores grief, power, oppression, and abuse. we delve deep within the story into the intersections of gender, heritage, culture and history. i loved reading about the political animosity between countries and the way the author managed to subvert a lot of different norms into something more unique and inclusive. i've never read anything like this before and i was very pleasantly surprised as well as enamored by lu's ability to craft unique worlds with exceptional storytelling. definitely looking forward to read more from them! content warning: completed on-page suicide, mention of a suicide attempt, self-harm, body mutilations, family abandonment.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lata

    The primary character, Anima, watches over the island city of Ora, and intervenes in situations when necessary, using a biologically-based technology to move between bodies around the city. A stranger, Vessel, shows up in the city with a box containing several objects. Anima and Vessel talk together several times, with Vessel relating the stories associated with the contained objects, leading Anima to re-evaluate aer’s views greatly about aerself. The embedded stories take place elsewhere in this The primary character, Anima, watches over the island city of Ora, and intervenes in situations when necessary, using a biologically-based technology to move between bodies around the city. A stranger, Vessel, shows up in the city with a box containing several objects. Anima and Vessel talk together several times, with Vessel relating the stories associated with the contained objects, leading Anima to re-evaluate aer’s views greatly about aerself. The embedded stories take place elsewhere in this world, and weave in and out of the main narrative, and concern grief, a suicide, a sports competition, a treasonous government official and the hunting of an ocean creature. We also see Anima surveilling the inhabitants of Ora, and dealing with one particularly upsetting incident, and Anima discovering the cumulative toll each of the situations take on aer’s emotions and wellbeing. This is a deeply challenging read. -I like the author’s biotech-based take on cyberpunk. -I love the use of objects to tell stories (having worked as a docent years ago) and was reminded of how Nghi Vo used a similar technique in “The Empress of Salt and Fortune”. -I love how the embedded stories are influenced by Asian myths, cultures, and history. “The Watchful City” is unusual, viscerally-written, beautiful, and difficult to categorize. This was like nothing I’ve read before. Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for this ARC in exchange for a review.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rachel (TheShadesofOrange)

    3.5 Stars As someone who loves queer Asian inspired fantasy, this novella sounded right up my alley. Certainly, this book had those element, but the execution was not to my tastes.  I loved the inclusion of non binary characters which brought unique vocabulary into the prose. These ownvoices representation always bring interesting conversation surrounding gender roles and societal norms. Likewise, the cultural aspects added a rich diverseness to the story. Yet, the narrative itself just did not wor 3.5 Stars As someone who loves queer Asian inspired fantasy, this novella sounded right up my alley. Certainly, this book had those element, but the execution was not to my tastes.  I loved the inclusion of non binary characters which brought unique vocabulary into the prose. These ownvoices representation always bring interesting conversation surrounding gender roles and societal norms. Likewise, the cultural aspects added a rich diverseness to the story. Yet, the narrative itself just did not work for me. Telling stories within the framework of a larger story has always been a temperamental narrative choice. I actually liked several of the short stories, but felt the book lacked overall cohesiveness. I am largely a plot driven reader and I just felt the book was lacking in that area. I thought the writing was lyrical, but that alone did not make for a satisfying read.  This one missed the mark for me, but I still appreciated enough of the elements that I would recommend it to readers who do not mind more whimsical, meandering narratives. The story is packed full of potential, so perhaps I am simply not the right reader. Disclaimer I received a copy of this book from the publisher. 

  8. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    This is such an interesting and lovely literary SFF novella. It's a layered narrative, with stories within stories. Also uses multiple queer pronouns, ae, se, e. I'm quite interested in what this author will write next. Content warning for on-page suicide, mention of a suicide attempt, self-harm, body mutilations. This is such an interesting and lovely literary SFF novella. It's a layered narrative, with stories within stories. Also uses multiple queer pronouns, ae, se, e. I'm quite interested in what this author will write next. Content warning for on-page suicide, mention of a suicide attempt, self-harm, body mutilations.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    4/5 - I honestly don't know how to rate this. I...enjoyed it? I guess? I'm also extremely confused with what I just read but it was good? I think? Essentially, we follow Anima, who lives as a semi-omipotent Node of the city-state of Ora. Æ are greeted one day with a traveler who slowly tells ær stories from a case se travel with, Arabian Nights style. The book is almost like a short story anthology in some ways, with Anima interacting with the city of Ora and reacting to each tale in between tel 4/5 - I honestly don't know how to rate this. I...enjoyed it? I guess? I'm also extremely confused with what I just read but it was good? I think? Essentially, we follow Anima, who lives as a semi-omipotent Node of the city-state of Ora. Æ are greeted one day with a traveler who slowly tells ær stories from a case se travel with, Arabian Nights style. The book is almost like a short story anthology in some ways, with Anima interacting with the city of Ora and reacting to each tale in between telling. It's a very...experimental structure, with everything from a standard short story to verse to a collection of legal documents. I suppose i enjoyed it, but deeper literary exploration is really not my forte so I can only provide a surface reaction.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Isabel

    Tor acquires the BEST novellas, I am beyond excited about this!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Azrah

    **I was provided with an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review** CW: on-page suicide, drowning, mention of a suicide attempt, self-harm, body mutilations, blood, family abandonment Taking place in an Asian centric world, In the Watchful City follows an extrasensory human called Anima who through a network called the Gleaming monitors the city of Ora and it’s citizens. Along with the other Guardians of the city, the Gleaming allows ær to jump into the bodies of the different anima **I was provided with an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review** CW: on-page suicide, drowning, mention of a suicide attempt, self-harm, body mutilations, blood, family abandonment Taking place in an Asian centric world, In the Watchful City follows an extrasensory human called Anima who through a network called the Gleaming monitors the city of Ora and it’s citizens. Along with the other Guardians of the city, the Gleaming allows ær to jump into the bodies of the different animals that live there. One day æ finds that the city’s borders have been breached by an unwarranted traveller carrying a suitcase full of peculiar items. Each item holds a link, a story to someone and somewhere out in the wider world which, upon hearing them, open Anima’s mind and curiosity to life beyond the walls æ has always known. This is one captivating science fantasy novella (penned as biocyberpunk by the author), somewhat reminiscent of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities though it also has the feel of stumbling through one of the doors in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. Lu’s writing skilfully explores the themes of authority, identity and grief and their use of a non-traditional, mish-mash of narrative styles brilliantly captures the individual atmospheres and emotions of the recounted tales. If you’re a fan of stories within stories definitely give this one a read. Final Rating – 3.75/5 Stars

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sophie - biblisophagist

    "There is something that remains you no matter where you are, when you are, what you are. So, I'll ask you one question: Who are you?" This "biocyberpunk" (as described by the author) novella contains much more in 208 pages than I was expecting. We follow Anima, a node within The Gleaming who helps to keep the peace of aer world by having access to watch all the inhabitants and intervene to keep the harmony of this post-traumatic community when necessary. When a mysterious visitor, Vessel, appear "There is something that remains you no matter where you are, when you are, what you are. So, I'll ask you one question: Who are you?" This "biocyberpunk" (as described by the author) novella contains much more in 208 pages than I was expecting. We follow Anima, a node within The Gleaming who helps to keep the peace of aer world by having access to watch all the inhabitants and intervene to keep the harmony of this post-traumatic community when necessary. When a mysterious visitor, Vessel, appears, Anima is suddenly shown a world without borders and life full of possibilities even with its pain. This novella is many stories within stories. This along with it's repetition (a visitor showing up multiple times to tell a story) gives it the feel of a fairytale or some kind of folklore which always draws me in. As each story within the story unfolds, we are given a clearer picture of this world that Anima inhabits, supposedly a utopia in ways, and the lives of those throughout it as well as aer. The stories consider life, trauma, choice, identity, love, family, and heritage in ways that feel completely new and as familiar as any myth that's been told over and over again. The mix of futuristic and archaic imagery felt fresh and engaging rather than confusing. I loved the use of neopronouns (ae, se, e) throughout the story and the mix of how the story was told with different narration as well as how words were laid out on the page. CONTENT WARNINGS: completed suicide fully on page, attempted suicide mentioned, body mutilation, family abandonment. Take caution and care when reading if this kind of content will harm you. Thank you to NetGalley and MacMillan - Tor/Forge for my ARC in exchange for an honest review!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kira Thebookbella

    For more discussions on this book, you can find my YouTube review at: https://youtu.be/EEQOPvqvBuQ "The Gleaming is everywhere, and it is nowhere. It is simultaneous. It intersects with itself. All beings are infused with the power of it, yet only a few have access to it directly." TW: Suicide and discussions of suicide This is considered a utopian society, where everyone has their place and job. It is considered a utopia by the people in charge, but as Anima (a cloistered extrasensory human) For more discussions on this book, you can find my YouTube review at: https://youtu.be/EEQOPvqvBuQ "The Gleaming is everywhere, and it is nowhere. It is simultaneous. It intersects with itself. All beings are infused with the power of it, yet only a few have access to it directly." TW: Suicide and discussions of suicide This is considered a utopian society, where everyone has their place and job. It is considered a utopia by the people in charge, but as Anima (a cloistered extrasensory human) watches over their city, they discovers not everyone is happy. This is such an interesting premise it is complex in its build. Anima is a nonbinary human with a direct connection to the Gleaming. The Gleaming is a complex living network that surveils the inhabitants of the city of Ora and maintains harmony. They survey people's unique signatures such as gait, balance, tempo, pheromones, body odor and voice. Anima had a symbiotic relationship with the Gleaming, like a mushroom at the roots of a tree. There are several words in this book that are used as pronouns to discuss the aspects of anima. Æ is Anima's senses and physical abilities. Aer is Anima's human form/physical form. There is also Vessel who uses Ser (which is the equivalent of Aer) and Se (which is the equivalent of æ). Vessel is this being who newly comes to the city of Ora with a suitcase filled with things. Each thing has it's own story and the only catch is, if you hear the stories you must leave something of your own. Vessel is a psychopomp, which is a guide of souls to the place of the dead. They have one more item to collect before they are free to live a normal life. Vessel is an awakening for Anima. Anima has lived in Ora most of their life and is still unhappy. Still feels that their experience with humanity and the overall human experience is lacking. Vessel helps them explore experiences outside Anima's own through story telling. Overall this was a really unique and interesting science fiction story. I do wish the æ and the aer were elaborated on before I started the book as I spent a book portion of the book making inferences about their meaning and trying to decide if they were separat entities altogether. I have personally never before encountered their uses, but after I figured it out, it really added to the story for me. I also would have liked a bit more expansion to the world. We never really encouraged may of the people that lived in Ora, and so we never really got to see what the results looked like on how the city was run for more of the occupants. I would have loved to dive in and get to know at least a few of people who loved inside the city. This story was really interesting and I really enjoyed it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kopratic

    what a ride. amazing

  15. 5 out of 5

    Shannon (It Starts At Midnight)

    You can find the full review and all the fancy and/or randomness that accompanies it at It Starts at Midnight I don't generally like to compare books, but In the Watchful City's setup reminded me a bit of  The Singing Hills Cycle  by Nghi Vo. Mostly, in the way that several stories were told within the main story, which I found wonderful. And I adored the concept behind the stories, which was that each object that the visitor possessed contained a story from its former owner. The city itself is You can find the full review and all the fancy and/or randomness that accompanies it at It Starts at Midnight I don't generally like to compare books, but In the Watchful City's setup reminded me a bit of  The Singing Hills Cycle  by Nghi Vo. Mostly, in the way that several stories were told within the main story, which I found wonderful. And I adored the concept behind the stories, which was that each object that the visitor possessed contained a story from its former owner. The city itself is pretty interesting, though I won't pretend to have been completely able to wrap my head around its concept- that, however, could certainly be on me. Anima works as a guard of sorts, ensuring the safety for all citizens within. So when the visitor enters, it's ær job to vet them, basically. I loved the way each story was told, and how much of an impact they clearly had on Anima. Basically, we get to read several stories about life, while watching Anima apply these stories to ær life. It's pretty great, really, to not only experience the stories as a reader, but through the eyes of someone else, too. Bottom Line: The novella (both the main story of Anima, and the stories the visitor tells) is rich in both diversity and heart, and this is certainly one not to miss.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elena L.

    IN THE WATCHFUL CITY takes readers to Ora, a city-state in exile which uses a complex living network called Gleaming that protect the city from harm. Anima is an extrasensory human with the ability to body hop and æ is tasked with monitoring the city and its citizens. One day a mysterious outsider - Vessel - enters the city with qíjìtáng, a cabinet with items which each one has a story attached. Amniotic bath; sensation; digital technology, non-binary bio-cyberpunk... this Asian-inspired novella IN THE WATCHFUL CITY takes readers to Ora, a city-state in exile which uses a complex living network called Gleaming that protect the city from harm. Anima is an extrasensory human with the ability to body hop and æ is tasked with monitoring the city and its citizens. One day a mysterious outsider - Vessel - enters the city with qíjìtáng, a cabinet with items which each one has a story attached. Amniotic bath; sensation; digital technology, non-binary bio-cyberpunk... this Asian-inspired novella is an unusual read. When Anima assumes animal forms and takes control over its perceptions and movements, the story envelopes us in an ethereal atmosphere. This novella consists of fragmented stories that will challenge readers as Lu ambitiously explores themes of oppression, identity, mental health, power and grief. Through Anima's interaction with Vessel, Anima starts doubting her role and begins to see the world beyond the city - ær interaction has a pinch of mystery and kept me reading to find out what will come next. I particularly loved that Lu brings Chinese terms such as Bǐyìniǎo (比翼鳥) as well as new perspectives of Asian culture/history. This is a story that you don't hold onto each word, but rather let yourself dive into stories within stories blindly. IN A WATCHFUL CITY is a book that allows a full meditation on the meaning of life. It is a satisfying read with complex structure that I wish it could be longer. cw: self-harm, suicide episode [ I received a complimentary copy from the publisher - Tor Books - in exchange for an honest review ]

  17. 5 out of 5

    prutha

    In the watchful city is a brilliant bio-cyberpunk novella which is unapologetically Asian and queer. -It follows Anima who is tasked with gatekeeping the city of Ora. When aer meets a mysterious figure who invites aer to learn about the objects in ser's possession, Anima's world gets turned upside down. -I loved how layered this novella was, it had stories within stories which though were a bit confusing, made the story that much more interesting. -It's beautifully queer with many characters using In the watchful city is a brilliant bio-cyberpunk novella which is unapologetically Asian and queer. -It follows Anima who is tasked with gatekeeping the city of Ora. When aer meets a mysterious figure who invites aer to learn about the objects in ser's possession, Anima's world gets turned upside down. -I loved how layered this novella was, it had stories within stories which though were a bit confusing, made the story that much more interesting. -It's beautifully queer with many characters using neopronouns, so the reading experience was like none other. -I enjoyed the author's take on Asian culture and myths and how aer managed to interweave them with the story. -Overall, it was a fun read and I highly recommend it! Content warnings: On-page suicide, mention of a suicide attempt, self-harm, body mutilations. I received an arc from tor books via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. this did not impact my review in any way.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Paddy Pikala

    I have to admit, I had trouble focusing at first, because some of the pronouns used in this book were se/ser and ser in Polish is cheese, so I kept thinking about cheese and I love cheese. The beginning of the book is a bit confusing--with chases and characters talking about some issues with no exposition whatsoever and I started to worry that I won't like the book. But it turns out it's an embedded narrative and that was an intro to some short stories told by the characters. It's hard for me to I have to admit, I had trouble focusing at first, because some of the pronouns used in this book were se/ser and ser in Polish is cheese, so I kept thinking about cheese and I love cheese. The beginning of the book is a bit confusing--with chases and characters talking about some issues with no exposition whatsoever and I started to worry that I won't like the book. But it turns out it's an embedded narrative and that was an intro to some short stories told by the characters. It's hard for me to explain the details of each story, because honestly, I didn't find this book very interesting, maybe because the author assumed the reader will understand the complex sci-fi world and loosely connected stories with ease, but honestly, I didn't. It just wasn't cohesive enough. Sci-fi is difficult enough to read, and I felt like the author was making it extra hard. I don't want to be rude about this, but I think this book would have been executed so much better if it'd had one, clear idea behind it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Potterhead Aanya

    This was an interesting book and the meaning it conveys its beautiful. I love how the story develops, but it's not so great, or appealing for that matter. It really pains me to give it 2 stars. 2 out of 5 stars. Thank you publisher and NetGalley for a copy. This was an interesting book and the meaning it conveys its beautiful. I love how the story develops, but it's not so great, or appealing for that matter. It really pains me to give it 2 stars. 2 out of 5 stars. Thank you publisher and NetGalley for a copy.

  20. 5 out of 5

    USOM

    (Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.) TW: self-harm, suicide In the Watchful City is unlike anything I've ever read. Taking this idea of objects which tell stories and running with it, Qiouyi Lu delivers a thoughtful story about purpose. Pushing boundaries of what you might expect, In The Watchful City is like a kalediscope of stories within stories. Lives lived outside the fringes of what we know and holding secrets. It's (Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.) TW: self-harm, suicide In the Watchful City is unlike anything I've ever read. Taking this idea of objects which tell stories and running with it, Qiouyi Lu delivers a thoughtful story about purpose. Pushing boundaries of what you might expect, In The Watchful City is like a kalediscope of stories within stories. Lives lived outside the fringes of what we know and holding secrets. It's a testament for stories to reveal truths about ourselves. Even those that seem so far removed from our own, that end up whispering to the voices within us. full review: https://utopia-state-of-mind.com/revi...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Saimon (ZanyAnomaly)

    the universe conspired to get this book into my hands and it sounds amazing, so lets goooo! /thanks to the publisher for providing me an e-arc/

  22. 5 out of 5

    Traveling Cloak

    I found In the Watchful City to be a whimsical, almost poetic account of the relationship between Anima et al, technology, and the humans that inhabit Ora. For a novella, I think this book does a great job of demonstrating how complicated and interconnected these interactions can be. In less than 200 pages, author S. Qiouyi Lou manages to pack so much nuance into the narrative. The way Anima, Vessel, and Enigma interact with each other as well as the Gleaming speaks a lot about identity and every I found In the Watchful City to be a whimsical, almost poetic account of the relationship between Anima et al, technology, and the humans that inhabit Ora. For a novella, I think this book does a great job of demonstrating how complicated and interconnected these interactions can be. In less than 200 pages, author S. Qiouyi Lou manages to pack so much nuance into the narrative. The way Anima, Vessel, and Enigma interact with each other as well as the Gleaming speaks a lot about identity and everything that is wrapped up in it. It is easy to connect with Anima as aer worldview is expanded beyond the Gleaming by the artifacts and stories Vessel tells. I have always loved the writing mechanism of using items as a jump off to tell stories, especially when they are things certain characters are unfamiliar with. Even though this is technology-heavy science fiction, it gives off vibes of old-time storytelling, sitting around a campfire and listening to outlandish tales. I enjoyed every one, and I thought it was a neat way for the reader to explore the world. That is where the connection with Anima comes in, who is also enthralled. Another thing that always appeals to me is stories that are really unique, and In The Watchful City definitely falls into that category. I have not read anything quite like it. The prose did remind me of This is How You Lose the Time War, though. I think it was the way that the narrative flows, but also how it moves from one scene to the next. It is hard to describe. I guess I can say it felt almost like moving from dream to dream during sleep. It was just really enjoyable and atmospheric. I did not rate it higher mainly because, while the book overall was a really nice read, I did not find the stories themselves very memorable. I can also say with confidence that is probably not the point of the book, either, but when I was finished I had trouble recalling specifics. That tells me they were not eventful enough to have made a huge impact on me. Still, I did enjoy the book as a whole. If you are looking for a unique science fiction book (the author describes it as “biocyberpunk”) with Asian-inspired elements, In the Watchful City is a really good choice. I recommend it for those looking to read something unique.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Anj✨

    In The Watchful City is original and beautifully written. - It has stories within stories - Lush and whimsical prose - Biocyberpunk and mythology - set in an Asian-inspired world - Queer characters using neopronouns I'm so daunted when I started this one since it uses a non-traditional narrative and neopronouns, and I keep getting confused. It is such a layered story. I love how it explores grief, identity, self-acceptance, and what happens when your view is challenged; the questions that arise and ho In The Watchful City is original and beautifully written. - It has stories within stories - Lush and whimsical prose - Biocyberpunk and mythology - set in an Asian-inspired world - Queer characters using neopronouns I'm so daunted when I started this one since it uses a non-traditional narrative and neopronouns, and I keep getting confused. It is such a layered story. I love how it explores grief, identity, self-acceptance, and what happens when your view is challenged; the questions that arise and how the characters reflect on it. Overall, In the Watchful City is a unique and engaging story. It defies genre with fantastic and vibrant world-building. Thank you so much, Tordotcom and Netgalley for the review copy. All thoughts and opinions are mine.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Drew

    A fascinating, complex mosaic novel that brings to mind THE INVISIBLE MAN but queered and stranger and far more full of complicated emotion. This book delighted and surprised, and I would've loved it even more if it was twice as long -- there was so much *there* there. A fascinating, complex mosaic novel that brings to mind THE INVISIBLE MAN but queered and stranger and far more full of complicated emotion. This book delighted and surprised, and I would've loved it even more if it was twice as long -- there was so much *there* there.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katy

    This novella is so original and I loved the story-within-story structure. I just wish it had been longer to make more of an impact.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marlene

    Originally published at Reading Reality I’m not sure I got what I expected with this novella, but then I’m also not sure what I expected. I certainly didn’t get that the point of the story was supposed to be the question asked at the end of the blurb. And none of that mattered, because once I got into the story I was hooked. This is knd of a Scherezade meets a Collector and facilitates a rescue type of story. Or an escape. Or simply an opening of the eyes story. Or even, if you squint, opening the Originally published at Reading Reality I’m not sure I got what I expected with this novella, but then I’m also not sure what I expected. I certainly didn’t get that the point of the story was supposed to be the question asked at the end of the blurb. And none of that mattered, because once I got into the story I was hooked. This is knd of a Scherezade meets a Collector and facilitates a rescue type of story. Or an escape. Or simply an opening of the eyes story. Or even, if you squint, opening the bars of the gilded cage and letting the bird out story. Or perhaps all of the above. There are interesting political questions that lie behind, and under, and all around the story of Vessel telling stories to Anima about the artifacts collected in the cabinet that has been illegally smuggled into Ora, but there wasn’t quite enough of that part for this reader to hold onto. Just enough to glimpse that the underlying story would be fascinating if we got it, but it’s not necessary to enjoy the stories, poems, vignettes and thought-pieces that Vessel relates to Anima. But as much as I wondered about the world that produced this situation, that Anima is just one node in an ever-watchful neural network that observes and protects the city-state of Ora, what I loved were those little stories and the way that they opened Anima’s eyes to possibilities of other lives and other futures – not for the city but for Anima alone – if Anima is willing to cut Ærself off from the network that has sustained Ær whole life. Escape Rating A-: As I said, I loved this one for the stories, but puzzled a bit – okay, a lot of bits – about the universe in which they are set. There’s a biopunk AND cyberpunk feel to the whole thing, as Anima is both an individual with individual thoughts and feelings AND a node on a city-wide network with the capacity for omnipresence if not any other deity-like powers. The intrusion of the psychopomp Vessel both upsets and opens Anima’s closed world-view. Vessel is a smuggler, who is not supposed to be in Ora, and is not supposed to have been able to enter Ora without being caught. For Anima, Vessel is both a puzzlement and a siren, luring Anima into viewing other lives and other worlds, allowing the person-who-is-a-node to see that there are other possible ways and places to live. The individual stories range from heartbreakers to morality tales. (The story about the difference between raising the dead and resurrecting the dead is dark and heartbreaking and a gem all at the same time.) They are little jewels, revealing ever more facets to the universe of possibilities if only Anima is willing to reach out and grab them. And it’s only at the end that the reader realizes that opening Anima’s eyes was the point all along, and that THAT was the thread that linked all the stories. Pulling all of the “might have beens” into a thread of possibility for Anima – and for Vessel.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

    I received this as a review copy from NetGalley. This... is a really hard book to write a review on. I could just say it's amazing, but that doesn't give you much sense of, well, anything. I could just say it's a book you have to experience to appreciate but... that's so deeply a cop-out I can't even. So. Let's try this. Characters? Varied and intriguing and even though you're with most of them for such a short period of time, I felt emotionally connected to pretty much all of them. I'm pretty s I received this as a review copy from NetGalley. This... is a really hard book to write a review on. I could just say it's amazing, but that doesn't give you much sense of, well, anything. I could just say it's a book you have to experience to appreciate but... that's so deeply a cop-out I can't even. So. Let's try this. Characters? Varied and intriguing and even though you're with most of them for such a short period of time, I felt emotionally connected to pretty much all of them. I'm pretty stony-hearted so that's saying a lot. Gender diverse (two, I think, non-standard pronouns), very little physical description so imagine what you like of skin colour etc (aspects of Chinese-based world-building like references to foot binding had some impact on my imagination). World-building? One of those instances where there are so many little moments where something is mentioned and I'm like "wait WAIT what? You need to explain that more!" and the author just ignores me (unsurprisingly) and although I don't fully understand some idea (which might be my lack of cultural context or it might be deliberate), it turns out actually I don't need those details to fully experience the world and the story. Having said that, by the end of the story I had a lot of tantalising detail that gave me a very full sense of the world - far more full than might be expected from a fairly short story, and especially one that's not entirely linear. Plot? There's one main one - Anima lives in Ora, and works basically as part of a surveillance system, designed to keep citizens safe. Anima meets someone very unexpected, as well as experiencing tragedy. But along with that, there are additional stories, told to Anima via representative objects... and I loved Anima but maybe I loved the stories more? Some involve great loss and some involve victory and they all help to develop a sense of the world in which all of this is taking place. It's SF and it's fantasy. The writing is gorgeous. It's utterly absorbing. It's going on my list of things to nominate for awards next year.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nore

    I went into this expecting magical sci-fi and instead got pure magic with a sci-fi veneer, which was a huge disappointment for me right off the bat. The plot is paper-thin; the progression is nonsensical; and the characters are bland and lifeless, so I felt nothing for pretty much anyone in this book. The MC starts masturbating for no reason almost immediately after hearing a traumatic tale about a man attempting to revive his dead brother (if I had to guess, it was because the dude had the hots I went into this expecting magical sci-fi and instead got pure magic with a sci-fi veneer, which was a huge disappointment for me right off the bat. The plot is paper-thin; the progression is nonsensical; and the characters are bland and lifeless, so I felt nothing for pretty much anyone in this book. The MC starts masturbating for no reason almost immediately after hearing a traumatic tale about a man attempting to revive his dead brother (if I had to guess, it was because the dude had the hots for the sheriff, but, okay? So?). The author defends footbinding as an expression of cultural identity and Womanhood (the character in question actually chooses to become a woman because... she wants bound feet.... and men can't have bound feet? This Is Feminism) and treats it as something this character finds deeply empowering. Let's not talk about the fact that something can be an expression of cultural identity and still be a sexist practice that cripples and mutilates women. (ETA: I mention this because the author specifically mentions in the acknowledgements that they did research and wrote the tale to focus on agency.) And to top it off, the whole gambit this book is premised upon, "what if a city had a set of magical omnipresent watchers who could possess any animal within its limits," was used to the hilarious effect of a racoon attempting to apprehend a suspect, which is so stupid it ruined the whole tone of the book for me about 10% in. No, I can't take you seriously, Anima, you tried to catch a full-grown man as a raccoon. No cops in the future... Only possessed rats.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Brigid

    Check out this review and more at The Alliterates. In the Watchful City takes us on a trip, pushing the walls of science fiction and storytelling, that place between linear stories and surreal imaginations. S. Qiouyi Lu’s writing is boundary-shattering, completely sparkling with new experiences. An experience like no other. A story that weaves in and out of the story, and its ability to bend and stretch our minds, we get to see the significance of memory through objects and its connections to peop Check out this review and more at The Alliterates. In the Watchful City takes us on a trip, pushing the walls of science fiction and storytelling, that place between linear stories and surreal imaginations. S. Qiouyi Lu’s writing is boundary-shattering, completely sparkling with new experiences. An experience like no other. A story that weaves in and out of the story, and its ability to bend and stretch our minds, we get to see the significance of memory through objects and its connections to people. It’s bits and pieces of stories within a much larger story. It’s like shattered stories, and we watch them being glued together to make itself known and understood in the grander scheme of things. Anima is a non-binary human with non-human abilities who watches over Ora’s citizens. But when a visitor comes, ær brought into a world of storytelling, all traumas and hopes. With each object, there is an entire story and person behind it. From scales, we see a story of mermaids and survival hood. We see stories of trans people hoping for a better life. A deck of tarot cards unfolds a story with such interesting and fascinating characters. Everything feels like a blend of technology and folktales, bringing the myth into the rawness of real-life—anything from trans identities, generational trauma, corruption of power, environmentalism, and family. S. Qiouyi Lu has a gift for transforming the expected and surprising the reader into an unexpected tale. I loved this beautifully weird story. I highly recommend reading this and many other TorDotCom novellas when you need something to get you out of a slump.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Laura (crofteereader)

    CW: suicide and self-harm This one was bizarre and fascinating and full of small pieces of lives that experienced deep emotions. I love the idea of starting with a main character who sees everything in a city, whose sole purpose in life is to watch and enforce the laws of the city (no one comes in or out, lives are sacred but you can apply to commit government-approved suicide). So we see the city through the eyes of Anima, whose special relationship to the governing entity allows aer (neopronoun CW: suicide and self-harm This one was bizarre and fascinating and full of small pieces of lives that experienced deep emotions. I love the idea of starting with a main character who sees everything in a city, whose sole purpose in life is to watch and enforce the laws of the city (no one comes in or out, lives are sacred but you can apply to commit government-approved suicide). So we see the city through the eyes of Anima, whose special relationship to the governing entity allows aer (neopronouns!!!) to inhabit the bodies of animals to travel the city as needed. But the really interesting character is Vessel, whose job as a psychopomp is to collect objects (memories) from other people and share however many se (another neopronoun!!) needs to convince a new person to give a memory. The combination of these two characters, as well as the memories that pass like stories between them, is so compelling. Perfect for fans of Nghi Vo's The Empress of Salt and Fortune / When Tiger Comes Down the Mountain, who want something that's a little more sci-fi with more stories in smaller pieces. {Thank you Tor.com for providing me an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review; all thoughts are my own}

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