Sunday, October 26, 2014

Review: Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy

Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy
Published: Bantam UK, 1983
Awards Nominated: Nebula, Philip K. Dick, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards

The Book:

“When Marth Macnamara’s headstrong, intelligent daughter Elizabeth calls her for some kind of unspecified help, Martha rushes across the country to aid her. After Martha arrives at the luxurious hotel her daughter had booked for her, however, Elizabeth seems to have vanished.

While waiting anxiously for any contact from her daughter, Martha meets a mysterious Chinese gentleman by the name of Mayland Long.  Mayland seems to be living at the hotel, and he is drawn to Martha and her zen approach to life.  According to the hotel’s bartender, Mayland also believes he is a dragon.  Together, perhaps they can learn the truth about Elizabeth’s situation, before it’s too late!” ~Allie  

Tea with the Black Dragon is the first novel I’ve read by R.A. MacAvoy.

My Thoughts:

Tea with the Black Dragon is a short novel, but one that uncoils to reveal its mysteries with a slowly building speed.  The first part of the novel is full of tea and philosophical conversation, but the tension begins to mount as Martha and Mayland slowly start uncovering the truth about Elizabeth’s disappearance.  The story ends up being part mystery, part fantasy, and part thriller, and I especially enjoyed how the mystery was handled.  The solution to the mystery was not obvious from the beginning, but instead slowly becomes clearer with each character interaction in Mayland and Martha’s investigation.

The story does feel very dated, in some charming and some not-so-charming ways.  On the positive side, I really enjoyed the focus on 1980’s computer science. It is truly amazing how much has changed in computing during the past few decades, and I thought it was really cool to have this window back into how things were when I was very young. 

On the more negative side, I was not a huge fan of the exoticization of Mayland and the general portrayal of the female characters.  It seemed like Mayland’s ethnicity was mentioned nearly every time he or his actions were described, always to distinguish how he was totally different from white (or black) people. It didn’t help this feeling of othering that Mayland, as a Chinese dragon, was also a literal outsider to the human race. In terms of the female characters, most of the novel is basically a standard damsel-in-distress story, though I’d say it is a very good one.  I was also not thrilled with what the story seemed to be saying about women through the characters of Martha and Elizabeth, from their life perspectives and experiences.  Despite these complaints, I found the personalities of Mayland and Martha to be very likeable and engaging, so it was very easy to cheer for them as the story took its more dangerous turns.     

As far as fantasy goes, the single fantasy element is undeniably present, but also mostly irrelevant to the story. Mayland Long claims to be a dragon in human form—and this is confirmed by several details in the text—but the story would have changed very little if he had just been a wealthy man in the middle of a philosophical crisis.  I rather liked this approach, since it made the story more about the characters, their thoughts, and their connections to one another than about external magical influence. It’s an entertaining book both as a story of Mayland’s personal growth and as a thriller about Martha’s missing daughter.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Tea with the Black Dragon is a short but sweet novel that slowly uncovers the central mystery of Martha’s missing daughter.  While the story begins peacefully, the tension mounts as the underlying thriller plot is revealed.  Martha is aided in her investigation by Mayland Long, a Chinese dragon in human form who is searching for a philosophical master that can lead him to understanding.  The novel feels a bit dated now, with its inclusion of 1980s computers and what seems like some outdated approaches to gender and ethnicity, but the story is still easy to enjoy. Overall, it was a very pleasant and entertaining book to read, and one I am happy to have encountered.

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