Fiction Friday is a series where I talk about what I’ve been reading. Short Stories (and sometimes Novellas) are featured as in-between posts and the first Friday of the month will feature a new novel review. Today, I review On The Road To The Hell of Hungry Ghosts by Richard Parks.
Fiction Friday: On The Road To The Hell of Hungry Ghosts
Today’s short story is from the Beneath Ceaseless Skies anniversary double issue, celebrating nine years. So congrats to them. Today’s story is On The Road To The Hell of Hungry Ghosts by Richard Parks. You can find it here. It’s another Chinese-inspired tale, which I can’t have enough of, and this one is filled with action. It also has a deep lesson about morality. So without delay, let’s get started.
The story involves a group of travelers. Two daughters and one father. They run into a strange spirit of a young princess who was killed by a counsellor who plotted an attack against her family. While on a mission to discover their humanity, the trio head to a tomb where her treasure is guarded by a Jiangshi, an evil spirit.
It’s a classic story that has an anime-like feel to it. Lots of dialogue, plenty of action scenes and a deep lesson at the end. I’ll get to the lesson in a bit, but first, I’ll go into more detail about the story itself.
It involves two young women, Mei Li and Jing, and their father, Pan Bao set off on a mission to a town in the far off distance. However, they get sidetracked by a young ghost girl who is actually a princess. She will only talk to Mei Li, who is a demon snake who became a human. The princess asks them to venture into her tomb and put her soul to rest from whoever is haunting it. So the rest of the story is them freeing the cursed tomb from this evil Jiangshi and freeing the princess so she can rest peacefully.
It’s a beautifully told tale. While I won’t give away the ending, it does have a lesson about morality and being evil. The general gist is while negative emotions such as anger and sadness can be related to bad things, sometimes people are angry or sad for good things. For example, say you have a main character whose best friend dies at the hands of a main villain. He would be angered by the villain and it would be enough of a drive to stop him. It’s an interpretation that even though this negative emotion makes people bad, they don’t have to be selfish with them.
It’s a wonderful lesson. That even though a main character, a demon snake disguised as a human learning about life, is inherently evil, the princess knew the Jiangshi was evil, but Mei Li wasn’t. It gives me a lot of thought about how negative emotions like anger and sadness can teach a lesson rather than have one emotion exclusively with evil or good. It shows the reader that evil isn’t one-sided and that there can be a good kind of evil, willing to do whatever it takes for the good of others. I love heroes and villains that make you question their morality and show that they’re purely neutral in how they act. Some of my favorite villains have this mentality.
I thought this was a good message and beautifully explained.
The story is told in first person through Jing, sister to a demon snake named Mei Li. Their father is Pan Bao, a tough, yet caring mentor who joins along with them. While the characters were unique, their personalities seem calm for their situation, like they’ve been doing this for a while. They felt emotionless, which seems to be the point of the story. Mei Li is trying to understand emotion as a human and to do that, she must go through situations that require her to feel what others are thinking. Pan Bao does get harsh at times, but he means well and only wants to see the best for his students. The two sisters go along with whatever he says.
Despite their lack of obvious emotion, I really liked this cast. It’s different than the usual types I would see in this kind of story. They had some sense of compassion in regards to the princess, but for the most part, they simply did what was required of them.
I could picture them easily and that’s what’s important. They didn’t feel like placeholders. That’s good for me.
Most of the writing is Jing’s inner monologue. While there’s plenty of action and I followed along well, there’s a lot of exposition going on. Again, it reminded me of an anime, where this type of dialogue is common. There were plenty of well-described action scenes, and the dynamic between all three of them showed camaraderie. The writing was good for the story it tried to tell, but I would have loved to have seen more world-building moments and some more sensory details in play. Again, it was easy to follow along and picture the scenes in my head, but I would have loved to see more out of this world.
This is a very good, action-packed tale. It’s nice to see fiction in other cultures and really shows that there can be stories told outside of the usual norm. Next week will be a new novel review for an epic fantasy series with a huge amount of potential.
That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.