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Jin Village - Vincent Stoia I won this as a Goodreads giveaway.

Warning: I'm not so confident giving this book a review. I might be a bit too harsh since thriller is not my usual genre, and thus I have no sense where the book's quality stands. As a result, I have to resort to comparing it with some others - heavier towards fantasy - that I read before. Overall it is an enjoyable read for me, but it could have been better.

Jin Village is kinda a Chinese version of Mummy. The comparison is bad, I know, but that gives you a general idea: ancient, evil, powerful force vs. some modern men and women. It is about a group of archeologists and engineers going to excavate an ancient, forgotten, cursed village and then finding themselves trapped in a nightmare.

There are a few problems I encounter with the book.

First is characters. In the beginning, there are 40 people and I was feeling very optimistic for I thought there would be interesting interactions among this group, a political/sociology study or sth. But instead, Jin Village has quite a narrow focus: only 5 of them are actually active. The rest plays only a very trivial role, in fact they disappear too quickly. Five main characters are two professors (one evil-one kind), two assistants (a college boy and a phD student) and one former military man. There is also, of course, stories from the main evil and another farmer named Hong (whose story I like most). The stories are mainly told in their viewpoints. The narrow focus would be fine if these characters show some more psychological depth and more distinct personalities. However, I find them very indistinguishable. It seems anyone can behave just like the way they do? And then there is this evil professor, which I find not very convincing, quite simplistic and one dimensional. Also, I find these characters' personal anecdotes are not really connected into the story but remain detached and sometimes disrupt the story line, rather distracting. The sexual tensions between Amy and Sean, for example, is unneccessary in my opinion (but maybe interesting for other readers?). Their growing attachment is not convincing for me.

Then the plot. I feel a bit disappointed since I expect a more well-structured and developed plot. You know, the type that every minute details, every small hints work together towards a big grand scheme. Maybe some connections between the past and the present. Above all, I wish that Mother Chen's past, her driving force for revenge, were stronger and better told. Not that the story is not convincing, but it is still somewhat weak. Her development into power is ignored, which is such a waste. I wish her power is more well imagined (how it works, where does the power come from? etc., a clearer system). In short, the plot is quite sketchy and a bit fragmented. Writings could have been improved, more descriptives and showing not telling could have been more effective.

Despite all of these weaknesses, Jin Village has a major strength that outweighs all and that makes me finish the book. It is Stoia's ability to create the atmosphere of the ancient, isolated Chinese village. I was quite absorbed into that quiet and yet thrilling world. The cover itself is captivating! I immediately visualize the mountains and houses, etc. It feels distinctively Chinese, which is a great achievement. Perhaps this is because the author is able to integrate quite accurately Chinese cultures and traditional customs into the book. I believe many will be fascinated by paragraphs on bound feet, they are very informative and yet short enough not to interrupt the flow of the book.