24 Sept 2021

Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays: UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR by T.J. Klune

Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays introduces readers who are unfamiliar with the Adult SF/F genre to books, authors, and discussions all about the vast expanse of the world of Adult SF/F!

UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR

Author: T.J. Klune
Series: N/A
Source: eAudio from Publisher
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: September 21, 2021
Summary:

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop's owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn't ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo's help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

Under the Whispering Door is a contemporary fantasy about a ghost who refuses to cross over and the ferryman he falls in love with. 
Purchase:

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book and chose to review it. This in no way impacts my opinion.

Before I begin, I the copy I received was an audiobook, which was so fantastically done. Highly recommend listening to it! But that might be part of why I felt some of the ways that I did with this one.

I had been eyeing this release since I saw how critically acclaimed THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA was by... well, everyone I know. I have not read it, but I would like to point to Kas's review on Goodreads talking about how the author appropriate the Sixties Scoop here in Canada. The author is American and sugarcoated the idea of Residential Schools here in Canada.

And I think there is some elements of wanting to do better as a writer and incorporating different dimensions of diversity in UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR but it felt too one-dimensional. It wasn't fleshed out because there was no nuance to how things are. One instance of this, when Wallace asks Mei if anyone has ever told her she sounds like a fortune cookie reads like a "haha gotcha" racism moment rather than what could be a good explanation of how these types of stereotypes are embedded in us.

Then we have the whole "we used our dishwasher as a drying rack" which felt like the scene from Fresh Off the Boat rather than an actual thing that the author learned from talking to someone that identifies as "Asian" (which is pretty vaguely described here too). I, obviously, don't have living experience as someone of Asian descent so I don't want to speak too much more on this but these moments really stuck out to me.

But the way that Klune integrates queerness into books is great. I wasn't a huge fan of the romance because it felt really quick and forced. I did, however, really like the way that it is just an okay thing for each of the characters to come out in their own ways. I very much appreciated that. Hugo and Wallace both have their baggage but are able to set it down together, which was a nice thing to see.

I thought that the whole tea shop idea was absolutely brilliant. The way that Hugo and Mei move between the ghost world and the human world was incredibly interesting and made for such a good read. I liked learning about the customers and the way they intereacted with Hugo. I liked seeing the compassion that Hugo had for everyone. He was such a good person and I am so glad that he was in this book.

Mei was the star of the show, honestly. I liked so much about her and the way she moved through this story. She really brought the personality of colour to the black and white of the book (well, I listened to it, but you know what I mean). I think Kirt Graves, who read the book, did a good job of alternating between the different voices and giving everyone something unique. But this was especially true of Mei and her deadpanned ways of describing things.

Wallace was fine. I think part of my issue with Wallace was that the pacing felt off some times in this book, so his development wasn't as strong as I would have actually liked. And it did feel pretty tied to his relationship with Hugo, or a conversation with Mei, or the way he interacted with Nelson rather than something he did on his own. I liked Wallace enough and the whole first chapter/scene in his office was hilarious to me.

TLDR: I would recommend that Klune invest in some sensitivity readers in the future. This could have been a good book about what it means to grieve, what it means to live, and how we come to these conclusions with the people who matter most. Instead, it was bogged down with elements that took away from the main matters at hand. Otherwise, this was a great fantasy novel that weaved in the contemporary world in a way with which everyone can resonate.

Have you read this one? What was your favourite part?

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