Food of the Gods (Gods and Monsters) (2017) by Cassandra Khaw

“I used to wonder if death kills your sense of humour. It does.” (Loc 72)

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Rupert Wong, “cannibal chef,” prepares food for gods and ghouls. Sometimes he is the food. He used to be a triad and has a dark past he’s not proud of. These days, he’s just trying to make enough for him and his girlfriend to get by, as well as keep the right gods and monsters happy enough to keep him out of hell. That’s hell with a capital “D” or “Diyu”, the Chinese realm of the dead.

“The holy man didn’t tell me anything I wasn’t already expecting. He said I had an express pass to all Ten Courts of Hell. I would be there for a thousand years, if I was lucky.” (Loc 198)

In an effort to work off some of his bad karma, Rupert agrees to investigate the murder of the Dragon King of the South’s daughter. The only clue is a couple of feathers rumoured to have belonged to one of the Greek Furies. Press-ganged private investigator or chef to gods and monsters, Rupert Wong could be the hero we’ve all been waiting for.

Food of the Gods (Gods and Monsters) collects Cassandra Khaw’s two Rupert Wong novellas: Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef (2015) and Rupert Wong and the Ends of the Earth (2017). Thus, potential readers should be aware that the structure of the book is broken into two parts. It reads as two separate adventures, and so may lead to some confusion with the shift between narratives halfway through. This is only a minor criticism though, and didn’t bother me personally, especially when the writing is this entertaining.

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Khaw’s prose is so much fun to read. It ranges from disgusting descriptions of body-based horror to laugh-out-loud one-liners worthy of the most sarcastic hard boiled detectives. Rupert Wong is a brilliant character who will likely become your new favourite anti-hero if he can stay alive long enough. His propensity for running off at the mouth leads him deeper and deeper into peril, as well as his genuine desire to do what’s right.

“Mr. Wong. Mr. Wong, are you alive yet?”
      Yet. The first motes of consciousness string together around the word, an utterance that catalyzes curiosity. Muzzily, my brain concludes that ‘yet’ is a weird adverb to use in that sentence,” (Loc 3826)

In the first part of the book, Cassandra Khaw takes us on a blistering tour of the underbelly of Kuala Lumpur as we meet some of the supernatural denizens that lurk there. This is a city where gods and ghosts are a part of everyday life. Here’s the author on her choice of setting:

“I wrote what I knew: a metropolis where ghosts were almost real, a place where cultures intermingled, where pirated DVDs still abound. I borrowed from our myths and our urban legends. I borrowed from my ethnic culture. (I’m ethnically Chinese, but am a Malaysian citizen.)” –Cassandra Khaw

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Cassandra Khaw

It was exciting to be immersed in such an interesting setting and I was impressed by Khaw’s world-building skills. I wanted to spend more time in this vibrant city; the short length of the first story leaving me hungry for more.

In the second story, the action moves to England’s capital. Due to events recounted in the first part of the book, Rupert Wong is advised to “get out of Kuala Lumpur.” His boss sends him to work for “the Greeks” in London.

“It’ll be fun, I’m sure. Brisk English air. Terrible people, terrible traffic. Terrible fish and chips. An entire history of Imperialist arrogance built into shit-colored walls and pretentious accents. You’ll absolutely love it.” (Loc 2374)

(Ouch! Being a British “ang moh” myself, I found that last quote painfully funny.)

Khaw’s intelligent wit is on display in the second half of the book just as much as in the first. There’s more action in the London scenes too, and just as much blood, guts and eyeballs! Parts of it reminded me a little of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, in that the Greek Pantheon are wonderfully portrayed here, warts and all. In only a few lines of prose, Khaw brings her characters to solid, vivid life, with each god or monster feeling distinct and vital.

Don’t let the gore put you off. This is impressive storytelling with a lot more going on below the surface than may initially seem apparent. When I finished Food of the Gods, I was sorry it wasn’t longer. I wanted to spend more time with Rupert Wong, as I felt like I was just starting to get to know him. And he surprised me, because I felt differently about him by the end of the story. I was emotionally invested in him. What started out as a bit of a smart-arse character with a big mouth gradually transformed into a decent man trying to do the right thing for all of us. This is all down to Cassandra Khaw’s talent. She is a writer who is now firmly on my radar. I am looking forward to what she does next.

Recommended.

[Thanks to Abbadon Books and NetGalley for the digital ARC. All opinions are my own.]

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