Chinese folklore, action, and the threat of a demon invasion. That is what The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is made of. Epic Crush is the debut novel from F.C. Yee, and combines high school classes and college prep with hunting down demons and learning how to control sudden powers. The gods, goddesses, and demons from Chinese mythology were unfamiliar, but they were integrated into a modern setting in a way that introduced them to a reader who has little to no knowledge of them.
I know nothing about Chinese mythology, so this was my first introduction to the gods, goddesses, and demons. It worked for me and I enjoyed reading a book that also taught me something. Ultimately, I’m not sure if learning about folklore from a YA book is the best because authors sometimes pick and choose, but it was interesting enough for me! I enjoyed that both Chinese names and translated names were used. It was a good choice because had all traditional names been used, I think it would have had the tendency to run together, but if all names were translated, it would have given the book a childishness that the book doesn’t deserve.
I really like books that incorporate an older, mythological setting and characters into a modern one. I like the urban fantasy aspect that it creates for books. While I felt that the modern setting was a bit too vague and relied on the reader to supply what they thought the Bay area looked like, I was able to imagine the world of the gods that existed alongside the modern one through the descriptions given to me in the stories Genie learned about. So while I felt that the normal setting was a bit bland and unrealized, the mythology behind it made it much more interesting.
The main character in Epic Crush is Genie, a girl prepping for college by studying hard, going to an adviser, and generally doing any volunteer activities that will help her get into a college far, far away from her hometown. That’s her main goal. She’s kind of thrown for a loop when she’s suddenly told that she has powers, but they’re not exactly the standard ones. There’s a lot of adjusting, and then there’s even more adjusting when something is revealed that makes her question her whole identity. I thought it was an interesting take on the powers trope. It isn’t something I’ve read before, so I was pleasantly surprised by it.
Genie herself was a great character. I feel like Yee avoided the problem of focusing too much on the special protagonist so much that everything else falls apart. There’s obviously a bit of a focus on Genie because she does have powers, but it didn’t become the thing that Genie whines about constantly. She doesn’t necessarily embrace it all the time, but she does take control of it, which I found very mature. It reflects back on who she is as a person. Genie takes everything head-on because to her, there’s no point in backing away from something. I also loved Genie’s voice. She’s overdramatic at times, but she honestly was one of the funniest protagonists I’ve read in a while. Yee crafted a really unique voice for her and I think a lot of reader’s will like her. She has a lot to deal with and the different emotions she goes through are done well and realistically. Or as realistically as I can imagine what happens when demons suddenly become part of your life.
I think that is why it’s perfect that she is the one who deals with the main conflict of the book: hunting down rogue demons. Genie is discovering and learning how to use her powers and she has to balance that with managing this hunt. I was really interested in reading about the different demons from Chinese folklore, but I felt like the story sped through the fights too much. The action was rather hurried. The fights very quickly became “We found one! Let’s go kill it! kickkickpowpow! Okay, back to studying!” I think I would have been more invested in the book had the action been slowed down. It seemed that once Genie had her initial power, the rest of the book was written in a way that quickly advanced her power and the demon hunting plot to get to the main villain. I felt like the book gradually went from zero to sixty and then just did a massive jump from sixty to 120.
The fights should have been a lot longer since the book made it a point to be about fighting demons. I think that threading the mythology with the fights instead of doing chunks of demon dumping would have made the story advance at a more natural pace. There should have been more meandering on the way to the main boss battle instead of jumping immediately to it. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on the battle for a bit. It would have been exciting, especially because it would have showcased Genie’s powers more. Genie suddenly had her fully fledged powers, but there weren’t many moments where I was shown how she got there.
As for other characters…it felt like they weren’t even there. There was Quentin, of course, who functioned more as a sidekick even though he had fully realized his powers, but the others weren’t really there. I have to applaud Yee, though, for including a mother who was pretty invested in her daughter’s life, because there’s far too many YA novels where the parents are filed away because they’re not useful to the plot. Another character I really wanted to see more of was Yunie, Genie’s best friend. I loved the story where they both took half of the name Eugenia because they hated it. However, there came a point where Yunie just faded into the background and was casually mentioned every once in a while by Genie because she felt guilty. I wanted to see more of their interactions! Hopefully in the next book(s), Genie will have told Yunie about her double-life as a demon hunter.
The last element of Epic Crush I want to discuss is the romance. I found it completely unnecessary. I think that the characters were better off when I considered them to be friends–and there’s nothing wrong with a crush on a friend–and I prefer it that way. I just feel like the romance muddled the better parts of the book. It seemed very much an afterthought to me, like Yee had thought he needed to include it in order to get more readers. I think that the book’s strengths lie in the folklore and the action. The romance felt very “and the guy gets the girl in the end,” which reminded me of action movies. I wish that Genie had discovered how to best use her powers and her friendship with Quentin became stronger instead of the route the end of the book ended up taking.
My biggest complaint about Epic Crush is the ending. There’s a trend to do series in YA which sometimes is to the detriment of books that should be a single novel. I think that this book would have been far better as a stand alone because I’m not sure that there’s enough for a second book. I personally found the setup to be slightly weak and tacked on at the end. I didn’t find it necessary.
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo will definitely entertain readers who are interested in seeing a different kind of folklore. There’s a lot of books that have Greek and Roman elements, but I’ve read few that have Chinese folklore in them. Please send me recommendations if there’s one that you really like! I could see this one becoming popular due to the action and the slight change in the special protagonist trope. Let me know if you’ll pick this one up when it comes out!
I received a copy of The Epic Crush of Genie Lo from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo will be published on August 8th, 2017.