Tor, Nov 2008, $24.95
One-fourth Chinese-American, South Carolina resident Brenda Morris is attending college as a freshman when her world turns upside down staring with a father-daughter weekend that makes no sense to her especially when he leaves her with her Aunt Pearl in California. She suddenly finds herself caught in the middle of the mystical hidden realm of the Thirteen Orphans. These mages use mah-jongg as their power source and can shape shift into the animals of the Chinese zodiac; her aunt is the Tiger.
Although her preference is to not get involved, Brenda courageously battles against deadly otherworldly foes when just a few days ago she would scoff at their existence. The odds are against her side as the original thirteen is down to a few, struggling she finds herself attracted to a predator who tried to kill her father Gaharis. Still refusing to quit, Brenda continues to fight against experienced more powerful adversaries while her veteran allies are being eliminated.
This opening urban fantasy is a fascinating coming of age tale that uses the Chinese Zodiac as the focus of magic. Like most first acts, the emphasis is on setting up the world even when the prime real estate is Northern California. Thus the plot is slowed down so that the rules of magic and mah-jongg are explained. Still fans will enjoy THIRTEEN ORPHANS as the college frosh soon goes from worrying when she will stop growing taller and turn curvier to staying alive.