Why you should read: Food of The Gods, Cassandra Khaw
By Luke Frostick
- Buckets of blood, gore and guts,
- Season liberally with blasphemy,
- Serve on the streets of Kuala Lumpur,
Stories from other countries and cultures have a unique interest. That's true for all fiction but it is especially true for fantasy. It’s always interesting to get out of the Anglo-Saxon, Tolkien-inspired fantasy pool and read something that is informed by different cultural, mythological and religious backgrounds. It is a great way of highlighting what is best of the genre and why fantasy is important.
I’m not sure that Cassandra Khaw is highlighting what is best in the genre, but it’s sure as hell interesting. Her book, Food of the Gods, is a compilation of her breakout novella Rupert Wong Cannibal Chef and the follow-up Rupert Wong And The Ends of the Earth. The book follows the adventures of the aforementioned cannibal chef as he charges round Kuala Lumpur trying to fulfil his duel duties as Chef to the city’s ghouls and a bureaucrat for the Chinese hells while simultaneously trying to find out who killed ‘Dolphin fucking Ao Qin’, the Dragon king of the south sea’s daughter. In the second novella, Rupert is sent to London on loan to the Greek Gods to clear up some of the red mess left behind from the events of Rupert Wong Cannibal Chef and provide them with some top quality cuisine along the way.
The story moves at breakneck speed with Rupert narrating all the way. Rupert is a great companion through the madness; the first person narration has a wonderful conversational tone that reminded me of a Jeeves and Wooster story–one where Aunt Agatha has developed a strong taste for human flesh (should that be stronger). The result was that between Cassandra Khaw’s ultraviolet pros and Rupert’s dry wit and asides I was laughing out loud in throughout. In addition to the legitimately funny one-liners, it is chock-full off memorable scenes that disturb and delight in equal measure. I found myself like a debauched Roman Emperor waiting to see what horror would be trotted out next for my amusement. One of my favourites was at the beginning of the second novella where Rupert finds himself taking part in a Master Chef style cook-off. The mystery ingredient is a Brazilian porn star.
On the surface it seems like that's all the book has going on, and for me a super bloody Discworld-style story about ghouls in Malaysia would be enough, but there is more to it than that. There is a deep well of nerdy references packed into the frantic pace from Lovecraft to Silence of the Lambs, to Welcome to Night Vale. It also has a strong satirical cutting edge that is sparingly employed but to great effect:
“Here [Beach Club], flabby Caucasians court the SPGs aka Sarong Party Girls aka ‘women who allegedly covert white dick,’ a misnomer in many instances because at least half of the women are escorts, prowling for an easy mark. Not that the men ever seem to realize, pickled in their own ethnic supremacy, blithely sure that Asian damsels are obsessed with melanin-free meat.”
Moving on . . .
One of the key drawing points of the book is seeing gods and mythologies that normally don't get a look in in mainstream fantasy. Gods, dimensions and creatures that I’d never heard of crawled out of every page, gleefully murdering humans. I found particularly interesting the way that Chinese mythology, Malaysian religious systems and Islam interacted with each other throughout Rupert Wong Cannibal Chef; a gory parody and look into the complex reality of the actual Kuala Lumpur. I would be fascinated to read a review of this by somebody with an intimate understanding of Kuala Lumpur, but as of writing this haven’t found any.
As I mentioned above, the book contains two novellas. In the balance, I enjoyed Rupert Wong Cannibal Chef more. I enjoyed playing around with the pantheons of gods that I wasn't familiar with, having to reach for Google when I didn't know a kwee kia was or who Yan Wang was. I didn't get the same experience reading Rupert Wong at the End of the World because the story took place in London and was primarily interested in the Greeks gods. Their scheming and bickering were still good but done before in books like American Gods. Moreover, Rupert Wong Cannibal Chef, has this frantic energy that grabs you by the neck and yanks you through the plot. This is maintained in the much longer Rupert Wong at the End of the World but where in Cannibal Chef it energised me, with the longer page count the constant twists, turns and bloody murders became exhausting.
This book is delicious fare, what fantasy is supposed to be. If you find it in a bookshop near you pick it up, devour it. After all “meat is meat.”
You can buy Food of the Gods here