For the first time in this series, the Faction isn't hidden between the lines. We get a Faction narrator, someone who knows the score. The story gives us a blizzard of references from The Book of the War: witchblood, biodata, the Eleven-Day Empire and the Thirteen-Day Republic, shadow weaponry, timeships. Or a timeship, anyway -- Compassion, the thread running through all the Faction books so far -- no points for guessing how she manifests to the Chinese.
I'm pleased to finally get a "real" Faction Paradox story. The description of time-active ritual magic/technology is pleasingly evocative; it has a sense of depth, rather than just being a stack of notions out of a lexicon.
Of course I'm using "real" ironically. I'm glad the earlier books took an outsider slant to the Faction. This Town... is great the way it is! Anyhow if four novels in a row had rolled through the same set of Faction tropes, I'd long since be sick of it. (Like Lin Carter's Cthulhu stories, each of which iterated Lovecraft's gods and grimoires to the point of exhaustion.)
Also, the Faction setting is nicely balanced with a well-researched Boxer-era Beijing. Not that I know anything about the period, but the detail comes thick and fast and laden with the smell of the streets. Later, the smell of the streets on fire.
This is an excellently bouncy adventure. And yes, the Westerner Cousin Octavia and the Chinese Liu Hui Ling wing up getting equal time in the story. Liu turns out to be trained in kung fu, and if the book is somewhat fuzzy on how that happened, it's absolutely worth it. A wuxia heroine squaring off against a Faction shadow-fighting ritualist -- that's the cover art, and it's selling the right stuff.
Really the entire story skimps on setup, preferring to throw you straight into the action. If that's an error, it's on the correct side. Some early comments lead me to believe that this is Octavia's second adventure -- following something about Princess Anastasia -- but I'm not sure where that was published, if anywhere, outside of Book of the War entries. At any rate this one stands on its own. If you've been befuddled and intrigued by my Faction reviews so far, hit This Town... and Warring States and you'll be in good shape.