Mud, blood and other body fluids: this novel takes no prisoners in its portrayal of prostitution in today’s Mumbai. Yet against this sometimes upsetting backdrop, author Anosh Irani presents a compelling tale of dignity and sacrifice.

The title refers to Kinjal, a ten-year old girl who has been trafficked from her village in Pakistan. She is kept in a cage in the attic of a brothel to prepare her for “opening”. The story, however, focuses more on her keeper, an aging eunuch called Madhu.

How do you forge an identity for yourself if—depending on how you look at it—you are either half this nationality and half that nationality, or both this nationality and that one, or neither this nationality nor that one? And what sorts of relationship does fiction bear to fact? The Fortunes explores such questions through the lives of four Chinese Americans, one a figure only glimpsed in history, two of them well-documented historical figures, and one of them invented from scratch. All four of them are here treated as characters in linked novellas that build to a novel, and all of them are intimately, and movingly, realized.

Alfred A Yuson’s The Music Child was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize at a time when the prize was for unpublished manuscripts. Although the finished novel took the better part of a decade to finally emerge, The Music Child and the Mahjong Queen exemplifies the Prize’s objective of facilitating the publication of new and eye-opening Asian fiction.

The times are a-changing for superheroes. Weary, doubtful and even hated for their supernatural aptitude of putting the world’s needs before theirs, our 21st-century champions are in the middle of a mid-life crisis that is spurning countless books and Hollywood box-office hits. Now the rave is all about bringing them back into the Xanax realm of anguished souls they were supposed to look after.

And that is why Captain Corcoran and his 19th-century confidence in his ability to wow the crowds —especially the ladies—is exactly the kind of hero we want to read about.