To some extent, all one needs to know about The Java Enigma is that it has been called, more than once, “Da Vinci Code”-like. This will either intrigue or repel, depending on how one feels about Dan Brown’s genre-creating blockbuster. Neither reaction would however be entirely warranted, for—while there are certainly similarities—Erni Salleh’s debut novel is quite a different animal. For one thing, it’s a lot shorter.

The Ming Dynasty ended in a slow-motion train wreck that inspired poetry, opera and wistful memoirs. It also provided a platform for remarkable women entertainers, the mingzi, to shine and even outshine their male contemporaries, politicians, literati and courtiers. Later observers admired the “manly” virtues of three heroines, Chen Yuanyuan, Liu Rushi and Fragrant Princess Li, their loyalty, their incorruptibility and their refinement, as well as their incomparable beauty and musical talent. All three met tragic ends in the collapse of the dynasty, but continue to live in literature, opera and cinema.

Hilary Byrd is a depressed and disgruntled English librarian from Petts Wood in southeast London. Frustrated with the changes in his library over the past twenty years—digitalization and moms’ groups that take the focus away from print books and exacerbate his depression—he plans a trip overseas to clear his mind and to show himself and his sister, Wyn, who has become his de facto caregiver, that he can forge out on his own. India is relatively inexpensive, so Hilary chooses it on the basis of affordability. India also exudes a certain romanticism for travelers of a nostalgic disposition.

Shigeru Mizuki’s Tono Monogatari has a complicated lineage. During Japan’s rapid modernization in the early 20th century, a man named Kunio Yanagita set out to preserve Japan’s cultural heritage of magic and the supernatural. Along the way, he met a young writer, Kizen Sasaki. Together they traveled Japan’s Tono region, today about five hours northeast of Tokyo by train, recording folktales and evaluating whether they might be true. In 1910, Yanagita published a chronicle of his travels and the stories he collected: Tono Monogatari (“Tales of Tono”). Many Japanese regard Tono Monogatari as a defining text of Japanese folklore, a Japanese equivalent of the tales of the Brothers Grimm.