Thanks to Albert Whitman & Company and Netgalley for the Advance Review Copy.
There are some very light spoilers in my review.
A bit of a mixed bag this one. Some really good aspects and some things I didn’t enjoy so much.
The book is set in a Chinese inspired fantasy kingdom. I usually really enjoy novels set in China or inspired by China and the author did a great job of incorporating cultural features into the narrative and this really helped bring the world to life.
Initially I thought Hesina was totally bonkers and clueless but I warmed to her as the novel progressed. Her actions seem contradictory to her inner monologue but taking into account the conflict between her personal desires and her obligation to her people it actually made her character quite realistic. All too often YA queens and princesses are ridiculously and unbelievably perfect and honourable and it was quite refreshing to see a flawed character in the position of Queen. I also enjoyed the dynamic between Hesina and her mother.
I didn’t actually foresee the twist that happened about halfway through the story which was a nice change again from how predictable some similar novels can be. The ending was also good if a little rushed and it certainly opens the door to a sequel.
Some of the issues I had were around the characterisation. For example Sanjing being the perfect swordsman, a master of strategy and commander of the army at age sixteen. I just couldn’t accept that as credible. I also didn’t understand why one of the main antagonists was just left to his own devices. It seemed utterly bizarre why a Queen wouldn’t use her powers to sort him out, especially one as morally grey as Hesina. The court scenes were also kinda meh and devoid of any real tension.
Some of the dialogue was quite iffy too e.g.
“There are no shadows in daylight, are there?”
Uhhh yes? There totally are? Shadows are literally formed by light.
The dialogue could also be a bit strange at times and it could be hard to follow who was talking. Some of the characters didn’t really have a unique voice and their motivations sometimes seemed contradictory as I didn’t feel I got to know some of them very well at all.
Overall, on balance, I did enjoy this novel. I assume from the ending that the author has future plans to continue the story and if so I’d look forward to reading what happens next.