Author: Julie C. Dao
Age Range: 13+
Published: By Philomel Books on November 6th, 2018
Content Warning: Violence and death
Format I Read: E-book
Princess Jade has grown up in exile, hidden away in a monastery while her stepmother, the ruthless Xifeng, rules as empress of Feng Lu. But the empire is in distress and its people are sinking into poverty and despair. Even though Jade doesn’t want the crown, she knows she is the only one who can dethrone the empress and set the world right. Ready to reclaim her place as rightful heir, Jade embarks on a quest to raise the Dragon Lords and defeat Xifeng and the Serpent God once and for all. But will the same darkness that took Xifeng take Jade, too? Or will she find the strength within to save herself, her friends, and her empire?
I really enjoyed Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and Julie’s writing, so I had high expectations from this. I had heard good things about it from bloggers I trust and I was excited to finish this duology.
I prefer the classic hero’s journey style of narrative, so I loved Jade’s character much more than Xifeng’s. Despite being the virtuous heroine, she was not perfect and her insecurities made her a compelling character. The supporting cast was also excellent and I enjoyed the friendships as well as the romance, my favourite being the sisterly bond between Jade and Wren. As I already knew Xifeng’s backstory, she slipped into the role of the antagonist in this story effortlessly without appearing one-dimensional.
The plot involved Jade going on a quest to prove that she was the worthy successor of the throne. Since I have a natural fondness towards stories of that kind, I fell in love with it immediately. Dao also wove in fairytales and magic into the narrative in a masterful way. This also added significantly to the world-building, which was already strong in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, and took it to a whole new level. Jade’s journey was also a beautiful contrast to Xifeng’s descent into darkness and I really liked how the author portrayed that subtly throughout the story. Overall, I liked this one more than its predecessor and it has become one of my all-time favourite fantasy books.
This book can be read on its own but I highly recommend reading them in order as they are both excellent diverse fantasy books. For the music, listen to the soundtrack of an epic fantasy movie or game. For the food, pair it with your favourite East or South-East Asian dish. I’ve always been a ramen lover, so that’s my personal suggestion.
Have you read this book? Have you read the first book in the series? What did you think? What other Asian fantasies do you recommend? Let’s discuss in the comments section below.