(Full disclosure: I do know the author, but I purchased the book on my own and was not asked to review it–in fact, he told me he was afraid for me to read it! This is my honest review.)
I wanted this to come out last week, since the author just released his rebranded version of the third book last Friday, but alas. My schedule hates me and doesn’t want me to have nice things. Sorry, dude. At least I tried?
This is not the first time this book has been on the market. First sold as THE DRAGON SCALE LUTE, I know fellow reviewers who have seen the originals, and have hard copies of what it used to be. When I approached the author to read and review myself, he urged me to wait until he had the new versions done and uploaded. Since my TBR is notoriously full, I didn’t mind waiting. Now that the titles are renewed, refocused, and recovered, I was keen to dive into the world I’d heard talked about so much.
Kaiya is a princess of the best design: one who really doesn’t care to be a princess, and one who certainly doesn’t feel like a princess. She wants to sing, and believes she has a gift to–potentially a gift which could (at least, in her dreams) reawaken the magic the world once knew through dragon songs. The great dragon Avarax was once sung into submission, but that was long ago and most people don’t believe the magic was real, or could possibly ever exist again. (This plays nicely into some of my own stories, so it has some passing familiarity.) Kaiya is still not fully matured into womanhood, unmarried (unheard of for a royal of her age), and rather plain looking. The thought that she could be anything great is so far beyond her imagining, she barely dares to dream of it.
But then a foreign prince comes, and he sees a gift in her, and for once, Kaiya believes she just might be able to make magic happen.
I love Kaiya. I love that she’s described as kinda homely, I like that she’s a singer, I like that she has little self-esteem. It makes her very relatable for me. Sometimes it’s easy to take the simple road, and not think too hard about it. She’s a princess. Young, beautiful, distant, charming. That’s how it goes, right? Not in this case, and it’s perfect. This is the story of one girl, trying to find her way in a world she’s not sure she belongs in–though by heritage, she can’t escape it–and whether or not propriety is worth losing your dreams for.
One of my fellow reviewers warned me when I was about halfway through the novel that I shouldn’t much trust anyone in the books. I’d commented that I liked someone Kaiya had recently met, and the response was “Oh. Him.” So I’ll say that I entered the second half of the book with some trepidation…and it was well placed. I won’t ruin the surprise, because it really was a surprise at that point, but treat everyone with a healthy dash of skepticism. (I’m still holding out hope for the original character I mentioned. I think he had good intentions at heart. …I hope he does.)
Kang has built a rich and inviting world, and manages to do a bit of the impossible: he drops you into the middle of the world with little explanation, and makes it work. Anyone who’s followed my blog for a while knows that I can’t stand instant immersion. I don’t know what he did or how he did it, but I’m impressed and pleased. There’s just enough explanation to make it flow, and the rest is obvious from context clues. (For example, no one ever outright says what Heaven’s Dew is, but I sure as hell figured it out.) It’s also nice to see the culture in it; in the days of movements like #ownvoices and the lot, it’s clear the Kang has done his research, and knows the world from which he pulls his inspiration.
There are little things here and there that take away: it appears that somewhere in the editing process, this was once a tale told from Kaiya’s first-person perspective, and there are a few “I” and “me” pronouns floating around where there should be “she” and “her.” The sideline characters, given their own chapters of focus, are well-developed though I’m not sure of their greater purpose entirely. Jie, of course, I see how she’s roped herself into this, but the rest of the Black Lotus members, Tian especially, I’m not positive on. But then again, I know that this is an on-going series, and I’m only in book one. This isn’t a criticism so much as an observance. I’m more than willing to give Kang time on this one. (Also, I see what you did there with the acupuncture, Kang. I’m watching you. 😉 )
All in all, I’m very pleased, and this book leads nicely into the next without leaving TOO much of a cliffhanger. (There is one, definitely. Big twist at the end. I did not expect it. I’m kinda sad about it.) I’ll be happy to continue on with ORCHESTRA OF TREACHERIES and the rest of the series as soon as I can.
But this list of NetGalley titles is taunting me. Time to roll up the sleeves and get reading.
Rating: **** (Recommended)