Hello humans! Today I’m reviewing a book that I got hold of in the October Fairyloot box – which gives you an indication of how far behind I fell on my physical TBR last year. Nevertheless, I was super excited to get to reading this one and I’m delighted to tell you it was worth the wait.
Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?
Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.
The evil queen character has been written and rewritten basically since the dawn of time. I wonder if anyone’s done any kind of academic research on where the origins of the story are? Either way, I’ve certainly read plenty of evil queen retellings in my time. This one knocked pretty much all of them out of the water.
Why is this book different? I feel as though the majority of, not just evil queen retellings but all villain retellings, focus on somehow redeeming that character, making them out to be somehow excused for their actions in the original story. I’m not opposed to that approach. I think it’s ‘classic’ for a reason, we like to read books about damaged people and tragedy is always appreciated (I’m thinking in particular about Lost Boy in this instance).
But the sheer number of books that follow that format means it is getting a little dry, so imagine the delight of reading a book with the origin story of a ‘villain’ who does bad things, not because of manipulation or misunderstandings but because she is actually ruthlessly ambitious. This takes the ‘female characters should be meek and mild’ trope that admittedly is weakening over time, flips it on its head and runs it under a steamroller a few times for good measure. That’s why this book is the best.
Xifeng is the ambitious, relentless, unapologetic character I’ve always wanted to read. Somehow, I’m not convinced it isn’t magic, Julie C. Dao manages to also make her exceedingly likable. There is an element of goodness in her (it’s hard to like a character who is evil for the sake of being evil) but overwhelmingly she makes choices that benefit her. Where have selfish characters been all my life?
I think I could draw a lot of parallels between this book and The Conquerors Saga (And I Darken etc.). There is something phenomenally refreshing and empowering about stories that concern characters who act in order to benefit themselves as opposed to sacrificing their needs for others.
I’m not saying those stories aren’t important, but this was just so needed in my life right now.
What else should be mentioned, if I haven’t convinced you to read this yet? The writing itself is wondrous. It’s rich and detailed without feeling flowery, there are gorgeous descriptions of nature and also of architecture and the like. The pacing is just perfect, the right amount of worldbuilding and action interspersed for the first novel in a series.
If you, like me, enjoy an anti-heroine, this is certainly a read for you. Also, if you feel like you’re getting stuck in a YA rut (it happens to us all) this might be the perfect book to get you out of it!
My rating: 5/5 stars
All opinions are my own.
What say you? What other Anti-Heroines are there? Let me know in the comments below!