Song of Silver, Flame Like Night
Published: January 3, 2023
Tags: Young Adult, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Magic, Chinese-inspired world, Colonialism
| Synopsis from the Publisher |
In a fallen kingdom, one girl carries the key to discovering the secrets of her nation’s past—and unleashing the demons that sleep at its heart. An epic fantasy series inspired by the mythology and folklore of ancient China.
Once, Lan had a different name. Now she goes by the one the Elantian colonizers gave her when they invaded her kingdom, killed her mother, and outlawed her people’s magic. She spends her nights as a songgirl in Haak’gong, a city transformed by the conquerors, and her days scavenging for what she can find of the past. Anything to understand the strange mark burned into her arm by her mother in her last act before she died.
The mark is mysterious—an untranslatable Hin character—and no one but Lan can see it. Until the night a boy appears at her teahouse and saves her life.
Zen is a practitioner—one of the fabled magicians of the Last Kingdom. Their magic was rumored to have been drawn from the demons they communed with. Magic believed to be long lost. Now it must be hidden from the Elantians at all costs.
When Zen comes across Lan, he recognizes what she is: a practitioner with a powerful ability hidden in the mark on her arm. He’s never seen anything like it—but he knows that if there are answers, they lie deep in the pine forests and misty mountains of the Last Kingdom, with an order of practitioning masters planning to overthrow the Elantian regime.
Both Lan and Zen have secrets buried deep within—secrets they must hide from others, and secrets that they themselves have yet to discover. Fate has connected them, but their destiny remains unwritten. Both hold the power to liberate their land. And both hold the power to destroy the world.
Now the battle for the Last Kingdom begins.
Keywords to describe this book: Action-packed, strong female lead, well-crafted
TW: gore/violence, minor sexual harassment
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Random House Children’s, Delacorte Press through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
| 📖Content📖 |
✨Magic, Wuxia, High Fantasy and More!
Without a doubt, the world of the Last Kingdom is inspired by wuxia and C-drama, and I couldn’t be happier! I love seeing more Asian-inspired worlds being produced in the fantasy genre, which for so long has been (and persists to be) dominated by western-standards of fantasy (Arthurian and its ilk). I’m not saying I dislike western-inspired fantasy, but it’s refreshing to read books that exist outside of this standard, because they bring so much to the table, and Song of Silver, Flame Like Night brings so, so much.
The world building is intense and complex, right from the start, but if you enjoy high fantasy, this will not be a shock or unwelcome, as most intro novels to a new fantasy world come with lots of info-dumping in the beginning to get the reader acclimated to the world and its characters. One thing that helps is that Zhao is very clearly formatting her world to reflect or remind the reader of Western colonialism, especially as it pertains to breaking into the East. The Hin culture reads very much like China or an East-Asian culture and the Elantians (the main enemy of the novel) very clearly read as White/Eastern European. The book begins after the Elantian conquest and the main character Lan, is very clearly going to be a figure who will rise to fight Elantian rule.
Overall, I’d say that the book is well-crafted, with action sequences helping to keep a good pace. The book is long, but the story is very engrossing, with Zen saving Lan, teaching her the art of practitioning (which is what they call using qi – the magic system, basically), fighting the bad guys, and ultimately the big showdown in the last quarter of the book. There are a couple of twists along the way, but I guessed most of them, nothing coming out of left-field. However, it didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the book, because the story is so good!
👫 Lan & Zen, Allies to Something More…
A big portion of the book is devoted to developing Lan’s and Zen’s characters. The story is told through both of their perspectives, altering pretty evenly between each of them. Lan is the “newbie,” the character through which we, the reader, get to learn about the magic system. Much of the discussions between Lan and Zen also flesh out the history of the Hin (their culture) as well as the Elantian conquest and the mostly hidden history of practitioners (the people who can wield qi).
Through their alliance, and then friendship, we can see how they each view the world, both wishing to gain power so they can protect those the love and not lose another loved one. We also see how they are different, and this difference becomes more important in the latter half of the book. Zhao does an excellent job of fleshing each of their characters out and making them relatable, vulnerable, and giving them the kind of flaws that help move the story. The rest of the characters, however, are a bit underdeveloped, a bit more typical, especially the villain, Erasicus. However, I still enjoyed the story because both Lan and Zen are the driving force that makes the book compelling.
⚔️”You killed my mother, prepare to die!”
The last content-related piece I want to touch on is the main driving force for Lan – the death of her mother at the hands of an evil Elantian magician. I think, though this is a very well established trope, the revenge story, Zhao manages to craft an interesting unraveling of events. Lan’s quest is kickstarted by her desire to discover the secret her mother has left for her to uncover and to protect those she loves, like her mother did, dying to protect her. Both Lan and Zen have been orphaned by the Elantians, and this shared trauma is what really comes front and center in the conflict of the book. I think Zhao does a good job of making the most of the tragic backstory to shed light on different ways people respond to that trauma and how it shapes them in making choices. Ultimately, Lan and Zen choose paths that are different in how they handle this trauma and I found it to be a really compelling part of this story.
| 📝Literary Value 📝 |
I have not read any other books by Zhao, but I really enjoyed this one. I think she’s a very competent writer, crafting a lush, vibrant world and filling it with intrigue, great fight sequences, and powerful commentary on the tragedy of conquest. Since I read a decent amount of high fantasy, I was not daunted by the size of this book, and though 400+ pages is an intimidating size, Zhao uses every inch of it to create a powerful story. Though there are slower, quieter moments in the story, it never drags. I found myself enjoying every moment of it and there were so many passages that struck me as thoughtful, beautiful, even. I also learned quite a few new words, which was great! Zhao has a masterful grip on language and she uses it to full effect, but it never feels overbearing.
All in all, this is a very well written book and I think it represents that YA can be sophisticated and powerful and not to be overlooked. There are some great stories to be found in YA and this is one of them.
| 🎭Entertainment Factor🎭 |
If you can’t tell already, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Not only did I find the story compelling, the characters loveable and sympathetic, and the pacing well-managed, I also just had fun being immersed in the world of the Last Kingdom. I really enjoyed learning the history of the Hin, learning the art of practitioning through Lan and Zen and the other disciples, and seeing the characters grow and mature over the course of the book. Though I am always wary of starting a 400+ page book, I found that Zhao’s writing kept me turning pages at a good clip, so I never felt bogged down or overwhelmed by the story. I have to give her props for making the most of the amount of pages she took to tell this story. I remained entertained throughout!
| The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh | Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim | Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan |
| My Rating |
Without a doubt, Song of Silver, Flame Like Night will grip fantasy readers right from the start. This book has action, a dynamic magic system, and a compelling story. I was pulled right into it and couldn’t put it down. The story is complex, yet familiar (the colonizer/colonized issue akin to that of the Western empire vs. Eastern in World History). While many may feel uncomfortable with the portrayal of the Elantians (most definitely read White/European colonizer), Zhao does not paint the story as black and white, good guy vs. bad guy, but rather shows within the story’s plot and its characters that power is the root of much discord and evil, that a power-grab, alone, can corrupt any individual.
I was really drawn to Lan and her plight as an orphan trying to make it in this violent, threatening colonized world, searching for the secret her mother left her. I think she is a really relatable, strong main character, who brings us into this world of qi and practitioning, is our eyes and ears as she learns about this magic structure and the true history of the Hin people. Likewise, Zen is also a compelling figure, who at once feels aloof and tortured by a dark secret, yet in Lan’s presence his layers get peeled back and we learn more and more about him as the story progresses. I really enjoyed seeing the two characters interact, learn and teach each other in a push and pull. It made the ending even more fraught and tense, as the whole book brings you to root for these two.
Ultimately, I think the story is really well written, full of intrigue and developments that pull you along. The pacing, because of this, moves well, though here and there there are slower moments. While this story is action-packed and full of really cool fight scenes, magic wielding, and drama, I feel the length of it makes it a daunting prospect for any reader who looks at its size and worries that it might be too much to take on. Still, I think high fantasy fans or any fan of c-dramas, will be compelled to pick it up. I definitely recommend it, and I look forward to reading the subsequent books in the series.
How about you?
Let me know what you think! If you’ve read Song of Silver, Flame Like Night share your thoughts! If not – are you going to read it or pass on it? Tell me all about it in the comments. Keep up the reading!
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