An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.
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.
I went in this book totally blind. I did not even read the synopsis! The book was part of my first ever Fairyloot box and I remembered seeing good reviews everywhere. The monthly Fairyloot topic was villainous…
Obviously there would be a villain but who would play the role?
I looked at the synopsis only after having finished the book and I’m glad I did not read it sooner as it tells lots about the story!
Now the plus side is that I’m not too limited in my review for fear of spoiling the fun! Yepee I will be able to give some context!
First thought: Julie C. Dao is gutsy (I wanted to go for b@llsy but I will keep this PG rated)!
It’s not every day that you have a main character that is not completely “white” even if Xifeng is Asian. I speak about character’s trait here not skin color!
One of my blogger’s friends (yes Shruti that’s you) recently published a very interesting post about: female YA character wanted (link HERE).
Here are the prerequisite to fit the job:
-The heroine should have an obscure name. Well I don’t know if Xifeng is an obscure name in Asia…
-The heroine should be an orphan or raised by a single mother. Xifeng lost her mother, never knew her father and is raised by her aunt Guma.
-Be white. Well no Xifeng is Asian!
-She should never realize how pretty she looks. Well this is so not the case! Xifeng knows she is gorgeous. She is obsessed with her beauty as it is her best tool to fulfill her ambitious destiny. You could even compare Xifeng to the evil Queen in Snow White who scrutinize anxiously her reflection every day.
-Among other responsibilities she should save the world. No. Again Xifeng does not want to save the world. She wants to rule the world, big difference!
See how this YA Fantasy heroine does not take the conventional path? Hail to Julie C. Dao!
Second thought: this read was a treat and a trick. Sorry Halloween just ended just bear with me as I’ve been conditioned by my kids these days.
A treat because the penmanship is gorgeous. The setting in Asia with silk clothes, paper lanterns, quiet ponds and measured words accompanied by inscrutable faces make for a tale instead of a story.
But under the polished veneer feelings, hate, hunger are burning bright! Xifeng is my trick. I adore this concept of living Snow White evil Queen’s life BUT walking in her shoes was not easy!
Xifeng is conflicted. She has two faces. This is confusing and conflicting for the reader.
“You have two faces. Two beings live within you, struggling for control. One has a heart of darkness and feeds in the pain of weaker souls. The other longs to stretch a hand ti the light, to live and love as others do. Have you never sensed this?”
Should I love her? The girl with fences around her heart had me weaving a tapestry of barbed wires around my own heart.
Sometimes I hated her for how she played with Wei’s feelings.
“Wei as a man still wanted what Wei as a child had wished for, but Xifeng’s heart stayed silent.”
It was not fair how she treated him never loving him fully but not wanting to free him from her spell and have another lover.
“She would wrap her coils around him in tender confinement and be not his captive, but his captor.”
Sometimes I pitied Xifeng as she seemed to have her destiny chosen for her. Yes she had the poison and the antidote. Yes she could have made another choice. But honestly was it a real choice when she had to contend with that terrible god?
With Wei out of the picture I would dare say few hope was left.
“She couldn’t help the urgent longing to see Wei. He, too, was part of her destiny after all that faithful dependable boy who had always been her moral compass, who had always only seen the good in her. If anyone could keep the creature’s dark whisperings at bay, it would be him.’
Third thought: poor naïve Xifeng so ambitious. She thought all her wishes would come true once Empress.
But what would be the price? The Serpent God would want to take his final payment. Would she fulfil her destiny or choose the path of love?
All this made for a terrible, unconventional, lush and lavish tale.
Recommend it? Without a doubt!
Have you read it? Or plan to read it?
Thanks for reading!