Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adults
Albert Whitman & Company
April 9th 2019
June 14, 2021 June 22, 2021
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Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death... because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.
Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?
In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception.
About the book
Princess Hesina must take over the reins of her father’s kingdom when he suddenly dies. But Hesina saw that gas come out of her father’s body as the doctor performs an autopsy, so it can’t be natural death. Hesina wants the truth, but she must also reign, quell the revolts against soothsayers, banished and exterminated individuals throughout the kingdom, as well as avoid war with her neighbouring kingdom.
The book is narrated in the third person, the protagonist and therefore the point of view is of Hesina. The chapters are sometimes quite long but they are fragmented so you can stop without losing the thread. There are specific words, but they are not explained very much. For example, they often speak of a li which is a unit of measurement, but we do not understand what it corresponds to in our terms and if some term is explained the first time the word is encountered, then it is forgotten and therefore I believe that a glossary at the end it would have been better, instead of footnotes.
Hesina is not a great character, she often has ideas and then does something else within two seconds and her blind faith in certain characters is a sensor of disaster. She is also 17 years old and doesn’t seem to rule. Her purpose is to find her father’s killer, which is fine, but the book is pretty much just the process of finding the killer and guilty people show up and an ex-inmate takes apart their deposition in two seconds. We do not see the queen reigning her reign, we do not see the advisers who advise the young queen and we do not see the intrigues, we are only presented with things already done. Hesina then has no backbone, I mean you are the queen behave like that! But no, she is soft, she lets everyone put their feet on her head.
The romantic story is non-existent even if we understand that there is an insta love. But I didn’t find an interest in the couple, I didn’t feel anything that made me cheer for them, I immediately understood that something would be born between the two, but you don’t see it.
About Akira, the male character who helps Hesina in the trial, I only like the name because in the end you don’t see much of him. And then that pole of his what the hell did he need it for? The character had great potential, or at least from the plot, he could have had a story of redemption, be a repentant delinquent who redeems himself through the help he gives to Hesina, but his “redemption” is already done even before we meet him. It is also not explained how he has all that knowledge and what his relationships are with the other realms (I stayed a bit vague here so as not to spoil, but there is a scene that makes you say “ah but then he comes from that kingdom” but in the end it is not clear if it is true).
The prince of the neighbouring kingdom who is preparing for war with Yan is practically non existent and I don’t even find it right to waste time and name him.
The other characters are somewhat flat and one-dimensional, sometimes even interchangeable. I didn’t like Hesina’s brothers, her ladies-in-waiting, the bodyguard that her brother gave her and not even the antagonists, who are they anyway? Are they really antagonists?
The court, then, is non-existent, there are no servants, there are even no guards loyal to the queen, the queen mother even stays in the northern mountains for the whole year and comes back only for a short time. But why is she in exile? It is said for health, but when you discover the “twist” it is not explained why.
And don’t get me started on the Eleven (Are they the Eleven in English? Sorry I couldn’t find any reference and they are called the Eleven in Italian). Who are they? Where they come from? How did the One and the Two (which makes me laugh a lot to call them that if that’s the English name) found that detail which then leads to the twist? No, nope sorry, there are too many questions, too many oversights that have no answer and will never have an answer.
What I think
I must say that this was a “cover buying” (I bought it only for the cover which is beautiful), then the setting is also “oriental” so I thought I would like it, but alas what a disappointment. Well, not really a complete disappointment, because I liked the third quarter of the book, only the first two and the last quarter are a bit slow (the first two) and the ending is disappointing.
And the blurb is misleading. Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown. Really? It is never mentioned in the book. I was hoping to find a rebellious queen who did not follow the advice of her advisers and did everything in her power for the good of all her people, but it turned out to be a disappointment. In this case I believe that some cuts have been made, perhaps even involuntary by the author, and let this part of the plot go, just like Akira’s story which is practically summed up in two pages.
The world building, then, is not very defined, there are these soothsayers who are the sworn enemy of the kingdom (as well as possibly extinct), people who have the gift of sight as well as undefined powers and who when cut, their blood ignites, but this story is not used well, it is as if the author wanted to put three thousand things in a book only when I think that this story had to be developed better and maybe on more books. The book is presented as a fantasy in which magic is present, even if in the end it is only a story of politics and the magic is only the outline. And then you can’t tell me it’s a standalone with this ending, you can’t. Even if you have companion books in mind, you can’t help but pick up the thread and finish the story.
I also found it absurd that it was the queen who wanted a trial when she herself believes that the killer is among the few courtiers. But when is a trial ever called knowing that the traitor is among your advisers in the open? Usually they investigate in the dark and then bring the evidence.
Now, I can let got that the doctor doesn’t understand that the king was killed, but that she is not even thrown out of the court (or in jail) for incompetence when at the trial she makes a mistake for the second time, it’s impossible (and I wonder what kind of justice the author believes in).
The book was a disappointment although I liked something, the actual plot had potential but was misused. I don’t know if it’s the author’s fault or the publishing house’s one but what could have been a good book, is instead something unclear and obvious due to missing details or poorly developed scenes. The twist in the middle of the book was obvious and the ending (without the epilogue) was more than obvious.
The epilogue seems written by another person (because it was beautiful) and if this were a series I could have accepted it because I loved it, but since it is a standalone I cannot say that I liked the book itself. Too bad indeed.