Snapshot Review: Jade Fire Gold by June C.L. Tan

Title: Jade Fire Gold
Author: June C.L. Tan
Series: N/A
Pages: 464
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 12th 2021

TW: self-harm, child abuse

      “In an empire on the brink of war…
      Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.
      Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.
      When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities.
      But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.
      Ferocious action, shadowy intrigue, and a captivating romance collide in June CL Tan’s debut, a stunning homage to the Xianxia novel with a tender, beating heart, perfect for fans of The Bone Witch and We Hunt the Flame.,/b>”

  • Ahn – Ahn has spent her life trying not to want more than she has. Abandoned as a child, Ahn has no memory of her parents, of what her life was like before Grandma Jia found her and took her in. Everyday has been a struggle to survive. Ahn is also harboring a secret that could get her and the people she loves killed. During the course of Jade Fire Gold, Ahn has to contend with all the voices inside her. Her magic feels reckless and uncontrollable, but it also makes her feel powerful. And power is so very enticing for someone who has lived such a powerless life.
  • Altan – Altan’s journey has been defined by revenge for so long, it’s difficult for him to see any other path for himself. He lost everything he loved years ago and for him, taking his throne back and killing those responsible for his family’s death is the only option for him. Altan is willing to go to extreme means to take down the usurpers of his throne, but his anger often blinds him to what is right in front of him.
  • Magical system and politics – I really loved the elemental magic in the novel especially how it intertwined with the politics of this world. Though magic has been banned in the Empire, there are a certain sect of priests who are still allowed to practice. They play a vital role in who holds power in the Empire. It was also interesting delving into the politics of history, how truth gets buried when those in power want to erase the past.
  • Time jumps – One of my major issues with the novel is the time jumps. I feel like as a reader we miss out on so much because of this. Ahn in particular goes through a lot of changes as she goes from living in poverty to living in a palace. But those changes feel very abrupt with a time jump and I really wanted to see things slow down, especially when Ahn begins to develop new relationships that I, as a reader, am supposed to feel invested in as various other storylines come to fruition.
  • Minor Character developmentJade Fire Gold has so many interesting minor characters, but we never really get to know any of them. I was really disappointed that we didn’t spend more time with Tai Shun, the current prince and Altan’s cousin. 
  • Romance – I wish I could say I enjoyed the romance in this novel, but most of the time I felt that it got in the way of both Ahn and Altan’s individual development. In the end, I think the book would have been better without it.

June CL Tan’s Jade Fire Gold has incredibly epic action scenes, but I couldn’t help but want more in terms of character and relationship development.

★ ★ ★

Snapshot Review: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Title: The Jasmine Throne
Author: Tasha Suri
Series: Burning Kingdoms, #1
Pages: 576
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: June 8th 2021

TW: forced drugging, abuse, homophobia, child murder

      “Author of Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne, beginning a new trilogy set in a world inspired by the history and epics of India, in which a captive princess and a maidservant in possession of forbidden magic become unlikely allies on a dark journey to save their empire from the princess’s traitor brother.
      Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
      Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.
      But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.”

  • Female charactersThe Jasmine Throne boasts so many different and multi-layered female characters. Each one is more than they seem with motives and past traumas which influence every decision. Though this world is patriarchal, it is the female characters in this world who truly hold the power to change the fate of their lands.
  • Priya – Priya is introduced as an Ahiranyi maidservant, but it quickly becomes apparent that she was raised to be something greater. Most people do not look twice at Priya and for the most part, she desires to disappear in the background. But it is her kindheartedness that sets her apart, that makes people take notice. She may have been raised to be a weapon, but it is how fiercely she protects the vulnerable that makes her strong.
  • Malini – Princess of Parijatdvipa, Malini refused her brother, Emperor Chandra’s wishes and as a result, is being imprisoned in Ahiranyi. Cut off from her allies, Malini has little hope of ever escaping. Malini is not a likeable character, she has rough edges because they are essential to her own survival. Growing up in a political environment has forced her to play smart. She sees people as assets and understands what must be done in order to manipulate them into getting what she wants. Malini is determined to see her eldest brother take the throne in place of Chandra, but in the midst of her machinations, it becomes clear that it is Malini who has the fortitude, intelligence, and vision to truly lead. 
  • World-building – Tasha Suri is a brilliant world-builder. The land of Ahiranyi has been under the rule of the Empire of Parijatdviva, enduring cruelties including the erasure of their own culture. The religions in The Jasmine Throne are also really interesting to explore, particularly the religion of the nameless which is rooted in prophecy.
  • Sapphic romance – Priya and Malini are very different people, but despite this and the fact that their journeys may take them in opposite directions, they are drawn to one another. Both characters have thorny parts of themselves and it’s interesting seeing how they navigate this relationship, knowing how easily they could hurt the other. 
  • Sibling relationships – Both Priya and Malini have complicated relationships with their brothers. I loved exploring these dynamics and seeing how differently they reconcile anger and love. Also interesting seeing how both brothers want to exercise their will over their sisters, but it is Priya and Malini who show themselves to be the ones with the most power.

Nothing to note.

Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne seamlessly weaves fantasy and politics, centering women and exploring the cost of power.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Snapshot Review: Jade War by Fonda Lee

Title: Jade War
Author: Fonda Lee
Series: The Green Bone Saga, #2
Pages: 590
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: July 23rd 2019

TW: suicide, graphic violence, racism, mentions of rape and homophobia.

      “In Jade War, the sequel to the World Fantasy Award-winning novel Jade City, the Kaul siblings battle rival clans for honor and control over an Asia-inspired fantasy metropolis.
      On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade that endows trained Green Bone warriors with supernatural powers they alone have possessed for hundreds of years.
      Beyond Kekon’s borders, war is brewing. Powerful foreign governments and mercenary criminal kingpins alike turn their eyes on the island nation. Jade, Kekon’s most prized resource, could make them rich – or give them the edge they’d need to topple their rivals.
      Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers, and put honor aside in order to do whatever it takes to ensure their own survival – and that of all the Green Bones of Kekon.
      Jade War is the second book of the Green Bone Saga, an epic trilogy about family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of blood and jade.”

  • The details – It’s hard not to appreciate how much detail Fonda Lee puts into her world. Everything is so well-thought out from the politics of this world to its economics. Kekon feels like a real place. As Lee opens up her world a little more to include international relations, this county feels a little smaller as it is not only its citizens but the countries that surround it that affect Kekon.
  • Sibling relationships – One of my favorite things about the previous book was the often messy and complicated relationships between siblings. We see this continue with Hilo and Shae and how their relationship has evolved. Of the three Kaul siblings, they are the pairing who naturally are at odds with one another. Both have to navigate positions they never thought they would have to take on and together they have to make decisions that not only affect them as individuals but the whole clan.
  • Family – Really liked seeing the emphasis put on family in this series. We are invested in the No Peak clan because of the Kaul siblings. We’ve spent the first two books learning who these characters are as a unit and how they navigate family and clan business. It’s an interesting juxtaposition with the Mountain clan where Ayt Mada isn’t surrounded by family because she literally killed them in order to gain her position. 
  • Wen and Anden – I really love the Kaul siblings, but really enjoyed seeing Wen and Anden stand out in this installment. Anden is dealing with the consequences of his actions, in particular his refusal to wear jade. He’s been shunned to Espenia and experiences culture shock. Wen is every bit the badass her husband is. She’s always felt like an outsider because she is stone-eyed, but is determined to contribute to the clan and not just as the wife of the Pillar. Her devotion to the clan and her need to prove herself worthy have her taking risks that can benefit No Peak greatly if she succeeds.
  • The surprisesJade War is full of even more surprises than Jade City. I think I held my breath during the final 40 pages. Fonda Lee did not pull any punches and it will be a while until I recover from this one.
  • Pacing Jade War felt slower than the previous book, but with its attention to detail, it’s hard to hold this against it.

Fonda Lee’s The Green Bone Saga is a smart and enthralling fantasy. Jade War will keep readers on their toes with its heart-stopping action and unexpected twists.

★ ★ ★ ★

Snapshot Review: Illusionary by Zoraida Córdova

Title: Illusionary
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Series: Hollow Crown, #2
Pages: 368
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 11th 2021

TW: mentions of alcoholism and self-harm

**Contains Incendiary spoilers**

      “In Zoraida Córdova’s thrilling sequel to Incendiary, Renata embarks on a dangerous journey to bring justice to the kingdom — perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir and Sarah J. Maas.
      Reeling from betrayal at the hands of the Whispers, Renata Convida is a girl on the run. With few options and fewer allies, she’s reluctantly joined forces with none other than Prince Castian, her most infuriating and intriguing enemy. They’re united by lofty goals: find the fabled Knife of Memory, kill the ruthless King Fernando, and bring peace to the nation. Together, Ren and Castian have a chance to save everything, if only they can set aside their complex and intense feelings for each other.
      With the king’s forces on their heels at every turn, their quest across Puerto Leones and beyond leaves little room for mistakes. But the greatest danger is within Ren. The Gray, her fortress of stolen memories, has begun to crumble, threatening her grip on reality. She’ll have to control her magics–and her mind–to unlock her power and protect the Moria people once and for all.
      For years, she was wielded as weapon. Now it’s her time to fight back.”

      “We were given the power of a goddess, but we are still breakable things.”

  • Renata – Renata has been used my others her whole life. She’s been taught that her Robári abilities are dangerous, and her only value is as a weapon. Much of her agency has been taken from her. When she was young Justice Méndez manipulated her and exploited her. When she became a Whisper, she hoped she had found a place where she belonged, but the Moria rebel group never truly accepted her. In Illusionary, Renataś journey is one of self-discovery, learning to reclaim and value herself. She is able to find people who accept her for who she is, who help her in accept herself, and who trust her unequivocally.
  • Castian – If there was one thing I wanted more of in Incendiary, it was more Castian. He is probably the most puzzling and intriguing character in the first book, so I was very pleased that we as readers got to pull back the curtain and find out exactly who the Prince of Puerto Leones really is.
  • Second-love – I don’t want to give too much away, but it felt really refreshing reading a YA where someone’s first love may not be their be all end all. Renata is a different person than who she was at the beginning of the first book and as a result who she wants to be with and what she needs in a relationship has changed.
  • World-building expansion – I loved exploring Córdova’s world more in this sequel, meeting new characters, and seeing the magical system itself expand.
  • Epilogue – I can only recall one other book whose epilogue goes so far into the future. There are books that end that leave you wondering what happens next for the characters and I loved that we got to see what happens years down the road. We don’t always get that kind of closure as readers.
  • Dez’s storyline – With the first book’s revelation about Dez, I expected to see more of him in this book and felt that he deserved more page-time. Also connected to this is my desire to see more Margo. She is partially responsible for what happens to Renata at the end of Incendiary, and their reunion is a little anticlimatic considering all animus.
  • Secondary charactersIncendiary and Illusionary have some great secondary characters like Nuria and Leo, but there were a few characters that I really wanted to get to know more about and we didn’t. At the top of my list is Queen Josephine, wife of King Fernando. I feel like she would have made a great ally or enemy. It’s hard to say as we learn so little about her.

Zoraida Córdova concludes her Hollow Crown duology with Illusionary, giving Renata the space to unlearn harmful beliefs about herself as well as the means to reclaim herself as her own.

★ ★ ★ ★