- Page Count: 384
- Release Date: October 10, 2017
- My Rating: 5 stars
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 totally missed the memo that this was an anti-heroine story, so I had a stupid grin on my face while everything unfolded. I love anti-heroines when their journeys are heartbreaking, yet completely understandable with clear motivation. And this whole thing was so well done!
“Your beauty is all you are, and all you have. Your only weapon.”
First of all, the East Asian magical world is straight up gorgeous. The rich, detailed worldbuilding and strong writing made the whole atmosphere super vivid. But my absolute favorite part was the main character of Xifeng. She’s so wonderfully complex & flawed and has a truly impressive transformation throughout the story… like such a HUGE shift took place, yet it happened gradually and always seemed like the next logical step. Her choices broke my heart at times but also had me cheering like
Xifeng started out as a scared, sheltered girl living with her abusive aunt. A huge extent of that toxic relationship was conveyed in a short time, so the depth of that insight gave the story a really strong base for everything to just flow seamlessly. When Xifeng finally left with a boy who loved her, she wondered when she went from being her aunt’s possession to his. The way she steadily got more agency and finally ended up as the unchallenged Empress is amazing (and this should not be a spoiler considering the series is called “Rise of the Empress”).
I remember hearing a while back that this had elements of Snow White to it, but I don’t think traces of the Evil Queen figure who’s the fairest of them all and cuts out hearts is something that necessarily needs to be attributed to any single story. And I’m not familiar with most East Asian mythology that this might have referenced, so if you have some links please leave them in the comments! I adore clever inspiration like that.
Basically, this was a really strong story and I look forward to seeing what Julie Dao does next!
Thank you to the publisher for sending me an ARC. The quote above was taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.