The Dragon Republic by R.F Kuang

“This world is ephemeral, permanence is an illusion…”

R.F Kuang is back with the sequel to my 2018 book love: The Poppy War and it did not disappoint!!!

In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.

With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.

But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.

I felt this book was longer than the first, the story was so intense. I waited for this sequel for some time and I am glad I dived in when I did. Whilst it was just as action packed as the first one which leaves you on the edge of your seat, this one was more set at sea – like a voyage post previous battle then engaged in more war prep and new world building.. I believe this book is really gearing us up for the next and final installment of this amazing series which is really going to go out with a bang.

We still see references to our beloved characters from the first book, I still love Rin as a character and thought it was interesting to see her develop when she didn’t have her powers at hand for awhile. Seeing her in a different light and more vulnerable I found was more interesting – to see how she handled such situations. There were plot twists, there were betrayals, there were moments where I gasped. I am still obsessed with this series.

Warning: strong violent and war content, strong coarse language and themes – restricted to an adult reading audience.

Still recommend this series to those who have yet to tap into it. I am yearning for the finale now to see how it all ends – I don’t know if I am prepared….

With special thanks to Harper Voyager for sending me a copy of this book for review.
-Annie

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

“Knowledge is truth, Little Bird. Those who refuse to learn live in a world of falsity…”

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

Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own

This was a solid, fantastic debut. A complex and immersive story that captivated me from beginning to end. The world building was intricate steadily paced but very interesting. The secrets and twists are what I love most about the book. It was written very well and cleverly executed. I was invested in Princess Hesina of Yan, I enjoyed her as a character and I love her loyalty and courage. I found all of the characters had something to offer in this story, whether they were the hero or villain, I was engrossed in the story and really wanted to know what became of them. The element of mystery, the supernatural and the magic weaved a brilliant story on the backdrop of the ancient setting.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, it really was worth waiting for this book to hit Sydney shores – I really look my time with it, it was enchanting.
-Annie

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

“A tailor’s worth is not measured by his fame, but by the happiness he brings..”

This was one of the most anticipated reads of 2019 (for me). This unique story is told by Maia Tamarin, a young girl who strives to her restore her family’s honour through her skill as a tailor.

“Don’t work so hard you become the kite that never flies..”

In a world where only males can be imperial tailors, Maia takes her brother’s place by disguising herself as a boy to embark on a challenge to become A’landi’s master tailor.
With a touch of Mulan and a hint of Aladdin, complimented with action, betrayals, forbidden romance, intensity, demons and adventure, this was one exciting book that kept me turning the page from beginning to end.

“Magic is a wild, untamed energy that exists all around us”

I was engrossed in this book, I loved Maia’s determination to succeed not for glory but for her family, to restore their honour and be their provider. I enjoyed the competitive jealousy among the participants during the initial challenges for the imperial tailor selection process as it really brought out true nature of those who resort to vile acts when they’re so insecure about themselves. As the story progressed, I grew to love the connection Maia had with the Lord Enchanter and the ending has left me invested and yearning for the sequel.

Well written, fun to read and enchanting.

Special thanks to Penguin Random House Australia Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Sisters Lu and Min have always understood their places as princesses of the Empire. Lu knows she is destined to become the dynasty’s first female ruler, while Min is resigned to a life in her shadow. Then their father declares their male cousin Set the heir instead – a betrayal that sends the sisters down two very different paths. Determined to reclaim her birthright, Lu goes on the run but she needs an ally – and an army – if she is to succeed. Her quest leads her to Nokhai, the last surviving wolf shape-shifter. Nok wants to keep his identity secret, but finds himself forced into an uneasy alliance with the girl whose family killed everyone he ever loved.

There can only be one Emperor, and the sisters’ greatest enemy could turn out to be each other.

To be honest, it did take me awhile to really be engaged in this book as the world building was quite slow in the beginning with not a lot happening in the beginning however it did pick up steadily as I read on which helped me stay with the book to the end. It is worth continuing on with the read. What I enjoyed about this book was the mystery between 2 sisters Lu and Min and the one crown. How they had different paths for reasons beyond their own control. There was also a spooky element to Min’s storyline which I found interesting too. It was difficult to choose a favourite sister in this story, both had merits and you couldn’t help but feel for each sister – one was a pawn and made to marry her cousin who was intending to take the throne the other was accused of her own father’s murder hence the empty throne..  The mystery and developing plot throughout the book really paid off in the end.

Special thanks to Date a Book YA: Hachette Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Navigating the Stars by Maria V. Snyder

First book in a new Sci-Fi series!!!!

Both NJ and Annie had the privilege of reading Maria’s manuscript then the advanced review copy before it hit the shelves. It was quite an amazing experience to be part of Maria’s journey as her first readers!!!

‘Terra Cotta Warriors have been discovered on other planets in the Milky Way Galaxy. And Lyra Daniels’ parents are the archaeological Experts (yes with a capital E) on the Warriors and have dragged her to the various planets to study them despite the time dilation causing havoc with her social life.  When one of the many Warrior planets goes silent, and looters attack her research base, Lyra becomes involved in discovering why the Warriors were placed on these planets. And, more importantly, by who…’

I really enjoyed Navigating The Stars! If you liked the Inside Out series, you’ll enjoy this one more as the characters are older and the world is bigger. If you have read her other works or is a fan of Maria’s novels, you will continue to enjoy the level of detail she puts into amazing world building, plot twists and characters in this new series.
-NJ

This book was pretty amazing, very fun to read with some hilariously witty dialogue. The premise was what captured my attention first – a story about terracotta warriors set in outer space!! So clever, so unique and I really enjoyed following the protagonist Li-Li (or Lyra) I loved the banter between her and Niall whom she meets on this intergalactic adventure and the storyline was quite fast paced.
-Annie

An exclusive interview with Maria V. Snyder to come – stay tuned!!!

Special thanks to Maria V. Snyder for having us on board as her early readers and to Harlequin Teen Publishers for sending us Advance Review Copies of this book.

 

 

The Poppy War by R.F Kuang with exclusive mini Q&A

I had the pleasure of engaging in a read along with 2 of my dear friends, Tien of Tien’s Blurb and Maisie of SleepyWiredStudios it was one of the most engaging and engrossing reads I had read in some time, so much so, I suffered a book hangover after reading this book!!!

The Poppy War
Our protagonist is Rin – a war orphan who dwells in the lower socio-economic part of the Empire with a family who is the head of a notorious Opium Trade and believed they’d finally be able to marry Rin off to further their criminal enterprise. However, when Rin aces the Keju (the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to attend elite academies), it was a shock to everyone as it was unheard of for a war orphan from Rooster Province to blitz the test without cheating and a shock to Rin herself, who realised she was finally free of the life dictated to her.  What an amazing surprise that she got into Sinegard: the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising… but surprises aren’t always good… Given Rin’s stature, her time at Sinegard is not a walk in the park as she is singled out and targeted due to her socio-economic status, colour and gender yet before long, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power: an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Rin continues exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a well known yet seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances. As Rin learns of her new found power and that myths are very much real, the Nikara Empire was at peace until it is learnt that a third Poppy War is close at hand….

My Thoughts
This is definitely another book love for 2018, a book that consumed me so much I experienced a book hangover. I had the privilege of doing a read along with 2 of my girlfriends and we were all so mesmerised with the story line. From start to finish, I was engrossed in the plot and what becomes of the main character we follow, Rin. I loved the character development as we learn about her life as an orphan girl then forced into a family who is involved in an Opium trade and her determination to escape the life dictated to her to a life she wants of her own – the journey she takes, the torment she endured and her self discoveries really kept me turning the page!! In addition to Rin, I also loved all the characters that we follow in this story. Whether good or bad – each character was written extremely well and what I enjoyed was regardless of one’s strengths – there was a vulnerability which made it real..

CONTENT WARNING: Yes I should note, this book does come with a content warning as it covers Warfare and the author does not at all sugarcoat it from battle to Prisoner of War (PoW) treatment to torture. It is quite graphic, however I feel the author did a great job in writing these parts as once again, she kept it real despite the world we are reading. Although parts were not easy to read, I realise they would not have been easy to write, but these parts were written so well nonetheless. I had numerous emotional reactions throughout the book: gasping, laughing, cringing, anger – there’s even a part that was a bit of a tearjerker..

I loved this book so much, I loved the characters.. this is not a book I will forget in a hurry!!!

Special thanks to Harper Voyager for sending me a review copy of this book.

 

Mini Q&A with author R.F Kuang

This question is from Maisie: Rin is the main character we follow in this story however we come to meet some wonderful and very unlikeable characters in “The Poppy War” is there a particular character you enjoyed writing more than the other?
I love writing Jiang the most! He’s hilarious and he gets to do whatever he wants. Ramsa was fun too; I’m excited to expand his role in the sequel. 
This question is from Tien: I’ve been searching everywhere for the name of this series but I cannot see it anywhere – is there a name for this series and how many installments could we expect?
It’s The Poppy Wars Trilogy.  
I was curious to know your inspiration behind Rin’s background (like her back story from being an orphan girl to her transition to Sinegard) and inspiration for the militia academy.
Rin’s character arc is almost entirely based on the biography of Mao Zedong. 
How long did it take for you to write “The Poppy War” how different is the finished product from your original draft/idea?
It took me about three months to write the first draft that I sent out on queries. After I got an agent, we revised for two more months before putting it out on submission. Once I signed with Harper, we put it through three more revision stages–mostly final touch-ups at that point. The finished novel is quite close to what I wrote originally. Most of the revision work was to fix continuity problems and pacing issues. 
Outside of writing now: when you’re not writing/reading, what are your hobbies and interests?
Honestly, between schoolwork and writing, I don’t have time for much else. I read a lot–maybe a book every two or three days. 
R.F Kuang also said: “I am often asked about the historical atrocities and inspirations in Act 3, and it is bit difficult for me to have to discuss family trauma over and over. I’ve written two essays on the subject that I always link to interviewers”
-Annie

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

How would you react if your father asked you to become a ghost bride? Would you agree if it meant a future of prosperity

This would have to be listed as one of my favourite reads for 2017!!!

Though ruled by British overlords in Colonial Malaya, the Chinese Malayans hold ancient customs, values and superstitions close to heart. Set in the sleepy port town of Malacca, this takes us back to the 1880’s and follows the story of Li Lan, our female protagonist and the daughter of a genteel yet bankrupt family with few prospects. Li Lan receives an unusual proposal from a wealthy and influential family – the Lims – who propose she become a ghost bride for their late and only son who recently died under mysterious circumstances. An ancient custom, becoming a ghost bride was said to placate a restless spirit and guarantee prosperity for the bride – but what happens when this restless spirit starts to haunt the potential ghost bride? What happens when rather than following regular protocols to rid a restless spirit from the human world, Li Lan embarks on a journey that leads her to a peculiar supernatural cross over.

Exploring old Malayan folklore, superstitions and intertwining of Malaysian culture with true historical events – this haunting, dark yet fascinating tale kept me turning the page to the very end! I was captivated from the first chapter and I strongly recommend this to fans of Frances Watts’ “The Peony Lantern”

Many thanks to Allen and Unwin Publishers who gave a copy to me as a prize for a competition I won.

This is one great book!!!

-Annie