Author: Julie C. Dao
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication Date: 10. October 2017
Rating: 4./5. Stars
Diversity: PoC (Asian Main Cast)
TW: child abuse, physical abuse, torture, gore
Summary: 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.
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Disclaimer: I received an e-copy of this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Xifeng is the most beautiful girl in her city. Wei, a man she’s known since he was a young boy, is in love with her. However, Guma, her aunt, has other plans for her. Bigger plans. The cards tell her that Xifeng is destined for greatness. She is destined to be a Queen, higher and more powerful than anyone else. Will she embrace that destiny, even though it could plunge her into darkness, or struggle against what she was raised to believe?
This is a beautiful retelling of the story of the evil queen of Snow White, even though I probably wouldn’t really have figured that out if I hadn’t seen it promoted that way. There are some similarities, but also a lot of refreshing differences.
This story is magical. No, not only because of its beautiful writing style and captivating characters but also in the literal sense. There’s magic. Fascinating, scary, dark, awesome magic.
The story is pretty dark, so there are quite a lot of trigger warnings. There are scenes of child abuse, heavy physical and emotional abuse, murder and torture. This is certainly a very dark retelling of an already pretty dark fairytale. And like I said, it is wonderful.
While the story starts quite slow, it develops beautifully the further in you get. It is a bit hard to get into this story, because at first Xifeng only seems like a very…unlikeable character. She hates every other girl around her and only cares about a man’s affections. However, there is so much more to that, from her destiny to marry the King to so many amazing plot twists. Her place in this world, which she as a woman can only secure by her beauty, is something she desperately wants. Her struggles with her moral self and the – quite literal – demon inside her, where so interesting and fascinating to read.
All characters have depth and even when you can’t approve of a character’s actions, you can understand at some level why they act the way they do. They all feel very alive and all have their own motivations, dreams, and wishes that influence them.
What I enjoyed most were the incredibly poetic writing style and the incredibly detailed world building. Even though it’s been a while since I read this book, there are just some places I can remember so vividly due to how well described they were.