Hello all, did you know I’m obsessed with Julie C. Dao? I knew it! I can’t hide it any longer.
This fairy tale retelling lives in a mystical world inspired by the Far East, where the Dragon Lord and the Serpent God battle for control of the earthly realm; it is here that the flawed heroine of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns finally meets her match. An epic fantasy finale to the Rise of the Empress novels.
Princess Jade has grown up in exile, hidden away in a monastery while her stepmother, the ruthless Xifeng, rules as empress of Feng Lu. But the empire is in distress and its people are sinking into poverty and despair.
Even though Jade doesn’t want the crown, she knows she is the only one who can dethrone the empress and set the world right. Ready to reclaim her place as rightful heir, Jade embarks on a quest to raise the Dragon Lords and defeat Xifeng and the Serpent God once and for all. But will the same darkness that took Xifeng take Jade, too? Or will she find the strength within to save herself, her friends, and her empire?
Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with breathtaking pain and beauty, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is filled with dazzling magic, powerful prose, and characters readers won’t soon forget.
Fans of Stealing Snow, Red Queen, and The Wrath and the Dawn will hungrily devour this page-turning read.
Julie Dao has been one of my favorite writers of the last year. I have been living for all these amazing talented darker leaning fantasies. Shoutouts to all of these that have been feeding my soul. I always thought you had to be cookie cutter good to get your own story. I love all the recent nuanced looks at new female protagonists.
Without further ado, my review. I have been waiting for Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix since before I even finished Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. I was just not ready for that world to end.
So Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix was a book for my heart. Being immersed in the world against was fantastic, like coming back to a series after a hiatus. There’s just the perfect balance between actions and description that lulls you with its beauty, but also makes you rise to action.
One of the biggest challenges, or themes, that Dao plays with this book, is the journey/growing up process of Jade versus how it was for Xifeng. In this way, this is such a fantastic sequel because you remember the ways Xifeng grew up to be the Empress in Kingdom. So the biggest question becomes, how do we become the person we want to be? These two characters mirror each other in a lot of ways, but there are differences in how Jade reacts to the challenges of her life.
And yet, they are vastly different people too. Xifeng grew up in poverty and had to fight for everything she had, whereas Jade has always known she was a princess. So there’s also a gulf that cannot really be crossed in some ways. I loved being back with Xifeng. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns kicked off my anti-heroine obsession, so Xifeng is like my OG crush.
We are asked if there is such a thing as destiny. Is our fate written in the stars, or can we act outside of this? What control do we exert over the world and our actions? When we are faced with the challenges of power, of obscurity, of poverty, of starvation, what do we choose? All of these questions, combined with these two books, are really dealt with in expressive and beautiful strokes.
While there’s all this mystery and almost an epic fantasy structure to Kingdom, what I adored the most was the way Dao made explicit the connection between their success and the stories. Jade undergoes a series of tasks, almost Herculean, that involve her going back to the oral folktales she was told growing up. In these stories, lies the key, the answers, the clues. And in this, I think Dao sends us a very important message.
We can learn from these stories – we can learn from history.
We can use what happens, the lessons, the characters, to excel in our world. Not only that, but Dao also makes a connection between storytelling and their potential for rebellion and insurrection. When we see ourselves as pieces of a story we can become more than ourselves, find the courage we need to go beyond ourselves. And at the same time, the art of storytelling is one that can be one of protest.
(Also I loved how at one point a character calls them just “children stories” and a character sets them straight. Yep).
There were fantastic characters, Wren you are the character of my heart, mysteries with magical creatures, and a story that asks us if we can find a purpose greater than ourselves. If we can rise to make the harder choice, the sacrifice. Overall, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is a powerful story about the necessity of compassion, of respect, and of learning from our mistakes.