Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Fiction

Heart of the Sun Warrior (Celestial Kingdom #2)

Cover image for Heart of the Sun Warrior by Sue Lynn Tan

by Sue Lynn Tan

ISBN 9780063031364

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

“I trust that you do not want me dead. At least, not yet. When we want different things—that is the moment when trust really matters, when its true worth shines.”

Xingyin has won freedom for her mother, the moon goddess Chang’e but at the terrible price of incurring the wrath of the Celestial Emperor for outwitting him with the dragon pearls. With her spiritual power depleted, Xingyin returns home to the moon to recover under her mother’s care and heal her broken heart. But her quick recovery from her battle injuries reveals that the moon harbours a magic of its own, one that will draw unwelcome attention and challengers now that it is no longer forbidden to outsiders. Driven from their home and forced to seek allies in the far reaches of the Immortal Realms, Xingyin and her mother face an uncertain future and difficult choices about what loyalty they owe to the Celestial Kingdom.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess read well as a standalone adventure but left the love triangle between Xingyin, Liwei, and Wenzhi unresolved. In Heart of the Sun Warrior, Xingyin has rejected both men, and returned to the moon to live peacefully with her mother and Ping-er. However, now that Chang’e nominally has her freedom, other immortals can also visit the Moon Palace, and their machinations threaten to draw Xingyin and her family back into the distant intrigues of the court. Soon Xingyin is in mortal peril once more, facing the wrath of the Celestial Emperor. Worse, Liwei’s attempts to shield her have imperiled his own position and perhaps upset the entire balance of power in their realm.

Xingyin is still grappling with her feelings for both men, each of them having betrayed her in their own way. Family loyalties weigh strongly, and with all their identities revealed the history between their families only becomes of greater significance in the sequel. Liwei has laid everything on the line for her, but Xingyin grows increasingly doubtful that she can ever endure the life at court that marriage to him would entail. And while her feelings for the demon prince Wenzhi have never entirely abated, nor does she feel she can ever forgive him. Though her physical wounds have healed and the well of her spiritual power has been replenished, a broken heart is not so quick to mend.

While much of the plot centers around interpersonal relationships and questions of duty and forgiveness, the action comes from a challenge for the throne of the Celestial Kingdom. Liwei’s position as heir is no longer unassailable and there are many who fear he will still marry Xingyin even though she has not accepted his proposal. While she has little reason to trust Wenzhi, he is also no friend of the Celestial Kingdom, and as tensions rise Xingyin finds that he is a necessary ally if she and her family are to survive. Meanwhile, Wenzhi is bent on showing Xingyin that he regrets his past actions and will never hurt her again. But it is a long journey from reluctant ally back to friendship let alone love. Nor is Liwei willing to give Xingyin up, despite her reservations about life at court.

There is a lot going on in this sequel, from a power grab for the throne to the love triangle to the deaths of several beloved side characters to a reveal about Xingyin’s father, the mortal archer Houyi. It was at times a struggle to keep all these threads balanced, and in particular I felt like Houyi received short shrift in a book that draws its title from his character. But if you need to know where Xingyin chooses to bestow her heart, then Heart of the Sun Warrior is for you.

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She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

The Library of Legends by Janie Chang

Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Fiction, LGBTQIA+, Science Fiction

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Mini Reviews

Daughter of the Moon Goddess

Cover image for Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

by Sue Lynn Tan

ISBN 9780063031302

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

As the daughter of the moon goddess Chang’e, Xingyin grows up in exile, her very existence hidden from the vengeful Celestial Emperor and his court. When her existence is discovered, Xingyin must flee the moon palace, descending to the Celestial Realm to make her way alone. There she finds herself in an unexpected friendship with Liwei, a young man who turns out to be the son of her parents’ (im)mortal enemies. As Xingyin learns to harness her magic and serves the very Celestial Kingdom that banished her mother, she holds out hope that by proving herself in the Celestial army, she can win back her mother’s freedom. Daughter of the Moon Goddess is a mythical romance and adventure, in which Xingyin finds herself caught between Prince Liwei, who is promised to another, and Captain Wenzhi, a fellow soldier who has risen through the ranks from nothing. But though her heart pulls her in multiple directions, throughout Xingyin is bound to her familial legacy, hoping to free her mother, and learn her mortal father’s fate. Sue Lynn Tan draws on Chinese mythology in this first volume of the Celestial Kingdom duology, using the legend of Chang’e and Houyi as the basis for her debut novel.

Expected publication: January 11, 2022

Tags: Fiction, Fantasy, Fairy tale retellings

The Jasmine Throne

Cover image for The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

by Tasha Suri

ISBN 9780316538527

Tasha Suri’s first adult fantasy is dark political intrigue rife with magic. The Jasmine Throne employs a large and complex cast of characters with competing interests, and the point of view shifts frequently. However, the two central characters are Malini and Priya. Malini is a princess of Parijat, but she has been exiled to an outlying province by her brother the emperor for refusing to go willingly to the pyre as a sacrifice to the gods. Priya is a maidservant in the household of Ahiranya’s colonial governor, but once she was something more, a forbidden history that lies dormant and half-forgotten. When the exiled princess is imprison in the Hirana, Priya is among the members of the governor’s household sent to attend her and her jailer. Ahiranya chafes under Parijati rule, but the dissidents do not agree on how to regain autonomy. Ashok leads the guerilla rebels, while Bhumika, the governor’s Ahiranyi wife, has married the enemy to try to keep her people safe from the ravages of life under the thumb of the empire by more diplomatic means. These are subtle politics with no easy answers; everyone thinks that their way is the right way, that they have drawn the right lines in the sand. In the midst of all this, Malini and Priya are drawn into an unlikely romance, but is far from the centre of the story, which focuses around imperialism and colonial politics. The Jasmine Throne is book one of the Burning Kingdoms series, with The Oleander Sword expected to be published in 2022.

Tags: Fiction, Fantasy, LGBTQ+

A Memory Called Empire

Cover image for A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

by Arkady Martine

ISBN 9781529001587

It has been twenty years since Lsel Station sent an Ambassador to the Teixcalaan Empire, and fifteen years since that ambassador last visited home when suddenly the Emperor Six Direction demands a new Lsel Ambassador. Hurriedly implanted with the outdated imago-machine of her predecessor, Mahit Dzmare arrives at the heart of the empire to find that the former ambassador is dead, likely murdered. Guided by her cultural liaison Three Seagrass, and the shadow of Yskandr provided by his old, possibly sabotaged imago-machine, Mahit must uncover the truth even as Teixcalaan seethes on the edge of a succession crisis. The secret of the imago-machine may be Lsel Station’s salvation, or it’s undoing. A Memory Called Empire provides a unique and well-built world, and a mystery that is steeped in religion, politics, and technology crafted by a writer who knows what she is about—Martine has degrees in history, religion, and city planning. Teixcalaan is a pervasive military and cultural juggernaut with hints of both the Byzantine and Aztec empires, among others. The threat of cultural if not political assimilation looms constantly over Lsel Station. After studying Teixcalaanli language, literature, and history all her life Mahit finally gets to experience the culture she dreamed of, only to confront the fact that to the Teixcalaanlitzim, she will never be more than a barbarian.

Tags: Fiction, Science Fiction, LGBTQ+

Winter’s Orbit

Cover image for Winter's Orbit by Everina Maxwell

by Everina Maxwell

ISBN 9781250758835

On the eve of crucial intergalactic treaty negotiations, the Emperor of Iskat summons her erstwhile grandson and commands him to renew a marriage alliance with Thea after the unexpected death of Prince Taam. Without Taam, there is no sealed alliance between Iskat and the rebellious outlying planet of Thea, and so Kiem must step into his cousin’s shoes and marry his widower. Affable Prince Kiem and reserved Count Jainan make a political match at the emperor’s bidding, but neither is expecting the simmering sexual tension that complicates what should have been a straightforward arrangement. Jainan strives to do his duty to bind Thea to the Iskat empire, while Kiem tiptoes around Jainan’s loss, unsure of exactly how deep the relationship between Prince Taam and Jainan may or may not have been. However, Jainan and Kiem’s public relationship comes under scrutiny when Taam’s death is deemed suspicious, and Jainan is identified as a person of interest. A slowly unraveling political mystery paired with a series of revelations about Jainan’s relationship with his dead husband kept me invested despite the slow burn between Jainan and Kiem. Winter’s Orbit is currently billed as a standalone, but I would absolutely read more in this world.

Tags: Fiction, Science Fiction, LGBTQ+