After reading Allison Saft’s A Far Wilder Magic, I’ve developed a newfound hunger for stories steeped in magic and romance. From the world-building to the prose, I was swept away into an all-consuming atmospheric world of alchemy, mythical hunts, and high stakes. Here are five reasons why you should pick up this fantasy romance!
1. The atmospheric setting. A village by the sea, an isolated manor on the edge of town, and a hunt through moonlit forests. When I think of atmospheric fantasy books, The Bear and the Nightingale and The Night Circus are the first ones that come to mind. A Far Wilder Magic now joins those ranks. Atmosphere makes a story compelling, and this 1920s-inspired fantasy world brimming with alchemy and magic swept me away within the first few chapters. There’s a sense of foreboding, of mystery steeped into the story. There’s just something about how the setting feels–and how easy it is to get lost in.
2. The romance. Fantasy romance is a sub-genre I haven’t delved into much, but if there are more books like this then I need them! The slow-burn, the pining, the mutual YEARNING. It was just so good. I didn’t even expect the romance to be so prominent so I was pleasantly surprised. The love story between Maggie and Wes was achingly tender and heartwarming. One of my favorite quotes from the book:
Love is not the sharp-edged thing she’s always believed it to be. It’s not like the sea, liable to slip through her fingers if she holds on too tight. It’s not a currency, something to be earned or denied or bartered for. Love can be steadfast. It can be certain and safe, or as wild as an open flame. It’s a slice of buttered bread at a dinner table. It’s a grudge born of worry. It’s broken skin pulled over swelling knuckles.
3. Grumpy x sunshine. The tried and true, evergreen trope/relationship dynamic. But instead of the heroine being the one with the sunny personality, it’s the hero in this book! Maggie is serious one while Wes is the incorrigible flirt with slight himbo energy (I love the dark, morally ambiguous anti-heroes but we seriously need more himbos in books). She’s a sharpshooter and he’s an aspiring alchemist–the unlikely pairing team up to compete in a hunt for the last mythical beast.
4. The character-driven story. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, action-packed fantasy, I have others recs for you, but what you’ll find in this book are introspective character studies, internal conflicts, individual struggles, and emotional journeys. The legendary foxhunt is just the bonus! The plot is used to develop Maggie and Wes into fully-fleshed out characters.
5. Full Metal Alchemist and Wuthering Heights vibes. A strange pairing perhaps, but it worked wonderfully. FMA was one of the first anime I watched and still one of my favorites. I loved seeing the alchemy parallels between A Far Wilder Magic and the classic anime. Alchemy in general is something I’d love to see explored more in fantasy books! And let’s not forget the haunting, gothic vibes of the story–a bit Brontë-esque.
When Margaret Welty spots the legendary hala, the last living mythical creature, she knows the Halfmoon Hunt will soon follow. Whoever is able to kill the hala will earn fame and riches, and unlock an ancient magical secret. If Margaret wins the hunt, it may finally bring her mother home. While Margaret is the best sharpshooter in town, only teams of two can register, and she needs an alchemist.
Weston Winters isn’t an alchemist–yet. Fired from every apprenticeship he’s landed, his last chance hinges on Master Welty taking him in. But when Wes arrives at Welty Manor, he finds only Margaret and her bloodhound Trouble. Margaret begrudgingly allows him to stay, but on one condition: he must join the hunt with her.
Although they make an unlikely team, Wes is in awe of the girl who has endured alone on the outskirts of a town that doesn’t want her, in this creaking house of ghosts and sorrow. And even though Wes disrupts every aspect of her life, Margaret is drawn to him. He, too, knows what it’s like to be an outsider. As the hunt looms closer and tensions rise, Margaret and Wes uncover dark magic that could be the key to winning the hunt – if they survive that long.
When I read the synopsis of A Thousand Steps into Night, the first thing I thought of was Nezuko from Demon Slayer. A girl embarking on a journey to reverse the curse turning her into a demon? Japanese-inspired fantasy with feral gods, curious monsters, and vengeful demons? I knew this book would be a pure delight even before I read the first page–and that feeling was right. Anime and manga lovers, you don’t want to miss this fairytale-esque fantasy brimming with magic, mischief, and whimsical adventures.
Miuko is an ordinary girl resigned to living an uneventful life, until one day, she’s kissed by a demon. Not just any demon, but Death woman; a malevolence demon that cursed her to slowly transform into a demon herself. Shunned from her village, she embarks on an epic quest across the Japanese-inspired realm of Awara where gods, monsters, and humans existed side by side, in hopes of finding a way to reverse the curse. Along the way, she befriends a thieving magpie-spirit companion who accompanies her thrilling adventures.
I couldn’t help but vividly imagine the story as anime while I read–a combination of Demon Slayer and Inuyasha. The endearing cast of characters and whimsical adventure also made it reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film! I particularly enjoyed the feminist themes and discussion of power in a patriarchal society. Sure, becoming a demon had plenty of downsides, but it also came with power. Freedom from restrictions of gender and class. Miuko’s internal dilemma was thoughtfully explored, and even I pondered the choices myself.
It was a bit slow to start, but once Miuko set off on her quest, I was hooked. The coolest part? Footnotes! Explanations, translations, and pronunciations for terms, making the world feel even more immersive. If you’re looking for a fun, adventurous read, look no further.
“Over the wild blue countryside they flew, like a pair of heroes from some ancient tale or a constellation limned in stars, and not once did she look back, for she did not need to—she had the support of her loved ones behind her, and the big, beautiful world ahead.”
What are some books you’ve read with anime/manga vibes?
Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of the biggest authors in the book community. From bookstagram to booktok, her stories are often praised for the masterful storytelling and unforgettable characters. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (2017) and Daisy Jones & The Six (2019) were the ones I’ve been recommended the most, and the ones I’ve seen ceaseless love for.
So why did it take me so long to read them? I’ve always been a bit wary of books with overwhelming hype, especially from authors I’ve never read. Despite my friends assuring me I’d love Reid’s stories, I held off year after year until I made it a goal of reading my first TJR book in 2021. I started Evelyn Hugo in the last week of 2021 and finished on the fourth day of the new year. To say it lived up to the hype would be an understatement. I finally understood why so many people loved it with such fervor.
Soon after, I picked up the audiobook of Daisy Jones & The Six rather than the physical book as a recommendation from a friend. Verdict? It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.
This was the first audiobook I listened to that had a full cast of narrators and the performance was phenomenal. Daisy Jones & The Six was made for audiobook with its interview-style format. Every narrator performed so remarkably well that it truly felt as though I was listening to interviews from a real legendary 70s rock band. I can’t imagine a more perfect voice for Daisy, Billy, Camila, and the rest of the cast. They breathed such vivd life and emotion into these characters that I can close my eyes and hear their distinctive voices in my head, recounting their tumultuous years under the limelight. It felt so real. No one can convince that Daisy Jones & The Six wasn’t a real band from a bygone era.
Sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll–you’ve heard of it, they lived it. The story chronicles the rise of the iconic band, Daisy Jones & The Six, from their humble beginnings to the peak of their existence. It’s startlingly authentic in its exploration of the darker side of the rock scene, which is still quite relevant in the music industry today. The crippling addiction to drugs and alcohol, the infidelity, the mind and body dissociation. It’s a heavy story. But it also explores the passion and heart of music, of songwriting, of the story behind the lyrics.
“All I will say is that you show up for your friends on their hardest days. And you hold their hand through the roughest parts. Life is about who is holding your hand and, I think, whose hand you commit to holding.”
The documentary/transcript format made it a very unique listen. The band members and close friends/family/associates recounted their past whirlwind of adventures; their brightest and darkest moments. I don’t normally read historical fiction (though it’s a genre I do want to read more of), let alone interview-style books, so I was unsure how I felt at the somewhat sluggish beginning. But the more I listened, the more I felt compelled to continue, and before I knew it I was entirely engrossed.
I absolutely hated Billy Dunne right out of the gate. Admittedly, I almost DNF’d because I really didn’t want to listen to an entire story about a man’s infidelity (but that wasn’t the case). I was so certain there was no way TJR could redeem him after his awful actions, but somehow, by the end of the book, I didn’t hate him. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I liked him, but TJR definitely worked hard to make him a more sympathetic character. I think it’s important to realize that these are very flawed and complex characters with real fears and motivations.
Daisy on the other hand, I loved right off the bat. There’s an empowering quality to her despite her devastating addiction to drugs. She was determined to chase her passion for music in a man’s world. Bold and impulsive, Daisy Jones did not give a fuck (excuse my language) about pleasing others. She was a hedonist with a love for music through and through. For all her little fractured pieces, she sure made the band feel whole.
“I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse. I am not a muse. I am the somebody. End of fucking story.”
Despite the shaky, uncertain start, I fell in love with Daisy Jones & The Six thanks to the exceptional performances from the narrators, as well as the emotional gravity of the story that pulled me in and refused to let go. I can’t recommend the audiobook enough–the only downside is that every other audiobook may pale in comparison after finishing this.
“I think you have to have faith in people before they earn it. Otherwise it’s not faith, right?”
South Korean webcomics, webtoons, or manhwa are digital comics that have gained popularity globally in the last decade. These full-colored comics are read from top to bottom as they’re published in one long vertical strip, meant for reading on a smartphone or computer. In the past year or two it’s become one of my most read mediums because I love the colorful art style and the ease of reading the format provides.
Many Korean dramas are adapted from popular webcomics, such as Cheese in the Trap and What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim, so if you’re a fan of K-dramas then there’s definitely crossover appeal! Romcom, thriller, action, fantasy–there’s something for everyone.
I’m absolutely elated to have Tiffany from @readbytiffany here today to share webcomic recs with me! She’s a fellow villainess isekai enthusiast and smutty romcom connoisseur who compulsively reads webcomics as much as I do. But first…
Where can you read them?
Webtoons – Officially translated Korean webcomics and original webcomics for free! Probably the most well-known English platform for the medium. This was where I discovered the vast realm of webcomics back in 2015!
Tapas – Webcomics AND web novels. Some are free and some are premium, which you can either pay for or earn points by watching ads and playing mini games.
Lezhin Comics – Webcomics with more variety in BL and mature content. The “Wait Until Free” selection gives you a free chapter every X hours.
These are the big three but there are many more places to read webcomics, like Tappytoon and Manta.
The very first one I read on Webtoons was Annarasumanara, a coming-of-age story about a poverty-stricken girl who’s life changes when she meets a mysterious magician. If you like magical realism and nostalgic, contemplative stories, I highly recommend it. It just so happens to be getting adapted into a K-drama by Netflix, titled The Sound of Magic.
On to the recommendations! Tiffany and I each have five of our favorite webcomics to share–there’s some romance, some action, some fantasy, and a whole lot to devour if you’re new! For those already familiar with the medium, you might also find something you haven’t read yet.
One day, our MC finds himself stuck in the world of his favorite webnovel. What should he do to survive? It’s a world struck by catastrophe and danger all around. His edge? He knows the plot of the story to end, because he was the sole reader that stuck with it.
Impressive cast of characters with their own distinctive personalities and struggles. Found family vibes but make it extremely dysfunctional. Clown-to-clown communications.
The ULTIMATE chaotic trio–basically gaslight (Kim Dojka), gatekeep (Yoo Joonhyuk), and girlboss (Han Sooyoung). Very questionable moral compasses.
Powerful female characters with agency that also play a vital role in the plot line!
So much more than your typical isekai. Immersive world building and crazy plot twists. Ultimately it’s a story about the love for stories; an ode to storytelling.
Emotional investment: 10/10. Every time I think about the end of the webnovel I feel like bursting into tears.
To Hee-won’s dismay, the BFF she crushed on and her other BFF are now dating! Seriously bummed, Hee-won decides to go wild just one time, and find solace with a handsome stranger. A very satisfying one night affair has now turned into more — she’s pregnant! Fate brings them together again, and now the regimented Doo-joon is determined to do the right thing and marry her. But they’re basically strangers! Except… their bodies have been very intimately acquainted. What’s this mother-to-be to do?
My all-time favorite romcom webcomic!
I don’t even like the accidental pregnancy trope or any sort of pregnancy in my romance but this one was so sweet and wholesome.
Two strangers learning how to be in a relationship for their unborn child and falling in love in the process.
Billionaire CEO who is not just the president of his company, but also the president of the I Love My Wife And Will Do Anything For Her club.
A heartwarming and comedic romance that’ll definitely put a smile on your face.
When vampires destroy her chance to have the normal life she’s always wanted, Hayan is forced to draw on her darkest secret to rid the world of the merciless hunters that took it over 10 years ago. With the support of a rising star in the local police force, Hayan steps up to protect her loved ones, face her past, and get her revenge.
The perfect blend of action and romance in an urban fantasy setting.
Hayan is secretly a vampire who just wants live an ordinary life. Her life turns upside down when vampires rip away her semblance of normality and she has to embrace the power she was born with to take down the most powerful vampires in the world.
She teams up with a hot detective who has his own secrets and a slow burn romance ensues.
For once it’s the female lead that’s overpowered! She’s seriously badass.
In a world where awakened beings called “Hunters” must battle deadly monsters to protect humanity, Sung Jinwoo, nicknamed “the weakest hunter of all mankind,” finds himself in a constant struggle for survival. One day, after a brutal encounter in an overpowered dungeon wipes out his party and threatens to end his life, a mysterious System chooses him as its sole player: Jinwoo has been granted the rare opportunity to level up his abilities, possibly beyond any known limits.
I have an entire post dedicated to why you should read my latest favorite power fantasy here, but to sum it up:
Underdog story of the world’s weakest hunter fighting against impossible odds on his journey to become the strongest.
Video game-like features (RPG leveling system, abilities, guilds) set in the modern world.
Full of action and epic battles (perfect for shounen fans).
The art! Every page flows so seamlessly and the sleek style and purposeful use of color reflects the main character’s growth. There are stunning page-long panoramic scenes for high stakes battles that are a feast for the eyes.
I don’t want to be the “I read Solo Leveling for the plot” meme, but…THE PLOT:
Under the Oak Tree
Stuttering lady Maximilian is forced into a marriage with Sir Riftan, but he leaves on a campaign after their wedding night. 3 years later, he triumphantly returns, ready to cherish her. As life with her husband finally begins, she only has one question — does she deserve this love and happiness?
Historical/fantasy romance with a bit of ~spice~.
Timid heroine who grows into herself + grumpy/overbearing hero who is ONLY soft for her. Daughter of a Duke + the greatest Knight in the kingdom dynamic.
If you look up tall, dark, and devilishly handsome, Sir Riftan will appear in the results.
Misunderstandings and miscommunication adds to the angst factor which I love. While both are flawed characters, there’s a lot of character development!
An Hour of Romance
Joo-Ahn and Do-Jin couldn’t be any more different at work. She’s a perpetually single career woman who takes everything too seriously and rules with an iron fist. He’s a modelesque klutz with a heart of gold who lucked into an entry-level marketing job.
But when a company trip to a mysterious temple starts an inexplicable soul swap, they end up switching bodies for an hour each day. To avoid utter embarrassment and keep up their reputations, the unlikely pair will have to cooperate and bide their time. Will Joo-Ahn learn to sympathize with the pretty boy who can’t do anything right? And will Do-Jin see the softer side of his boss’s spiky persona?
Grumpy female lead x sunshine himbo love interest(!!)
Two office workers with polar personalities that must learn to work together after a magical spell makes them switch bodies for an hour every day.
From the author of What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim…so you KNOW it’s going to be top tier.
What It Takes To Be a Villainess
With a broken heart, Hwayoung falls headfirst into the river by accident but wakes up as infamous villainess Satiana Altisee Kaylon. Coming to terms with her new life as sole daughter of House Kaylon, Satiana is soon chosen as a candidate for the next empress! In the palace full of schemers and liars, she must become a cold-blooded villainess to win her royal seat by the crown prince – or her new family will face grave danger! Will being perfectly evil really be enough? ‘Cause even villains need love!
It’s completed(!!) meaning you don’t have to painstakingly wait for updates.
The Bachelor meets The Selection in a competition to win the Crown Prince’s heart and become Empress.
Female lead who fully embraces her villainess role and manages to capture the ML’s heart in an Isekai story.
The Villainess is a Marionette
I woke up as Kayena Hill, the novel’s villainess, praised as the greatest beauty in the empire. Who knew that her story would catch my attention because I was her in my past life? Destined for terrible ends, I’ve died twice—but I refuse to die a third time as a pawn in someone else’s scheme. I’m no longer the vain and naïve princess. Now that I know how the story will unfold, I’ll turn the tables around and have everyone dancing to my tune. This time, I’ll be the one pulling the strings.
The most BEAUTIFUL…I repeat…BEAUTIFUL artwork you will ever lay your eyes on.
A badass female lead who takes her fate into her own hands.
Once again…everyone is so pretty 🥺😭
No Longer a Heroine
Lisa Cheon used to be the nation’s favorite on-screen idol, but swiftly falls from grace after being framed as a drug addict. She is offered the opportunity to turn it all around by starring on a new TV show, but it won’t be easy: her character’s love interest is her ex-boyfriend, and she’s too nervous to act without alcohol. Can Lisa regain what she has lost and face the demons of her past?
Thrilling, fun, exciting…could literally be a K-drama…and it SHOULD be.
Follows the famous Lisa Cheon, who made her name as an immensely talented child actress. After retiring due to a drug scandal, she’s headlining the nation’s most highly anticipated K-drama as the female lead.
Second chance romance?! But we also stan the second male lead because he’s a cinnamon roll.
Days of Hana
Friends since childhood, Haru and Hana do not have a typical relationship — Hana is human, and Haru is her werewolf who must protect her. Although werewolves are starting to have more rights, they are still seen as exotic beasts by society. As the two fall in love, what will be their fate?
Another A++ completed webtoon(!!)
Urban fantasy centering around werewolves, starring two childhood friends…who may or may not become lovers.
The entire story is a larger metaphor for institutionalized racism, racial oppression, animal cruelty, civil uprising, and more.
Did any of these pique your interest? Let us know your thoughts if you pick any of these webcomics up!
Daughter of the Moon Goddess is finally here! I was lucky enough to read it last year and I absolutely adored it. Whether it was flying on clouds, strolling through a mystical night market, or riding the claws of a venerable dragon, everything was so vividly painted. Sweeping adventures that took us through the Celestial Realm where gods and immortals resided, the Eastern Seas battling legendary creatures, and a shadowy realm of forbidden magic.
The story follows Xingyin, the daughter of the exiled moon goddess. She hides her identity and travels to the Celestial Kingdom where she learns magic and hones her archery skills alongside the crown prince; years of training and studying to find a way to free her mother. The only way is to win the Crimson Lion Talisman, the highest honor of the Celestial Army which grants the winner a favor from the emperor himself. The emperor who imprisoned her mother. That also means her romantic entanglement with the crown prince is forbidden.
So what does she do? Become a soldier of course! Not just any soldier, but the greatest archer in the kingdom, battling a monstrous serpent and a giant octopus, quelling a merfolk rebellion, and even saving the princess betrothed to the crown prince (it gets a little angsty).
The world building and fairytale-esque atmosphere made the tale feel even more immersive. It was reminiscent of the wuxia/c-dramas I used to watch when I was younger. I believe this book was pitched as Adult and older YA fantasy crossover but it solidly felt like YA to me in terms of tone and character voice. There’s even a love triangle of sorts and I normally abhor love triangles but I didn’t mind this one! Perhaps I rooted for the wrong person but…I’m excited to see how the story will continue to unfold in the sequel!
“In the darkness, the thousand lanterns flickered to life. The sky was clear. The stars infinite. The light of the moon was full and bright. On a night as this, my heart was content, awaiting the promise of tomorrow.”
This lush debut fantasy will sweep you away into a beautifully-crafted realm of immortals and magic, ancient myths and legendary creatures, and romance and adventure. Happy release day to Daughter of the Moon Goddess!
Hello 2022! New year, same Nina excited for all the books to come. Last year I set a reading goal of 75 books and found it to be a bit stressful, so this year I’m setting a more manageable goal of 50 books! The goal? Expand my reading horizons while also tackling the books I already own.
I have quite a few books on my 2022 TBR already–48 to be exact! Every year I make a list of books I want and hope to read. Many of them are the year’s new releases I’m anticipating, but I actually never manage to read all of them so there’s plenty of leeway for my mood reads and the books I already own but haven’t gotten around to reading.
There’s one particular book on my TBR that has made an appearance on every list since 2019: Deathless by Catherynne Valente. I’ve been meaning to read it for such a long time and I’m fairly certain it’ll be my next favorite (not sure why I put off books I know I’ll love for so long). This is finally the year!
Read my shelf: every month read one book I already own.
Listen to one audiobook each month.
Read two nonfiction books.
Read more translated web novels.
New books are hard to resist, but this year I’m determined to make an effort to read the books I already own. I’m limiting myself to only buying six new physical books between now and December. The idea is for every two books I read from my own shelf, I get to buy one new book. I’ve always been a bit of an impulsive buyer; easily swayed by pretty covers, but I want to be more conscious and deliberate in the purchases that I make. One, because I don’t have any room, and two, to save money!
I also need to unhaul books because I have stacks and stacks everywhere–ARCs from publishers and my own impulsive buys that have been gathering dust. I plan on doing a giveaway as promised for the giant stack that reached my height, and also donating some to the Little Free Libraries in the area. As much as I’d love to keep all these books for my future personal library, they’re better off in other hands right now.
Last month I signed up for an Audible subscription to listen to Jade Legacy while working out, and I’m not sure if it was because of Andrew Kishino’s phenomenal narrating or some other reason but I developed a newfound love for audiobooks! I want to incorporate an audiobook into my monthly reading (it’ll also give me the motivation to go to the gym more consistently).
As an escapist reader, nonfiction is by far my least read genre, but I want to dip my toes into the water so I set a humble count of two: one memoir and one self-development. Maybe I’ll enjoy them enough to pick up more!
My final goal is to read more translated web novels. With the huge success of MXTX novels hitting the New York Time’s bestsellers, I’ve realized that it’s a largely untapped territory for me! I’ve watched the animated adaption of Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation but I’ve never read any novels from this renowned author. Heaven’s Official Blessing is first on my list of many web novels.
12 Months 12 Recommendations Challenge
This challenge has been making rounds on bookstagram and booktwt these past few weeks and I wanted to join in on the fun! I have 12 months to read 12 recommended books. I asked booksta for recs and here were the results:
2021 brought me quite a few phenomenal reads, from books to manga to webcomics & manhwa. Some made me laugh, some made me cry, and some made fall down the fandom rabbit hole. Most importantly, I discovered new favorite books and series that helped me get through the difficult year! My favorite stories are the ones that leave a lasting impression; stories I still talk about long after I read the last chapter or watch the last episode, stories I want to share my love for with all my friends and family, and well, you dear reader! Before I get into my top reads and shows, let’s look at a quick recap of 2021.
2021 At A Glance
This year I read a total of 74 books (and currently on my 75th to reach my reading goal)!
My most read genre was fantasy–no surprise there as it’s my favorite–followed by romance.
My least read genres were sci-fi and nonfiction.
Nearly a third of my reads were webcomics and manga. This year I read more webcomics than ever!
I reread 4 books: These Violent Delights (for Subtle Asian Book Club’s January BOTM), On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Heart of Obsidian, and Jade Legacy twice.
I listened to 2 audiobooks.
I buddy-watched 7 K-dramas.
1. Jade Legacy | The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee
I read the entire Green Bone Saga this year and it claims the throne as my all time favorite fantasy series. It’s a thrilling wuxia-inspired gangster saga; imagine The Godfather in an urban fantasy metropolis where magic comes in the form of jade and two rival crime syndicates go to war, vying for control and power. It’s about family and honor and love and war. And it absolutely destroyed me. I’ve reread Jade Legacy twice and my mind still drifts to this brilliant story in idle moments. This trilogy was the highlight of my reading year.
2. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker Chan
I’m not a masochist by any means, but my favorite books tend to hurt (see the above). She Who Became the Sun is a reimagining of the rise of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor. Mulan meets The Song of Achilles meets The Poppy War. The story revolves around a peasant who has the unwavering ambition for greatness and glory, and to achieve that she claims her dead brother’s identity. I adore quiet, unassuming characters with an underlying propensity for ruthlessness. That’s our anti-heroine. I especially loved the the nuanced exploration of gender identity alongside the themes of war and vengeance and fate.
3. Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan
I can’t wait for everyone to read this book because it’s just so beautiful. The worldbuilding is lush and magical, the writing is exquisite, and the fairytale-esque atmosphere will sweep you away. Daughter of the Moon Goddess retells the legend of Chang’e the Chinese moon goddess, where her daughter embarks on a dangerous quest to free her mother from exile. There’s adventure and magic, immortals and romance, legendary creatures and ancient Chinese folklore. Keep an eye out for this YA fantasy debut in January!
4. The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
My favorite romance of the year! The Love Hypothesis certainly lives up to the hype. Women in STEM? Check. Fake dating? Check. Grumpy hero who is only soft for the heroine (aka I hate everyone but you)? CHECK. I am weak for grumpy x sunshine. The characters are just so lovable. Not only that, but this was originally a Reylo fanfic! Although I’m not in the Star Wars fandom and know very little about Reylo, I’m an avid consumer of fanfics so I’m very fond of them! To see a story that started as a fanfic garner this much success makes me so happy.
5. The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang
Ah yes, yet another book that wrecked emotional havoc on me. The previous authors were all new to me, but Helen Hoang is a favorite of mine! The Bride Test remains my favorite, and while I don’t think anything will ever top that, The Heart Principle comes in at a very close second. This story has a different tone than the rest of her books. It explores heavier subjects like depression, suicidal ideation, and toxic family relationships. Some parts hit a little close to home so it was a very heart-rendering read for me.
Honorable mentions: If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio, Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao, The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker
Favorite Webcomics & Manga
If you’re familiar with my bookstagram or blog, you’re probably tired of how much I talk about Solo Leveling. I really can’t help it–it’s my favorite webcomic this year. I’m even collecting the english translated physical copies to start my Jinwoo shrine. Jokes aside, as far as power fantasy goes, this one is pretty typical in that the protagonist goes from helpless to absolutely overpowered, but it’s just so addicting. It’s full of action and epic battles and the sleek art is a feast for the eyes. The page-long panoramic scenes during high stakes fights? *chef’s kiss*
The best romcom webcomic ever. No I will not be taking questions. I teared up when Positively Yours ended because I loved it so much (and because the ending was utterly perfect). I think there’s a gaping whole in my chest now that it’s over. The ML is the president of the “I love my wife and will do anything for her” club, and the best part? He has the power to. It’s lighthearted and sweet and I just felt really happy reading it. Positively Yours is my ultimate comfort webcomic.
You ever heard of the meme “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss”? That’s the trio of Omniscient Reader, and I’ve never loved a golden trio so damn much. Their dynamic has borderline unhinged found family vibes. Extremely dysfunctional. I’m talking about clown-to-clown communication–which, makes the wholesome moments all the sweeter. This webcomic/webnovel is an ode to stories and storytelling. It’s about the sole reader of an apocalyptic story that turns to reality, and only he knows how to survive.
You’ve probably already heard of Jujutsu Kaisen so I’ll spare the details but when I finished the anime, the first thing I did was read the manga, and boy did it get INTENSE. Pain and suffering is all I know apparently. Remember when I said I fell down the fandom rabbit hole? This was it. I caught up on the manga and turned to fanfiction to cope. Maybe I even wrote one.
Honorable mentions: Chainsaw Man, Unholy Blood, Under the Oak Tree
Just thinking about everyone I convinced to watch this series who later came back to tell me they loved it makes me giddy. Vincenzo follows a Korean-Italian lawyer/Mafia consigliere who flees to Seoul in the midst of a Mafia war and ends up waging his own war against a corrupt conglomerate. It holds an underlying comedic tone interspersed with suspenseful scenes, action-packed sequences, tender moments, and gut-wrenching parts. If you like found family, thrilling action, comedy, and subtle romance, this drama is a must-watch! The true MVPs were the antagonists.
Both the US & UK covers of Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim are absolutely stunning. While I didn’t get to read it this year, it’s on my 12 months 12 recs challenge next year!
While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Inazuma arc, Genshin Impact was basically the only game I played this year and I’m still in love with the stunning soundtrack, the plethora of characters, the beautiful landscapes to explore, and the fun events!
How was your reading year? What was your favorite book? Do you have any reading goals for 2022?
2022 is on the horizon and with the new year comes new books to get excited about! I already have over 30 books on my TBR but I narrowed down 10 books releasing in 2022 that I’m most excited about. Looking for new books to add to your reading list? There’s a fairytale-esque fantasy inspired by East Asian folklore, a thrilling art heist novel, a dark contemporary fantasy with secret societies, and so much more. See you in 2022!
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is a Spirited Away-esque retelling of the Korean folklore, “The Tale of Shim Cheong”. A girl finds herself in the spirit realm after sacrificing herself to the sea and sets out to wake the Sea God with a motley crew of demons, lesser gods, and spirits. I love all Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli films and Spirited Away is one of my favorites, so this sounds like the book of my dreams. It also gives me Bride of the Water God vibes, a manhwa I absolutely adored when I was younger. Don’t get me started on the sheer beauty of the cover!
Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.
Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.
Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.
But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…
Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li
Ocean’s Eleven meets The Farewell in this Asian American heist novel inspired by the true story of Chinese art vanishing from Western museums. It’s about ambitious college students reclaiming stolen art, Chinese American diaspora, and the colonization of art. The book isn’t even out yet but consider it a successful heist in stealing my heart.
History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now.
Will Chen plans to steal them back.
A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son that has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a shadowy Chinese corporation reaches out with an impossible—and illegal—job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago.
His crew is every heist archetype one can imagine—or at least, the closest he can get. A conman: Irene Chen, Will’s sister and a public policy major at Duke, who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering student who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down.
Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars—and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they’ve dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted attempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.
Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen
A morally gray witch, a cursed prince, and a prophecy that will ignite their destinies. I’m a big fan of love/hate relationships; it’s one of my favorite fictional romance dynamics. The author describes this as a “fairytale romance for people who would consider literal murder before considering they might have feelings.” I’m sold. Not to mention it’s a fairytale-inspired dark fantasy with an Asian anti-heroine!
Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased—and not always true—divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer—unless Violet does something about it.
But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom—all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus.
Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom—or doom them all.
A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy Lin
It was love at first sight. I’m absolutely the kind of person that judges a book by the cover (don’t we all to some extent?), and I can’t wait to read this Chinese mythology-inspired story about a girl who competes in a cutthroat magical tea-brewing competition. MAGICAL TEA-BREWING COMPETITION!
I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, “These are the hands that buried my mother.”
For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.
When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.
But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.
A Thousand Steps Into Night by Traci Chee
A Japanese-influenced fantasy about a girl who embarks on a quest to reverse the curse that is turning her into a demon. My brain immediately thought of Nezuko from Demon Slayer, except instead of having a brother to help her, our heroine is aided by a thieving magpie spirit! I can’t wait to see how Miuko will “outfox tricksters, escape demon hunters, and negotiate with feral gods” on her adventures.
In the realm of Awara, where gods, monsters, and humans exist side by side, Miuko is an ordinary girl resigned to a safe, if uneventful, existence as an innkeeper’s daughter. But when Miuko is cursed and begins to transform into a demon with a deadly touch, she embarks on a quest to reverse the curse and return to her normal life. Aided by a thieving magpie spirit and continuously thwarted by a demon prince, Miuko must outfox tricksters, escape demon hunters, and negotiate with feral gods if she wants to make it home again. But with her transformation comes power and freedom she never even dreamed of, and she’ll have to decide if saving her soul is worth trying to cram herself back into an ordinary life that no longer fits her… and perhaps never did.
Strike the Zither by Joan He
A random fact about me that no one asked for: I grew up playing Dynasty Warriors, a game franchise based on the Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It covers the history of the late Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period; part history, part myth, part legend. I was obsessed with the encyclopedia of the game, which detailed important figures and battles during the turbulent warring era. Why does this matter? Strike the Zither is a reimagining of that Chinese epic featuring a genderbent Zhuge Liang, the greatest military strategist of the time period! Plus rivals to lovers and backstabbing! I’m counting down the days.
A reimagining of the Chinese military epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms, in which a strategist must help her warlordess to victory against the rival kingdoms to the north and the south while overcoming her fate as written by the gods.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan
I was so lucky to be able to read an ARC of this (thank you Harper Voyager!), and let me tell you this book is as stunning as its cover–in fact, it’s one of my top 5 reads this year. The worldbuilding is lush and magical, the writing is exquisite, and the fairytale-esque atmosphere will sweep you away. Daughter of the Moon Goddess reimagines the legend of the Chinese moon goddess, but focuses on her daughter. She embarks on a dangerous quest that pits her against the most powerful immortal in the realm to free her exiled mother. It’s such a romantic fantasy with adventure and immortals and magic. Fantasy lovers, add this book to your reading list!
Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the feared Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.
Alone, powerless, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the emperor’s son, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the prince.
To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. But when treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream—striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.
Book of Night by Holly Black
I love Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince, so when I found out she had an adult debut releasing in 2022 I was elated! This modern dark fantasy has shadow magic and secret societies “in the same vein as Ninth House and The Night Circus” (two of my favorite books). Magical realism meets dark academia. This book lives in my head rent free.
In Charlie Hall’s world, shadows can be altered, for entertainment and cosmetic preferences—but also to increase power and influence. You can alter someone’s feelings—and memories—but manipulating shadows has a cost, with the potential to take hours or days from your life. Your shadow holds all the parts of you that you want to keep hidden—a second self, standing just to your left, walking behind you into lit rooms. And sometimes, it has a life of its own.
Charlie is a low-level con artist, working as a bartender while trying to distance herself from the powerful and dangerous underground world of shadow trading. She gets by doing odd jobs for her patrons and the naive new money in her town at the edge of the Berkshires. But when a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie’s present life is thrown into chaos, and her future seems at best, unclear—and at worst, non-existent. Determined to survive, Charlie throws herself into a maelstrom of secrets and murder, setting her against a cast of doppelgangers, mercurial billionaires, shadow thieves, and her own sister—all desperate to control the magic of the shadows.
Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong
If You Could See the Sun by Ann Liang
Elite boarding school? Teaming up with academic rivals? Scandals and secrets? Invisibility powers? Everything about this sounds so fun–YA contemporary with a touch of magical realism. I’m especially looking forward to the exploration of class and privilege, and hoping that there’s a rivals to lovers romance.
This debut YA novel follows a Chinese American teenage girl, who, upon discovering that she can no longer afford tuition at her elite Beijing boarding school, teams up with her academic rival and monetizes her strange new invisibility powers by discovering and selling her wealthy classmates’ most scandalous secrets.
Babel, or The Necessity of Violence by R.F. Kuang
It’s no secret that R.F. Kuang is one of my favorite authors after The Poppy War series completely and utterly destroyed me. Her next masterpiece is a dark academia set in 1930s Oxford and I am here for it. There’s nothing else I need to know. I’m ready for the reinvention of dark academia as we know it.
Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.
1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation — also known as Babel.
Babel is the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.
Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?
There are books you enjoy in the moment before moving on to the next, and then there are books that linger long after you’ve turned the last page. Books that you find your subconscious drifting to in that brief period between sleep and awake. Books that haunt like a fever dream. In the days that follow, you mull over the book in every idle moment; while steeping tea as the first rays of dawn spill through your window, or waiting at a stoplight with only the quiet hum of the car engine to accompany your thoughts. That book was Jade Legacy for me. It’s the kind of story that takes up residence in the very marrow of your bones.
I’m not sure how I could possibly express all the emotions that this book, this series, bled from me, but I will certainly try. Fonda Lee delivered an absolutely brilliant conclusion that solidified The Green Bones Saga as my all-time favorite fantasy series. The first part of this review is my general, overarching thoughts on Jade Legacy and series as a whole, and the second part, which I prelude with ‘SPOILERS BELOW’, is a deeper delve into specific events and characters arcs (aka rambling streams of consciousness about my favorite characters and what tore my heart out).
New to the series? Find my spoiler-free review of the first book, Jade City, here.
Synopsis: Jade, the mysterious and magical substance once exclusive to the Green Bone warriors of Kekon, is now known and coveted throughout the world. Everyone wants access to the supernatural abilities it provides, from traditional forces such as governments, mercenaries, and criminal kingpins, to modern players, including doctors, athletes, and movie studios. As the struggle over the control of jade grows ever larger and more deadly, the Kaul family, and the ancient ways of the Kekonese Green Bones, will never be the same.
The Kauls have been battered by war and tragedy. They are plagued by resentments and old wounds as their adversaries are on the ascent and their country is riven by dangerous factions and foreign interference that could destroy the Green Bone way of life altogether. As a new generation arises, the clan’s growing empire is in danger of coming apart.
The clan must discern allies from enemies, set aside aside bloody rivalries, and make terrible sacrifices… but even the unbreakable bonds of blood and loyalty may not be enough to ensure the survival of the Green Bone clans and the nation they are sworn to protect.
It’s been two weeks since the release of JadeLegacy, and I still haven’t recovered from the existential despair that comes with finishing a series you love so dearly. I’ve read the ARC (biggest thank you to Orbit Books for sending me a copy after all my pleading), listened to the audiobook (Andrew Kishino is such a phenomenal narrator–I can’t recommend the audiobooks enough), and started my third reread. I finally feel somewhat composed enough to sit down and write a review.
The first word that comes to mind when I think of Jade Legacy is pain. The second word is masterpiece.
I teared up several times reading this book—but like I’ve always said, my favorite books tend to hurt. It’s impressive when an author is capable of moving me to tears. Of the 600+ books I’ve read in my life, less than a handful have made me cry. Fonda Lee dragged me through the five stages of grief, but the fifth stage wasn’t acceptance for me. It was a domestic fluff AU where everyone was together and happy. Coping mechanisms aside, 713 pages flew by in a blink of an eye and after turning the final page, I can say without a doubt that The Green Bone Saga is one of the greatest works of modern fantasy.
The sheer scope of this book was incredible, spanning over two decades of our beloved characters’ tragedies and triumphs, the legacy left behind, and the next generation carrying the jade forward. Time skips can be a hit or miss, but Lee made it flow so seamlessly that it felt natural. The years bled into each other, the passage of time flowing so intrinsically: snapshots of everyone’s lives; critical moments, quiet moments, gut-wrenching moments. We got to see the development of the clan, the evolution of the characters, and how the world changed around them.
I was blown away by how ambitious the plot and world-building was. As this book focused on expansion and progression, the intricate economics and international-scale politics was so well written that it felt like I lived through a piece of monumental history myself and looked back upon No Peak’s growing pains as an old war veteran. Lee struck the perfect balance of a plot-driven and character-driven story. I was entirely invested in how the Kauls developed through the series, the nuanced family dynamics, the high emotional stakes, the intergenerational blood feud, the proxy war, the political intrigue, and everything in between.
Jade Legacy deserves the highest praises for the exceptional storytelling, for the visceral emotions evoked from the adept writing craftsmanship–I savored every single page, every single moment. Despite the pain and sheer grief this book put me through, there was a sense of closure in the ending, and it just felt right.
It’s too bittersweet to say a final goodbye to this vibrant world and its unforgettable cast of characters, so I’ll just say see you later. Whenever I miss the Kaul family, I’ll start over again on the first book and relive all the emotions, and just maybe write that AU to give them a softer, in-another-life ending.
Now we’re moving into spoiler territory so if you haven’t read the book yet, come back after you’ve finished and share your thoughts with me!
Let’s start with my favorite bastard, Kaul Hiloshudon, Pillar of the No Peak Clan. I’ve been in love with Hilo since the very first book, Jade City, when he was a charming, ever-grinning, arrogant, hot-headed Horn fiercely loyal to his family and clan. His “heaven help me, Shae, I’m going to kill them all” line was so iconic. Those were…simpler times, you could say. Through the years he’s had both negative and positive development, which made him feel like a fully-realized, multifaceted character with genuine depth.
In Jade Legacy we see him even more as a deeply flawed, morally grey character who sometimes made questionable decisions. A leader too stubborn and set in his antiquated views of jade and the world progressing around him. But that gradually changed. He had a remarkable character arc, even just in the span of Jade Legacy–from his cold cruelty in the beginning to his final breaths with his family at the end. He was “a man as dramatic in death as he had been in life.”
While Hilo juggled many hats throughout the series, I’m most fond of his relationship with Wen (aside from the first quarter of this book, which I wanted truly wanted to waterboard him), and his fatherhood–essentially, the softer side of him. There’s just something so tender about Hilo when he’s with Wen and the kids, knowing the ruthless violence he’s capable of. The fact that he insisted on going home to see Wen when he was dying? I was in shambles.
“She was the softest and most vulnerable creature; she was the strongest and most unyielding of his warriors.”
Wen follows very closely behind Hilo as my second favorite character. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from her in the first book, but she has come such a long way. I loved what she represented as a woman; how you could be powerful without physical or magical capabilities. She was empathetic and smart, and influence was her realm of power. Her duels were with words and strategy and smiles. Wen and Hilo fit together like the last two puzzle pieces. One of my favorite fictional power couples.
Yes, I will admit that when their relationship took a nosedive and basically crashed and exploded, I was all aboard the Hilo-hate train and rooted for a divorce. But they made it through it all, together, through thick and thin. They persevered.
“The clan is my blood,” she whispered, her voice thick with emotion, but perfectly steady. She bowed her head and pressed her mouth to the hollow of his throat. “And the Pillar is its master.”
And let’s be honest, all of the Kaul siblings had messy relationships. Staring at Lan and Shae. I felt bad that Woon left his wife (who had multiple miscarriages) for Shae, but like the man said himself:
“It’s no use,” he murmured, his voice muffled beside her. “I can’t help that I’m in love with you.”
This was the line that sealed the deal for me. How could I not love him after this?
“It hasn’t ever been easy, and there were times I was afraid I’d fail you—but if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate. The clan is my blood, but for me, the Weather Man is its master.”
Now let’s get to the heavy hitters. I went into Jade Legacy fully expecting Hilo to die. After everything that had happened, I just couldn’t see any other outcome for him. It still hurt a lot, but his death was the one I got the most closure from. There were two other deaths that made me cry in varying degrees.
The first death I didn’t even expect to hit so hard: Maik Tar. His arc in this book felt like a pure tragedy. Losing control and killing his fiancé, getting exiled for years but holding on to the faintest hope that he’d be able to return to his clan one day, completing one final task to help Anden and Hilo, and then taking his own life. Am I allowed to pity him despite the severity of his actions that lead to the consequences?
“Earlier that day, he’d walked around the prison yard in apparently good spirits, having nearly fully recovered from his injuries. He’d eaten dinner and joked with the guards and not been considered a suicide risk.”
He did deserve to die, but it was the happy mask that he donned after doing all he could for his clan, despite being his best friend’s honed weapon for years, despite his broken spirit, despite knowing that he’d never be able to return to everything he loved. I’ve heard of far too many stories of people with depression going out like that; with a seemingly happy mask, so it hit a little close to home. Some silent tears were shed.
The next death was Ru, Hilo and Wen’s son. This was what absolutely destroyed me. A few days after I finished my first read of the book, I was driving home when I thought about Ru’s death, and the tears were uncontrollable. Words cannot describe how much Ru’s death hurt me.
Bold of me to assume I’d get through this review without crying! I just know I’ll tear up every time I see those words. All he had been was Hilo’s son. I loved all of the kids, but Ru was special. We got to know Ru the best; his hopes and dreams, his love for his family. He was a brash and passionate kid; determined, much like his own father. What hurt the most was Hilo’s relief in the beginning that Ru was a stone-eye because that meant at least one of his children would have a simpler, safer life. And in the end, Ru was the only one that died. Lee is so cruel.
But I get it. Ru’s death was a major driving force in Hilo’s character arc (Niko too now that I think about it). Hilo took up social concerns and philanthropic causes, became more progressive and open-minded, and he did all of those things for Ru. So he could prove that he still loved his son. So Ru could be proud of him and the clan, even in the afterlife.
As for the other two kids, Niko and Jada, I thought Niko’s development was very interesting and I wish we got more screen time for Jaya. I feel like Niko could’ve had his own coming of age story–Lan’s son who was the heir of No Peak, but uninterested in power and the clan’s dealings. The prodigal son who left the clan to find himself and who he would’ve been if Hilo hadn’t taken him in, who became a mercenary to see the world outside of Kekon and jade, only to find that there was a darker wilderness, an equal brutality beyond the island he grew up on. And then his return.
If Lee ever decided to go back to write a novella or a full-length novel of Niko’s life I’d devour it in a heartbeat. Or maybe spin-off saga for the new generation? I’m just desperately clinging onto this world because it’s so phenomenal.
I think the MVP of this series was Anden. I must admit, I initially didn’t care much for him in the first book, and almost skimmed over his slice of life scenes in the second book, but I’m glad I didn’t because he had one of the best character developments. Pioneering the medical use of jade overseas, forging critical alliances in Espenia, all while sticking to his principles. Our cinnamon roll has grown so much.
Well, that’s enough rambling from me. I’ll end this review on a happier note, with a quote that made the empty cavern in my heart warm up ever so slightly.
If you’ve finished Jade Legacy, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I grew up on wuxia and xianxia dramas. From the little that I remember of my adolescence, I recall watching these Vietnamese-dubbed dramas with my mom, marveling over the grand adventures of martial heroes with magic and found family and martial arts in ancient China–The Legend of the Condor Heroes and Handsome Siblings are two of the most memorable for me.
Reading Jade Fire Gold gave me all those nostalgic feelings from my childhood. There’s ancient Chinese folklore woven into the world-building, forbidden magic in the hands of our heroine, a slow-burn romance that gave Zutara vibes (any Avatar the Last Airbender fans here?), a journey through desert and sea, and some heart-racing action. While there are some issues with pacing, this is a great debut for fans of YA Asian-inspired fantasy.
In an empire on the brink of war…
Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.
Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.
When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities.
But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.
Ferocious action, shadowy intrigue, and a captivating romance collide in June CL Tan’s debut, a stunning homage to the Xianxia novel with a tender, beating heart, perfect for fans of The Bone Witch and We Hunt the Flame.
What it’s about:
Jade Fire Gold follows Ahn, a girl with a powerful and forbidden magic that can change the fate of an empire on the cusp of war, and Altan, a fugitive prince on a path of vengeance, seeking to reclaim the Dragon Throne as the rightful heir. Their destinies are intertwined, but there’s a price for everything.
The Chinese folklore and mythos, immersive world-building, and wuxia/xianxia themes were my favorite aspects of the book. It really brought the world to life and painted the characters and settings in such vivid colors. Since the romance was pitched as Zuko and Katara-esque (from AtLA), I have to talk about it (I’ve been Zutara shipper since I was in high school). Altan definitely feels like Zuko in this story! From his whole tragic past to exiled prince to reclaiming the throne narrative. His relationship with Ahn is enemies to lovers on paper, but there’s not a great deal of tension and I found it to be a rather sweet romance! They’re more like reluctant allies. I even adored the side characters–Tang Wei was my favorite. The found family dynamic is forever my favorite underrated trope.
I must admit, the pacing was a bit jarring at times, but it didn’t detract from the story too much and I’m excited to see how things may unfold in the sequel (there’s going to be a sequel, right?!). After that epilogue, I’m crossing my fingers!
Self-harm (gouging, eye horror; non-graphic), child abuse (physical, verbal, emotional manipulation/gaslighting), parent death (implied, off-page), character deaths, mentions and descriptions of fantasy/magical violence (blood, war, political violence), mentions and descriptions of physical symptoms that might be triggering to those with emetophobia, alcohol consumption.
About the Author
June CL Tan grew up in Singapore where she was raised on a diet of classic books and wuxia movies, caffeine and congee. After obtaining three degrees, she decided she had enough of academia. Thankfully, those degrees were somewhat related to telling stories and now, she resides in New York City, writing under the watchful eye of her crafty cat. Jade Fire Gold is her debut novel.
If you’re familiar with my bookstagram or blog, you might know that Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun is one of my favorite reads this year. I recommend it often simply because I love it. It’s a book about destiny and ambition, war and vengeance, and at the heart of the story is a nuanced exploration of gender identity.
I’ve never put much thought into how the book was marketed, but I recently had a conversation with someone who thought the LGBTQ+ advertisement of the book was “kind of manipulative and off putting”.
I was bewildered. The two relationships in the book are afab (assigned female at birth) with a woman, and amab (assigned male at birth) with a man. Gender and sexuality are significant aspects of the story, so it was difficult to fathom how the LGBTQ+ marketing of a book about genderqueer characters was manipulative.
Here’s the thing–they never read the book. They argued that the synopsis didn’t give the impression that the book was LGBT, therefore the LGBT advertisement was a manipulative gimmick used by publishers to reach the bestsellers lists.
Although we were unable to see eye to eye, the conversation made me examine the consumer perception of how books are advertised, and I wanted to emphasize the importance of visibility in the marketing of LBGTQ+ books, as well as open the discussion to the rest of the book community. I’ll address the points they made and offer my own thoughts.
1. Books have to have “gimmicks” for publishers to advertise or it doesn’t go to the top of the bestsellers list.
The two examples they used as “gimmicks” were the LGBT advertisement of SWBtS and the autism representation of an unnamed author’s books.
The identities of characters are not gimmicks. Marketing a book for having LGBTQ+ rep or autism rep is not a “gimmick” that magically gets the book to the top of the NYT bestsellers. These are central themes of the stories, and oftentimes a reflection of the author’s own experiences. Books SHOULD be marketed with their Own Voices identity. Why would such a significant part of the book be left out?
Not to mention, reducing all the efforts of an author’s achievement to just advertising “gimmicks’’ is unfair and unfounded. Imagine months upon months, years upon years of hard work, pouring their heart out into these stories, only for their success to be minimalized as an advertising trick. Don’t get me wrong, a great marketing campaign can certainly get a book a lot of exposure, but there’s so much more to it.
2. Publishers are just using this “advertising gimmick” to chase the LGBT audience.
Is it to chase an audience or is it for the intended audience to find these books? If you are queer, writing about queer characters, who do want your book to be read by? Many queer readers want to read queer stories; queer trials and tribulations, queer joy and triumphs. Authors want to share these stories. Publishers are accurately marketing these books so that they can be found.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve seen people say they wish things were more explicitly marketed as queer so that it would be easier to find. This reminds me of an incident a webcomic creator had with someone telling them to exclude identity and orientation when promoting their story.
In the words of LySandra Vuong, the creator of the webtoon COVENANT, “how will queer ppl find my story if i dont tell them its queer”.
3. “Not a fan of such labels…people are just people regardless of designation or other issues. I mean everyone has issues.”
Yes. Everyone has issues, but the issues LGBTQ+ people face are not the same issues that straight cisgender people face. She Who Became the Sun is about gender dysphoria. It also deals with internalized homophobia and self-hatred that stems from the disconnect between body and gender identity. Just because these issues don’t directly affect you, doesn’t mean they’re not important narratives.
4. “There have been great books about LGBT and autism and other representation for ages. And none of the publishers bothered to point it out. LGBT is not exactly new.”
LGBT is certainly not new, but historically, literature with LGBT themes have faced backlash, bans, and censorship. Writers have faced persecution. This might explain why publishers weren’t as open in explicitly marketing those books in the past. In 2016, The American Library Association noted that half of the most challenged books in the United States had LGBTQ+ content. (ALA)
The publishing landscape is finally evolving to be more inclusive in the books that are published and the advertising of those books, but there’s still a long way to go. We should be pushing for progress, not dwelling in past practices.
5. Advertising SWBtS as LGBT is “very targeted advertising on the part of the publisher when I’m sure the author had a story they just wanted to tell.”
Shelley was kind enough to share her thoughts on how SWBtS was advertised and the story she wanted to tell:
“We want to tell a story, and we also want that story to reach the audience we were speaking to when we wrote it…She Who Became the Sun is a queer work—its central theme is a queering of history—and I wrote it for a queer audience. Sure, it might be read outside of that core audience, but the queer audience is the one that’s going to understand it best. And it’s the only audience I personally care about.”
“The pitch for my book was always “a queer reimagining of the rise to power of the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty.” And (part of) the reason I chose Tor over other publishers is because I knew they ‘got’ its queerness. I knew they weren’t going to try to market my book as a feminist retelling without mentioning the queerness. The marketing allowed my book to find its true audience, and that’s what was most important. And if it turns out that there’s a vibrant queer audience that happens to be hungry to see themselves in fiction, and that enthusiasm sends queer-marketed books to the top of the charts (which I don’t think is as straightforward as that, but that’s a separate issue)—well, it’s about time that queer books got their moment in the sunlight after barely existing for the entire lifetime of modern publishing.”
Now, more than ever, we should be celebrating LBGTQ+ stories and voices. These books deserve to be visibly marketed so that they can be seen and heard, so hungry readers can find them and see themselves in books.
Thank you to everyone who replied to my story on Instagram to talk about SWBtS with me, and to Tiffany (QuillTreeFox) for reading over this and giving valuable feedback! Of course, a special thank you to Shelley for sharing her own process and experience as well. ♡
My dms are always open over on bookstagram if anyone wants to discuss more about this!
My favorite season is here–not just autumn, but the spooky season. I have a tradition of watching all the spine-tingling, terror-inducing movies I can leading up to Halloween to get into the spirits, and this year, I wanted to add books to that! I’ve compiled a rather ambitious spooky season TBR full of eerie horrors, suspenseful thrillers, and murder mysteries to indulge in October. Bring on the dread and the unease, the disquiet and apprehension to your reading lists!
There’s Someone Inside Your House
My favorite subgenre of horror is definitely the slasher variety–there’s something far more terrifying about a human wrecking havoc than a paranormal entity, perhaps because there’s a sense of realism. That being said, I’ve been eyeing this YA slasher for quite some time! Pitched as Scream meets YA, There’s Someone Inside Your House was recently adapted by Netflix (releasing October 6th). I’ll be reading for book before I watch the movie!
Makani Young thought she’d left her dark past behind her in Hawaii, settling in with her grandmother in landlocked Nebraska. She’s found new friends and has even started to fall for mysterious outsider Ollie Larsson. But her past isn’t far behind.
Then, one by one, the students of Osborne Hugh begin to die in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasingly grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and her feelings for Ollie intensify, Makani is forced to confront her own dark secrets.
House of Hollow
Look at how stunning this cover is. Was I swayed by the cover before even reading the synopsis? Maybe. This one blends horror and fantasy, with elements of magical realism. Horror never looked so pretty.
Seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow has always been strange. Something happened to her and her two older sisters when they were children, something they can’t quite remember but that left each of them with an identical half-moon scar at the base of their throats.
Iris has spent most of her teenage years trying to avoid the weirdness that sticks to her like tar. But when her eldest sister, Grey, goes missing under suspicious circumstances, Iris learns just how weird her life can get: horned men start shadowing her, a corpse falls out of her sister’s ceiling, and ugly, impossible memories start to twist their way to the forefront of her mind.
As Iris retraces Grey’s last known footsteps and follows the increasingly bizarre trail of breadcrumbs she left behind, it becomes apparent that the only way to save her sister is to decipher the mystery of what happened to them as children.
The closer Iris gets to the truth, the closer she comes to understanding that the answer is dark and dangerous – and that Grey has been keeping a terrible secret from her for years.
Home Before Dark
This might be the only horror novel I’ve seen garner a lot of love on bookstagram. I’ve never read any of Sager’s books, though his mysteries and thrillers seem to be a hit. I’m eager to delve into this story about haunted houses and ghostly encounters.
What was it like? Living in that house.
Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.
Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father.
Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.
The Forest of Stolen Girls
Look, I don’t just buy books based on covers, I swear! But a pretty cover is certainly hard to resist. Forest of Stolen Girls has been on my list since the beginning of the year (I’ve mentioned it in my 10 Books by Asian Authors to Read in 2021 post). This is a historical murder mystery about vanishing girls set during 1400s Korea–how cool is that?
Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.
To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.
Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.
You Love Me
Ah, Joe. Our favorite psychopath returns in the third installment of the You series and what can I say other than I can never get enough of these books? Psychological thrillers are one of my favorite subgenres and no one does it quite like Kepnes.
Joe is done with the cities. He’s done with the muck and the posers, done with Love. Now, he’s saying hello to nature, to simple pleasures on a cozy island in the Pacific Northwest. For the first time in a long time, he can just breathe.
He gets a job at the local library—he does know a thing or two about books—and that’s where he meets her: Mary Kay DiMarco. Librarian. Joe won’t meddle; he will not obsess. He’ll win her the old-fashioned way: by providing a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand. Over time, they’ll both heal their wounds and begin their happily ever after in this sleepy town.
The trouble is, Mary Kay already has a life. She’s a mother. She’s a friend. She’s busy.
True love can only triumph if both people are willing to make room for the real thing. Joe cleared his decks. He’s ready. And hopefully, with his encouragement and undying support, Mary Kay will do the right thing and make room for him.
The Final Girl Support Group
What happens to the remaining survivors of slasher flicks after the credit rolls? I love the unique premise of this one. It deals with the aftermath and trauma of surviving a horrifying massacre…but it’s not quite over yet. Gives major horror sequel vibes.
In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?
Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For more than a decade she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized–someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.
But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day. Imagine having to relive the day of a murder again and again, but each time waking up in a different body. I’d go crazy trying to solve the murder, but let’s see how our narrator fares!
Aiden Bishop knows the rules. Evelyn Hardcastle will die every day until he can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest at Blackheath Manor. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others. With a locked room mystery that Agatha Christie would envy, Stuart Turton unfurls a breakneck novel of intrigue and suspense.
For fans of Claire North, and Kate Atkinson, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a breathlessly addictive mystery that follows one man’s race against time to find a killer, with an astonishing time-turning twist that means nothing and no one are quite what they seem.
Gideon the Ninth
We need more necromancers in fantasy. Raise the dead! I’ve seen a lot of great things about this series, and the spooky season felt like the perfect time to read the first book.
The Emperor needs necromancers.
The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.
Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.
Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.