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?
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.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month. To celebrate AAPI identities, cultures, and narratives, I compiled 10 of my favorite books by AAPI authors for you to add to your reading lists! Some of these books moved me to tears, some made me laugh out loud, and some made my heart race, but they all have one thing in common: they lingered in the back of my mind long after I turned the last page. They’re the kind of books that stay with you. I hope you find a story that resonates with you among these books, and I hope that you continue to read diversely even after the month comes to an end.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links!
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
I had to start the list off with this book because none other has stayed with me—haunted me—quite like this one. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is poignant letter that reads like poetry from a Vietnamese immigrant to his mother who can’t read. He pieces together fragments of his life, reflecting on race, identity, sexuality, and grief with a raw intensity that moved me to tears, especially as a Vietnamese-American myself. The language and writing are exquisite, and the book as a whole is a truly visceral experience.
This is without a doubt one of my favorite fantasy series. The sheer scope and depth of this trilogy is incredible, from the world building to the mythology to the history. It’s a story of gods and monsters, war and vengeance. I really appreciated how thought-provoking the story was—Kuang illustrated the cycles of violence and horrors of war (inspired by historic events in the second Sino-Japanese war) masterfully. Definitely one of the greatest works of fantasy, and one of the most devastating, I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan by Sherry Thomas
The Magnolia Sword has echoes of the Mulan we’re familiar with—a girl disguises herself as a man and goes to war in her father’s stead—but the story itself is very different. This wuxia-inspired reimagined tale of Mulan in 5th century AD China is rich in history and customs of the past, which makes the world so much more immersive. While there are many Mulan retellings out there, none has elicited the same feelings this book has. I devoured it in a single day.
One of my favorite contemporary romances, The Bride Test follows Khai, an autistic Vietnamese-American who finds himself in a peculiar situation thanks to his mother. Enter Esme, a single mom living in Hồ Chí Minh city who is desperate to give her family a better life. She has one summer to try to get Khai to fall in love and marry her. I loved this book for many reasons. My mom is a Vietnamese immigrant who raised me by herself, so I could really understand the challenges Esme faced. Hoang weaves Vietnamese culture into the story seamlessly, and the romance was a pure delight.
There’s a dreamlike quality to this story that’s difficult to fully depict but impossible to forget. A wistfulness for bygone summer days; a bittersweet nostalgia through rose-tinted lens. Vo reimagines The Great Gatsby from Jordan Baker’s perspective as a queer Vietnamese immigrant in the most elite circles of 1920s American society, where she existed in a liminal space—a borderline between acceptable and not. Beneath the glitter and glamour, the opulence and dazzling lights, was an empty and perhaps monstrous man who you might be familiar with.
A princess thrown into power, a kingdom in turmoil, and a riveting murder mystery. This Chinese-inspired YA fantasy has all the political intrigue and power dynamics along with lush writing and cohesive world building. There are several twists and revelations that will catch you completely blindsided. You know that feeling when you think you’ve got it figured out only to learn that you were wrong all along? The plot twists are just that great.
Time travel, adventure, pirates, and mythology. Nix has been on board The Temptation all her life; her father the captain of the ship. They travel through time with magic and different maps, and their destination? 1868 Honolulu, when Nix’s mother died giving birth to her. I adored the blend of fantasy and history, and the descriptive writing made me feel like I was right alongside the cast of characters, navigating through time myself.
This modern day reimagining of Anna Karenina definitely lives up to the Crazy Rich Asians meets Gossip Girl pitch, immersing us in the lives of the elite, upper echelon of Manhattan. Featuring a diverse cast of characters, Lee touches on important themes like class privilege, sexism, racial disparity, and internalized racism. I really enjoyed the insight on Korean culture—traditional values vs modern, which I found relatable to my Vietnamese upbringing. An entertaining and fresh take on a timeless classic.
This was everything my Princess Diaries-loving heart could ever want. A Japanese American girl finds out that her father is none other than the Crown Prince of Japan, making her a princess. Caught between two worlds, she has to deal with the hungry press, crazy cousins, and a scowling bodyguard. I loved Izumi’s girl gang, the exploration of identity and culture, and the family dynamics. Of course, the sweet bodyguard romance was a plus! An overall fun and lighthearted story.