Review: Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan, a lush & magical romantic fantasy

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.

Biggest thank you to Harper Voyager for sending me an ARC of one of my most anticipated reads!

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!

Why You Should Read Solo Leveling

There’s a quote from Donna Tartt’s The Secret History that I was reminded of when I read Solo Leveling:

❝I am nothing in my soul if not obsessive.

I’ve read many books, manga, and webcomics that were phenomenal, but only a select few have really left its mark on me. The kind of stories that consume my every waking thought. I mull over it in idle moments, talk to all my friends about it, convince others to read it, buy art, collect different editions, and so on. When I’m in deep; beyond the shores of Acheron, standing before the gates of the abyss, I even look for fanfiction to read. And when there’s nothing to read, I write it myself.

This doesn’t happen very often. In fact, I can count the number of fandoms I’ve been part of on one hand, but that’s where I am with Solo Leveling right now. I stayed up until 2 am rereading all 110 chapters of the first season over the course of two days. When I caught up on the webcomic, I read the web novel, and when I finished that, I went out to buy the english physical copy to start my collection. Solo Leveling is my latest obsession for a very good reason, and it holds the throne as my current favorite webcomic!

What is Solo Leveling?

Solo Leveling is originally a Korean web novel written by Chu-gong that was later adapted into a webcomic illustrated by Jang Sung-rak (aka Dubu). In a world where portals, or “gates”, full of hostile abyssal monsters have spawned, threatening the existence of humanity, some humans have developed extraordinary powers to fight against them. This small population is known as “hunters”. Their job is to enter the gate and clear the dungeon by defeating the creatures that await within. The story follows protagonist Sung Jin-Woo, an E-rank hunter known as the world’s weakest, on his rise to power to become the strongest hunter in the world.

What makes Solo Leveling so good?

The characters. Jin-Woo starts off as the weakest hunter in the world, barely stronger than the average human, but he’s full of heart and determination. He struggled through the lowest level dungeons to provide for his family, and with a missing father and a hospitalized mother, he had to raise his younger sister himself. His motivation to get stronger is simply to protect those he cares about. He’s not a terribly complicated character—doesn’t have an elaborate ambition like many other protagonists (i.e. Naruto’s dream of becoming Hokage)—but that’s what makes him so endearing. He fights against impossible odds and overcomes challenge after challenge to grow into a powerful Shadow Monarch. Underdog stories are just so satisfying.

The side characters are compelling as well, from the various guild masters to the antagonists. Jin-Woo’s shadow soldiers Igris and Beru are my favorites! Igris is his first shadow, the ever-chivalrous knight, and Beru is his (current) strongest shadow in the webcomic.

Jin-Woo and Beru.

Can you believe that this incredibly powerful shadow general likes watching historical dramas and reenacting it with his liege? The unexpected humor is the icing on the cake!

The blend of RPG games and reality. If you’re a fan of RPG/MMORPG games, you’re going to enjoy this one. There’s a leveling system in the webcomic that’s similar to that of video games. Jin-Woo gets quests to complete—like daily training or defeating a boss—that levels him up. He is essentially a “player” in the real world. He learns and develops abilities, becomes proficient with weapons, and grows via the leveling system, hence the name Solo Leveling. For the most part, he defeats bosses himself with the assistance of the shadow army, which he commands.

The art. It’s stunning. Every page feels like a feast for the eyes. The art is sleek and modern, with purposeful use of color to reflect power. There’s a minimalist style that the artist uses to illustrate Jin-Woo and the art choice represents his character so well; bold, flat black tones that make you feel like he’s the abyss himself. Endless and vast and ancient in power. There’s a clear difference in how he’s illustrated in the beginning; full of color, softer lines, more detailed, to his current form of the Shadow Monarch; seamless blacks with a singular pop color to convey his power. I think that the absence of details in his current form shows how he lost parts of himself as he got stronger. The minimalism suits his now stoic personality. Everything is drawn purposefully.

Solo Leveling is fast-paced with high-octane action sequences that will leave your heart pounding. It starts off with a bang and pulls you into its shadows, immersing you in a world where humans and monsters battle for the fate of the world. Everything is amazing, from the visuals to the story, and you’ll find yourself reading into the late hours of the night because of how binge-worthy this series is.

Interested in more?

Thanks to its wide-spread popularity, Solo Leveling will be adapted into a drama and a game in the United States! I’m incredibly excited for both, but maybe a little more hesitant on the drama side as the quality will be dependent on which studio will handle it. I think the ultimate end game for many Solo Leveling fans is an anime adaptation. I get chills just imagining how the battles will animated. Especially one of the early ones when Jin-Woo acquires Igris. Without a doubt, it would be mentioned alongside the current giants in anime like Jujustu Kaisen and Demon Slayer. Just take a look at this amazing animation:

I hope this has convinced you to pick up Solo Leveling! Who knows, it might just be your next favorite webcomic.

Review: For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

Do you like fairy tale-esque stories? What about dark fantasy? Slow-burn romance? If any of these pique your interest (or perhaps all of them?), I have a recommendation for you! For the Wolf is a darkly alluring atmospheric fantasy inspired by Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast.

Thank you to Orbit Books for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

“The First Daughter is for the throne. The Second Daughter is for the Wolf. And the Wolves are for the Wilderwood.”

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

When I saw the author mention ‘monster boyfriend’ in regards to this book, I was ready to strike a bargain with some ancient eldritch entity to get my hands on an ARC. Fortunately, Orbit Books was kind enough to send me a copy so I didn’t have to sell my soul! But would it have been worth it? Yes. What can I say? My achilles heels is a brooding monstery bf.

I can never get enough of Red Riding Hood inspired stories. It’s one of my favorite fairy tales. For the Wolf vividly brings to life a haunting, sentient forest where Red is sent to be sacrificed to the Wolf. She was a second daughter, bound to the forest, bound to the Wolf, bound to an ancient bargain. A life in exchange for protection from the shadowy creatures that lurk in those dark depths. A life to placate the Wolf to free the Five Kings. But once Red enters the Wilderwood, she learns that things aren’t as they seem.

The writing is so poetic and richly descriptive. I have plenty of passages flagged just from my appreciation for Whitten’s craftsmanship of the written word. A cursed forest, a ruined castle, an evil priestess—I loved the gothic atmosphere. I’ve come to enjoy slower paced books more in the last few years and this one definitely was a slow burn. It gave me a chance to fully savor everything, from the world building to the romance (a very sweet romance, might I add).

My favorite aspect of the story was the complexity of familial bonds. Red and Neve are sisters, but while Red was prepared to accept her fate of being sacrificed to the Wolf, Neve, who was destined for the throne, wasn’t going to lose her sister so easily. The dynamic was really compelling—examining the duality of two siblings bound by fate. This book did have one drawback for me and it was the confusing magic system. We get bits and pieces scattered throughout the story, so it didn’t feel very cohesive and at times I was left puzzled. I hope it will be more substantial in the next book. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the sequel.

If you like slow paced, darkly atmospheric fantasy with a brooding hero and a strong-willed heroine, then pick up For the Wolf!

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For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

5 Reasons You Should Read The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

I’ve been reading back to back darker, atmospheric fantasy lately—my saving grace amidst a nearly two-month long reading slump. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres, and I tend to gravitate towards the darker variety (of any genre, really). But this summer seems to be the summer of dark fantasy and I’m loving it. My latest read was a haunting debut full myths and magic and monsters, inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish folklore. Without further ado, here are 5 reasons why you should read The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid.

Thank you to Harper Voyager/Del Rey Books for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

1. The immersive world building. Reid crafted a rich world with fascinating lore and folktales. A pagan village where magic is revered. Woodsmen who come every few years to claim a girl to be sacrificed to the king. A magic system based on body horror. A journey to capture the turul; a mythological bird. It’s an epic, sweeping world of gods and monsters and the folly of kings.

2. Enemies to lovers. The romance was a subplot, but it was without a doubt my favorite aspect of the book—not just because enemies to lovers is my favorite trope, but because of how well it was done. Évike is a hardened, wild girl who is rightfully angry at the world after all the abuse she suffered. She’s fierce and a little mean; rough around the edges—my favorite kind of heroine. Her counterpart is a disgraced prince on his knees. He’s a tortured soul seeking redemption. He also happens to be the Woodsman captain tasked with taking Évike as a blood sacrifice for the king…his father. Their journey is steeped in angst and tension, and it’s so good.

3. Historical parallels. I learned a lot about Hungary’s violent history reading this book. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, and religious conflict. It was horrific and difficult to read at times, but a critical part of the book. Reid wanted to shine light on the oppression and marginalization experienced by ethno-religious minorities, and she pulled no punches.

4. Evocative writing and vivid imagery. It’s atmospheric and dark and haunting, taking us from eerie woodlands where monsters lurked, through frozen tundras and glacial lakes, to a dangerous city where the real monsters resided. I felt like I was transported right into the world, traveling along earthly and icy plains with our protagonists.

5. Jewish #ownvoices. I rarely ever see Jewish representation in fantasy, so reading the Jewish culture and mythology woven into the story (the Yehuli people) was amazing.

Keep in mind that this is an adult dark fantasy with very grim and graphic content. If you like The Bear and the Nightingale, Spinning Silver, or The Witcher, pick up this book! Content warnings: gore, abuse, self harm, torture, genocide, antisemitism.

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

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In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Last month I read Jade City by Fonda Lee with the Subtle Asian Book Club, and I was blown away by the thrilling, high-stakes wuxia-inspired gangster saga. Think 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. There are territory disputes, assassination attempts, knife duels to the death, blood feuds to settle—truly a seamless blend of modernity and casual brutality in the gritty, bustling streets of Kekon.

At the center of it all is the Kaul family: Lan, Hilo, Shae. Three siblings with vastly different personalities and motives. I was a bit confused by the hierarchy terminologies at first, but here’s a simple break down: The Pillar is the leader of the clan, the Horn serves under the Pillar as the military leader, responsible for defending clan territory. The Horn has several Fists, who are senior warriors, and under them are Fingers—entry level warriors. Also directly under the Pillar is the Weather Man, who is the business leader of the clan, managing tributes, money, and investments.

Lan is eldest of the Kaul siblings, and the logical, pragmatic Pillar of the No Peak Clan. His ability to deal with clan politics and his farsighted nature makes him a great leader in times a peace, but with the ever growing tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals, war was inevitable. On the other hand, polar opposite in personality, is his younger brother and Horn of the clan, Hilo.

“Hilo fixed the chancellor with a penetrating stare. It was not unfriendly, but there was a predatory quality to Hilo’s stare that made many people flinch or lower their eyes when subjected to it, and the chancellor was no exception.”

The Horn of No Peak is a complicated character. He’s a hot-tempered, brutal warrior who loves intensely and is fiercely loyal. He has a bit of a dramatic flair, but I like that about him. His men revere him and the enemy sees him as a greater threat than the Pillar. He’s the kind of guy you want on your side if you ever happened to be in the middle of a vicious clan war. Hilo showed up with 20 gang members at his enemy’s nephew’s apartment after his younger cousin got kidnapped—this man only knows how to negotiate in blood. He loves his clan and family above all else, and when things go south, he goes feral.

“The Horn placed his hands on her shoulders, pulled her close, and laid his cheek against hers. “Heaven help me, Shae,” he whispered into her ear. “I’m going to kill them all.”

Shae is a character I sympathize with, but I was unsure how to feel about her for the first half of the book. She didn’t want to get involved in the clan’s business and struggled with finding her place back in Kekon. Part of me wanted her to forge a new life and identity for herself that didn’t involve blood and jade, but I also wanted to see her embrace her powers and fight alongside her brother. She really grew on me in the second half of the book and I’m excited to see more of her in the sequel.

Anden, the adopted cousin into the Kauls is a sweet cinnamon roll who must be protected at all cost. Power ran in his family’s bloodline, but so did madness. His grandpa was a war legend and his mom was known as the mad witch. He teeters on a precarious edge. The character that surprised me the most was Wen. She’s subtle and easy to overlook at first, but there’s far more to her than meets the eye. There’s so much to look forward to in the sequel, Jade War, but I’m nervous! No one is getting out unscathed, that much I know.

Jade City is intense, heart-pounding epic of family, loyalty, and honor. The world-building is ambitious and immersive, the fight scenes are explosive, and the characters come in all shades of morally grey. The trilogy concludes at the end of the year with Jade Legacy, releasing December 7th, 2021. Mark your calendars!

Pinterest mood board for The Green Bone Saga from @chantelle.

Did you know that there’s a TV show adaption in the works? The pilot seems to be done and I’m brimming with excitement at the thought of seeing these characters on screen! Subtle Asian Book Club hosted an amazing live show discussion with Fonda Lee herself (insider information!) so check it out here.

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