Published by Balzer + Bray on June 5th 2018
Source: Edelweiss, Publisher
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical, Romance, Diversity
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As a slave in the Kipchak Khanate, Jinghua has lost everything: her home, her family, her freedom … until she finds herself an unlikely conspirator in the escape of Prince Khalaf and his irascible father as they flee from their enemies across the vast Mongol Empire. On the run, with adversaries on all sides and an endless journey ahead, Jinghua hatches a scheme to use the Kipchaks’ exile to return home, a plan that becomes increasingly fraught as her feelings for Khalaf evolve into a hopeless love.
Jinghua’s already dicey prospects take a downward turn when Khalaf seeks to restore his kingdom by forging a marriage alliance with Turandokht, the daughter of the Great Khan. As beautiful as she is cunning, Turandokht requires all potential suitors to solve three impossible riddles to win her hand—and if they fail, they die.
Jinghua has kept her own counsel well, but with Khalaf’s kingdom—and his very life—on the line, she must reconcile the hard truth of her past with her love for a boy who has no idea what she’s capable of ... even if it means losing him to the girl who’d sooner take his life than his heart.
THE BIRD AND THE BLADE is a lush, powerful story of life and death, battles and riddles, lies and secrets from debut author Megan Bannen.
This book was by no means bad. The writing was totally riveting, the first person POV narrative from Jinghua was intriguing, and the research is really well-done. Like, I read 15% into the book and have to commend the author on her knowledge about the Song/Yuan dynasty, and her placement of the Chinese songs and phrases. (Yay!) I was SO into it when I stopped. The story jumps immediately into action with Jinghua witnessing her love, Prince Khalaf, volunteer to solve riddles that would allow him to marry Turandokht, which would help him with political prospects. The main romance is linear as Jinghua and Khalaf’s affection to each other stays true (while Turandokht is mainly there for political reasons), and from what I’ve started to read of it, it’s very sweet and lovely.
BUT. Why did I DNF then? There’s a whole backstory to this. (Get ready everyone.)
When I first saw that this book had a Chinese main character, I was like “Ooh, interesting.” I was a bit wary starting because sometimes Chinese stories don’t get done right by white authors, but from what little I did read, Bannen did a pretty good job with the culture. It’s much more drawn out and integrated than the opera this book was based on, Turandot. I was also excited to see her rendition of the story. Before reading, I looked up the synopsis of Turandot because I don’t have much opera background and I loathed it. It’s the story of a prince who solves these riddles and marries this bitchy princess (the namesake of the opera) while the slave Chinese girl who has been SUPPORTING HIM THE WHOLE TIME commits suicide because of her unrequited love. I was NOT having it. (Side note: the opera itself was very racist and sexist, but I don’t think the book exhibited any of these aspects)
So I continued with the novel, even more excited to see the Chinese girl, Jinghua, get the happy (or at least SATISFYING) ending she deserved. At the time of reading, I just started the school semester so I was a bit backed up with assignments and I told myself, “Well, why don’t I check out the ending just to make sure I don’t waste precious time.” In retrospect, I’m glad I did because if I had followed the whole book without knowing the ending, it would have left me gutted and feeling like it wasn’t worth the time I spent.
Only continue for some SUPER spoilers ahead.View Spoiler »This book follows the opera very closely… even up to the point of the main narrator killing herself in the end to save the boy she loved. I respect the fact that she did it in order to save him, but I’m just so disappointed that she had to die for that to happen. I thought this retelling would be more about empowerment for Jinghua rather than the passive role it seemed like she got in the original opera, and I just didn’t think it was the ending she deserved. Yes, the romance stayed linear; the few accounts I got from Khalaf himself made me see him as a nice guy, but seriously no one special. I’m just really disappointed her character ends with a suicide and would have probably been angry if I read through the whole book. Perhaps this will resonate with some readers but for me… I don’t need that heartbreak in my life.
The most heart-wrenching aspect for me is that Jinghua is a Chinese character who sacrificed herself in the end. I am tired of Chinese heroines not getting the endings they deserve, and the victories they work hard for. Many a reader will commend this story for its tragic elements, but what was more tragic for ME was the fact that I saw a character like me die by suicide for a love interest. And most of the readers giving this glowing reviews don’t understand the nuances that an #ownvoices POC reader like me does.
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Because this book is pretty heavily focused on the romance, I’ll discuss it a bit. The love interest, Khalaf, was sweet. BUT. He wasn’t sweet enough for the actions that happened at the climax of the book.
No one ever saw me except Khalaf.
Hello girl! You do not need a boy’s validation to be a person. Who cares about Khalaf – YOU need to see you for how amazing you are. Oh and the way he treated her made my heart ACHE in the beginning. Not a good ache. The kind of ache that was like, “He better get redemption or grovel for this behavior,” which of course I never saw.
I don’t want to spoil too much without the tag, but it wasn’t the ending that I wanted and I’m glad I didn’t use precious time reading the rest of the book. Maybe the writing would have been worth the rest of the read (or the developing romance), but I was so disappointed by the ending that I knew I would have been even more heartbroken and bitter if I had read the whole book. In the end, The Bird and the Blade is a romance-driven historical fantasy with detailic research and a riveting romance. It’s also a stand-alone, so there’s that. If you’re ready for a pretty heartbreaking romantic read, then by all means pick this up. I know this kind of angsty, forbidden love is what some readers like to read. But if, like me, you’re here for the ones where characters ultimately reign triumphant based on growth or actions, then maybe pass on this. Alternatively, there are other books by Asian authors featuring Asian characters that come out triumphant in the end, unlike this one. I will write a blog post with these recommendations and share them soon!
Content Warning: suicide, violence
Thank you Edelweiss and Harper Collins for the review copy!