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.
I will admit right now that I know nothing of Chinese mythology, so I was going in to this completely blind. The only tale I had heard of in this book was the one of Houyi, which one of my friends told me about a few years ago. I love archery, so that tale was very interesting to me, and the fact that it’s tied with this one was pretty cool.
So, the book. I enjoyed it for the most part, but there were times when it was kind of dragging for me and I considered DNF’ing it at around fifty-percent of the way through. I’m glad I stuck with it though, because I did feel invested in Xingyin’s story and I liked her character. She was strong, caring, and even though she was scared of anyone finding out her identity, she was brave and put herself hiding right under the Celestial Emperor’s nose. I hurt for her when she had to leave her mother and when all she wanted to do was be back with her. I have a strong relationship with my mom, so that all hit very hard for me.
The first and third parts of the book were the more enjoyable ones. It’s just the middle of the book where it drags, as not much happens or situations are visited that don’t need to be there (in my opinion). The time jumps of Xingyin’s training and time in the Celestial Army did seem like they were disorienting, but I know that if the author kept all the in between action there, the book would have been much longer and exhausting. As I said, the middle of the book just lacks the action that I was expecting for Xingyin’s quest of trying to free her mother. I think this was my only real issue with the book, but since it took up so much of the story, it’s where it almost lost me.
I guess the main thing that I really liked about this was Xingyin’s development. She was sheltered her entire life, as she was hidden away on the moon with her mother, and when she finds herself in danger of being discovered, she has to do what she can to survive. Through her journey she becomes stronger and more confident in her abilities, and even when it looks like she’ll fail her mission of freeing her mother, she doesn’t give up easily. I also really enjoyed the archery aspect of her character – inheriting a skill from her father, and the fact that she was the best damn archer in the Celestial Army.
“I was no longer a child willing to drift with the ride – I would steer against the current if I had to. and if I won, by some miraculous stroke of luck, I would never be helpless again.”
I do with there had been a little more of her friendships with the other women in the Celestial Palace and Army (I’m blanking on their names at the moment). Instead, it focused more on the love triangle between Xingyin, Liwei, and Wenzhi, and neither relationship felt like it was that deep or passionate.
So, I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t hate it either. It’s probably not one I’ll reread, but I would definitely recommend it to my fantasy-loving friends or anyone who loves Chinese mythology. Or mythology of any origin. I’m glad that I decided to stick with this book because it really picks up in the third section. Though, I’m a little unsure of how it’s a duology, since the ending seems like it’s all wrapped up. I guess we’ll have to wait and find out.
Rating: 3.25/5 stars