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Kingdom of The Blazing Phoenix (Rise of the Empress)

Review

Kingdom of The Blazing Phoenix (Rise of the Empress)

In the stunning follow up to her debut, Julie C. Dao returns us to the sweeping empire of Feng Lu. KINGDOM OF THE BLAZING PHOENIX is both the sequel and conclusion to this gorgeously dark retelling, and is guaranteed to leave readers breathless from beginning to end.

Sent to live in exile, Princess Jade has only known the simple life of the monastery, hidden deep in the mountains of Feng Lu. Aware of her parentage, but blissfully removed, she dreams of a life full of giving and service. But a summons from her step-mother, the ruthless Empress Xifeng, reminds her that whether she wants to be a Princess or not, is irrelevant.

"Fans of FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS will rejoice in this beautiful finale....Dao has created an incredible journey told through stunning prose and vivid world-building."

As she travels to the palace, Jade witnesses the devastating consequences the Empress’s rule has left on the people. She doesn’t want the crown, but she isn’t willing to back down from fighting for the people she was born to protect. In order to claim her right to the throne, she will have to go on an epic quest. One that will test her at every turn and where success determines not just her life, but the fate of the Empire as well.

Fans of FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS will rejoice in this beautiful finale. More than just a retelling of a beloved story, Dao has created an incredible journey told through stunning prose and vivid world-building. She makes this story bold and uniquely its own, while seamlessly weaving in the facets of the classic tale. Rather than choosing which side of the fairy tale to focus on, that of the wicked step-mother or the hunted step-daughter, she has done both and the result is stunning.

KINGDOM OF THE BLAZING PHOENIX is told through Jade’s perspective, turning the focus from Xifeng and her fight for the throne, to the innocent and heartfelt journey of the shunned princess. Where Xifeng was determined to follow her fate’s path, and wouldn’t let anything stand in her way, Jade is her opposite. She has to work at being brave, though she doesn’t back down from any threats or challenges. Rather than coming across as a perfect princess, she is full of her own flaws and has to fight her inner demons the same way her step-mother did.

The dark undertones that made FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS so addicting are alive and thriving in this new book. The shift in narrators serves to highlight the darkness rather than brighten the story. We see the tragedy of Xifeng’s choices along with the devastating consequences. And Jade has plenty of her own dark challenges to overcome, both on her quest and within herself. Showing us both of their perspectives really shows how choice can determine fate, and I think that is a fantastic message. Fate can only take us so far, and the consequences of our choices are far more powerful than simply relying on destiny.

I love how fierce the women in this duology are. Xifeng and Jade show their strengths in very different ways, but I absolutely adore Wren. She knows who she is and what she wants, and isn’t going to let a silly little thing like gender expectations stand in her way. Even when we reach a point where armies begin to play a role in the story, these women do not rely solely on the strength of men for their soldiers. This is an incredibly powerful message to girls everywhere. Not only is this a fantastic own voices story, showing that fairy tales fit in any culture, but this is a phenomenal way to embrace the notion that girls are strong and that warriors come in all shapes and sizes.

The prose is gorgeous, with sentences that bring this world and characters vividly to life. It is tragic and beautiful, heartbreaking and hopeful. This book is full of adventure, shows us the strength of family and friendship, and ensures, that above all, there is nothing stronger than the power of love.

Reviewed by Jena Brown on November 14, 2018

Kingdom of The Blazing Phoenix (Rise of the Empress)
by Julie C. Dao