My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Published: June 5th, 2018
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Recommended Age: 13+
Genres & Themes: Young Adult, Fantasy, Forbidden Love, Adventure, Dynasties, Retelling
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.
This is a retelling of Turandot.
An opera, ladies and gentlemen.
That’s a first for me. I read retellings of fairytales often enough to consider it one of my favourite genres, but I admit I know nothing about operas.
But that’s okay. You can still understand the story perfectly. And I did. It really isn’t that complicated. The setting is original and the culture different, but it comes down to kings (‘‘kahns’’) fighting for power and a certain prince who wants to save his and his father’s kingdom by taking part in the riddles competition to gain the hand of a powerful princess.
Slave girls who get rescued by boys who become their love interest is nothing new, but I simply adored the author’s writing, 1st person POV choice and dimensionality of the characters. I went into it expecting the competition to be the main attraction, wrongly so. The characters do think about it and, yes, it is part of the storyline, but this is about a slave girl (Jinghua), a prince (Khalaf) and his father (Timur) who travel through cities, to find allies and escape enemies.
It is beautifully-told. I especially enjoyed the interactions between Jinghua and Timur. While she and the prince have lovely passages together, which lead to a slow-burn romance, I am a sucker for love-hate relationships. Timur is a grumpy and authoritarian old man who hates the idea of keeping a slave girl who can’t fight, but his opinion of her changes when he notices her intelligence and goodness.
Jinghua is no Celaena Sardothien. On the one hand, she has a great heart, ambition, and quite a lyrical way of viewing the world. On the other hand, she has low self-esteem, limited courage, and lets her heart cloud her judgment over and over again. Also, she doesn’t want to learn how to fight, thus making her a target in combat and heavy weight at times.
Jinghua may be the main character, but I refuse to believe that she is the hero of this story. Prince Khalaf is. She is hardly even a sidekick, mostly just there for the ride. She never undergoes a character development, but she does make realizations about herself while helping Khalaf achieve *his* goals, which eventually become hers as well.
A gripping and romantic story that is better than the majority of YA fantasy books that get published every year, so cheers to that!
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